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Angel’s share” means alcohol that is lost due to evaporation while aging in oak barrels.

colheiat-tawny-pipas
Tawny Colheita Port ageing in pipas (small barrels).

What does “angel’s share” mean?

Angel’s share is an unofficial term used to describe the alcohol that evaporates from oak barrels when the spirit or wine is maturing and aging.

The term “angel’s share” is a reference to the alcohol disappearing into thin air, now only accessible to the angels!

Why “angel’s share” happens

There are a number of reasons why alcohol evaporates during maturation:

Barrels that breathe

Even barrels that are filled 100% with alcohol can have exposure to small amounts of oxygen.

Oak barrels are watertight but they are not airtight. So, small amounts of oxygen can permeate the wood and react with the alcohol inside.

With time, the oxygen helps to transform the alcohol in flavor and color, as well as adding roundness and complexity.

Heat and humidity

Heat and humidity can drastically affect how much alcohol evaporates from barrels. Cooler climates have less evaporation.

In some cases, warmth and evaporation is desirable, such as Madeira wines aged with the Canteiro method.

These wines are stored in warm attics where the wine is gently heated creating oxidative flavors and colors unique to Madeira wine.

Time

The longer alcohol is aged in barrels the more alcohol is lost to the angel’s share.

madeira-colheita

Oxidatively aged wines

Some wines are deliberately aged in contact with oxygen by aging the wine in partially filled barrels.

Oxidatively aged wines develop desirable flavors and aromas, such as dried fruit, nuts, caramel and coffee. With enough time, the wines also change to tawny or brown in color due to oxidation.

Tawny Port barrels (pipas), according to the Calém winery tour guide, are filled 5/6 full and can lose up to 20% to angel’s share.

Oxidatively aged wines include:

  • Tawny Port
  • Oloroso Sherry
  • Canteiro Madeira wine
  • Rutherglen Muscat

How much alcohol is lost to evaporation/“angel’s share”

The percentage of alcohol lost to evaporation varies. It can be as low as 1% and as high as 20% for oxidatively aged wines.

Whiskey and Brandy losses to evaporation are low but depend on how long the alcohol is aged and the environment that it is stored in (heat and humidity etc.).

Wines that are aged in contact with oxygen, such as Tawny Port and Oloroso Sherry, lose more alcohol to evaporation.

Angel’s Share causesAngel’s Share MeaningAngel’s Share Benefits
Oxygen, time, heat, humidityAlcohol that is lost due to evaporation while aging in barrels for long periods.Adds complexity, flavor, color and roundness to alcohol

Read with confidence: I am a certified wine expert (WSET L3).