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Jun 08, 2022 View:

Hot vs Cold Water Barrel Prep

Hi everyone, looking for some more experienced advice on the subject. We are currently following the cooperage guidelines and using hot (120-140F) water to prep our barrels prior to filling, however, I would prefer cold since it requires the use of our still to heat the water. The main problem is our barrels have sat for a bit and leak like crazy. It takes 2-3 fills of hot water over a week to seal up completely. Anyone have experience switching and was cold water as effective? 

Additional question, how long can water sit in the barrels before some issue arises like mold or algae? 


We made a barrel steamer out of a modified sankey keg and $15 worth of fittings.  Absolutely zero concerns of funk or nastiness.






I'm sure you know what you're doing, but a home built barrel steamer sounds like an excellent way to visit the morgue. ?

Standing the barrels on end and filling the head recess with warm/hot water is a good way to start re hydrating without washing out a lot of barrel character or using a ton of water. Similarly I've seen/heard of people using barrel 'kiddie' pools for very dried out barrels. We don't let water sit in a barrel for longer than 24 hours, and the water used to rehydrate/fill the barrel should be the same clean, filtered water you would use to proof spirit.

Reply:8 minutes ago, JustAndy said:

I'm sure you could rig appropriate pressure gauges and reliefs but I would still feel worried creating and dispensing steam from a vessel not designed to do that. 


What would be wrong with just using a clothing steamer and stuffing the hose into the bung hole?   lol. I mean a lot could be wrong with that but... 


If your just building a way to crate steam and a direct open line to the barrel I dont see how making one would be all that scary.   Now if your trying to make it pressurized to get your temp hotter yeah that could be dicey




You say your barrels leak like crazy at the start. Are you driving the hoops tighter before filling? I often fill very dry barrels and they occasionally seep for a short time but I tighten the hoops first. They will sometimes drive down another inch or so.  

Reply:On 8/24/2018 at 3:59 PM, JustAndy said:
Reply:13 hours ago, PeteB said:
Reply:8 hours ago, HedgeBird said:

Thanks for the replies. I like the steam idea, but how can you tell if the barrel is completely sealed? Also, will a home steamer generate enough steam, or is something industrial needed? If so, any recommendations? 


I will try to tighten the hoops next time as well. 


Reply:On 8/27/2018 at 10:12 AM, Avonak said:

Hoop to it!


the latest issue of artisan spirit mag has a great article on barrel care. Check it out.

On  a side note. We use barrels from Kelvin Cooperage and they are fantastic, their barrels always arrive water tight and ready to be filled immediately, no swelling needed.


On the subject of hoop drivers: I had a local black smith (the amazing Bob Denman of Red Pig Tools forge a hoop driver based on an older design called a nantucket hoop driver ( It's essentially a 2 lb sledge with one face flattened into a notched edge. You still need a mallet to fully tighten the hoops, but I find it's pretty handy when reassembling barrels, as you can roughly knock hoops into place while still having a free hand to work a head puller or bumper compared to using a driver and mallet. 


Reply:On 8/27/2018 at 9:54 AM, whiskeytango said:
Reply:56 minutes ago, PeteB said:

I just looked and we have barrels where the hoops are held with nothing, nails (close to the worst), T-tacks, and L-cleats (the best). The most annoying for my money was at another place I worked, where we got black swan barrels that had the hoops held in place with screws.  

I've had the same experience with the nails tearing the wood and causing leaks, but more typically happens when removing a hoop rather than tightening. I will drive the hoops down a bit, then back up, which makes the nails/tacks/pins easier to remove with pliers. We have a set of barrels that hold stuff for 9 months and sit dry for 3 months and I use L-shaped cleats which go under the hoop rather than through them to hold everything in place while they sit dry. 


For those that are using steam, what is the recommended time? Do you need to adjust significantly for bigger barrels? 

Next batch:

Tighten hoops

Try some with steam, some in kiddie pool (can't wait to explain this on tours)


Does anyone have a steam generator that they recommend?