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A friend gave me a 20l (5 gal) wooden barrel. It had bourbon before, and was emptied two or three days ago.

My friend said the barrel needs to be prevented from drying so that the wood doesn't contract and the barrel becomes leaky.

I don't have anything to put in the barrel, and I cannot brew till in 2 weeks. My friend recommended putting it in shrink wrap, but that'd look ugly. (The barrel looks nice as is and I'd like to keep it in the living area.)

Guess I shouldn't fill it with water cause if I let water sit in the barrel it will soak out the flavors, which I'd dump with the water.

Can I just let it dry out and rehydrate before use? If yes, how long before use should I put water in? 24h? 48h?

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It will not dry out in two week. It had hard alcohol in it which pretty much kills anything. When I empty wine barrels, we literally wash them out with hot water and drip dry for a couple days. We burn sulfur in them to sanitize them but that's wine and not hard alcohol. I have left wine barrels empty with a bung in them up to six months. So, in my expert opinion, 2 weeks is nothing. Just put something in the bung hole and you'll be fine.

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