Barrel / Cask
Meads, just like grape wine or beer will change and improve over period of time. There are many benefits of ‘aging’ or ‘conditioning’ process, but just like with wine, some meads are more suitable for long terms aging than others. As a general rule of thumb, meads with higher alcohol content tend to age much better and session meads, so lower ABV meads, should be drank rather quickly and are not suitable for cellaring.
How does aging process impacts the overall taste of mead?
The chemical reaction that occurs during aging is usually called reduction reaction and it takes place without presence of oxygen. As a result, mead taste softer with lower tartness, harsh feeling and angular characteristics. There are 3 main types of aging in meadmaking process: barrel/cask, wood chips or steel tanks.
Barrel / Cask
Mead and wood are a great match and most common type of wood used for aging is oak. Complex organic compounds like tannins and vanillin derived from oak will significantly alleviate aromas and complexity of mead giving it fullness to the mouthfeel. Another advantage of using barrels for mead aging is the porous nature of the wood. It allows evaporation and oxygenation of the liquid, but at levels that will not cause oxidation or spoilage. Evaporation will concentrate the flavour and aroma compounds and slow oxidation process will mellow some of the harsh flavours in young meads.
Another important aspect for aging meads with wood is barrels toast level. Toasting can vary from heavily charred to untoasted and everything in between. Depending on its type it can impart different proprieties on mead and increase its complexity. Heavily toasted wood will deliver higher level of vanillin compound and reduce oak character. As a consequence it might impart aromas of coffee beans, nutmeg, charcoal, toasted bread and give an overall smokey and spicy character. Typically lighter toasting levels will produce more oak flavors and tannins to mead.