Thursday, January 30, 2014

Roll Out the Barrel

I have played with using Oak chips/Cubes in the past with average results (cubes are much easier to work with in my opinion) and have always wanted to get a real barrel, throw a few beers in it, then use it to age sour beers. But space and batch size constraints have always held me back, a 50+ gallon barrel wouldn't even fit in the front door of my Fishtown home, let alone in the basement. Although I did brew a Turbid mashed Lambic with my club that is sitting in a 53 gallon barrel.

A few friends and I recently acquired a 15 gallon oak barrel freshly dumped which previously held Dad's Hat Rye Whiskey, a distillery located just outside of Philadelphia. I have been eyeing up these barrels for a while now, the size and price point is perfect for what I am looking for and the beers I have had from some other brewers that came out of these barrels were quite good. Hopefully we can get a few good oaky beers out of it before the oak character is neutral enough to age some funky beer in there.

Plans for Barrel Maintenance:

This is my first barrel, so none of this is first hand knowledge only info I have been able to gather through reading blogs and books on how to treat the barrel. I have also polled some local brewers and wine makers on their methods and feel confident in our plans for maintaining the barrel.

There are some challenges with these smaller barrels as compared to the larger 50+ gallon versions, my two main concerns are increased oxygen exposure and a higher oak surface to beer ratio increasing the risk of over oaking the beer. We have a plan of attack for both of these obstacles over the next few months. In our case, the risk of over oaking the beer can be addressed by sampling the beer early and often until the desired level of oak flavor is achieved then simply remove the beer and packaging. Easy enough, but removing the bung frequently to pull samples can risk oxidation and contamination. As a workaround we will be installing a sample port of sorts, aka the "Vinnie Nail" named after Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River who employs this method on his barrels. You simply pull the nail, let the sample run out and replace the nail plugging the hole. This will be especially helpful once we start to age sour beer so we do not disturb the pellicle during aging.

As for the risk of increased oxygen exposure, which I'm not hugely concerned with in the first beer or two in the barrel because they may only rest in there for ~4 weeks due to rapid oak flavor extraction, the plan is to coat the staves with paraffin wax. This will minimize, but not eliminate, the amount of o2 that is able to permeate into the beer throughout the aging process. Currently my plan is to not wax the barrel heads because we will want some o2 exposure once I inoculate the barrel with the Brett and Bugs.

The Maiden Voyage:

I feel like we should given this barrel a name or smashed a bottle of champagne over to christen it or something, I think over time the name will come to us as the beers turn out. As for the first fill, my partners in this barrel (Bill, Dave and I), are quite fond of Founders KBS so what better way to start then a beer in the same vein. We pieced together a few elements from a few different Imperial Stout recipes that we liked, including of course the coffee and the chocolate used in KBS (more on that later) and planned out our brewday. 
Two Mash Tuns, One Beer.

None of us had a large enough mash tun to brew 15 gallons of Imperial Stout, so we planned to split the mash into 2 seperate 10 gallon coolers then sparge them both into my 20 gallon Boilermaker. We were shooting for a big beer obviously, but ultimately fell short, which was my fault. The issue was Bill's mash tun can fit more grain then mine can and I ended up sparging my lesser filled tun more then Bill's which left a considerable amount of sugars behind by the time our kettle was filled with 20 gallons of wort. We cut Bill's run off while it was running at 1.060, while mine finished with sugars running at 1.025...whoops. The remaining was run off into a bucket to be boiled for another beer later. In hindsight we should have boiled those runnings down and added it back in, next time I suppose.

I should note, that this brewday was taken on the road to my friends house, which is always a challenge because you might forget something. In this case I forgot the fermcap, which was a big mistake because I knew we would be boiling at the max of my kettle, unsurprisingly there was a boil over, and we had to watch the boil like a hawk the whole time. Aside from the sparge issue and a boilover all went well and we reached an OG of 1.092.

Since we were using a barrel from a local distillery, I wanted to tried to keep some of the other components as local as possible as well. The easiest one was the coffee, there is a coffee roaster in Fishtown called Reanimator that has worked with a few breweries in the past. So I visited their cafe a few blocks away and picked out a bean from Nicaragua that boasts aromas of Praline and toasted Almond with flavors of Creme Brulee and Raw Chocolate, the guy over there said it should be a little lower in bitterness to, sounds like a perfect pairing. The coffee was added in 2 stages, 8oz lightly ground in a muslin bag in the boil at flameout , and 8 more ounces cold steeped overnight and added to the barrel.
Dark, sugary first runnings.

We used Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate in the boil along with cocoa nibs from Whole Foods. We put them in a muslin bag for fear of the nibs getting stuck in the dip tube which did work but there was a ton of chocolate left in that bag in the end so I wonder if maybe it worked too well. The wort tasted of rich chocolate, roast, and coffee aromas so I think all is well in the end. 

It was a long 8 hour brewday, we also brewed 11 gallons of a Modern Times Blazing World clone post coming on that soon. Although the beer didnt turn out as big as I had hoped it tasted great going into the barrel, some people found it a bit thin but I think once carbonated the body will be a little fuller.

Long Overdue Tasting Notes: 7/15/14

A bag of coffee on my dash board.
Philly Breakfast Stout

Brew day: 12/28/2013
Racked to Barrel: 1/11/2014

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 19.50 gal
Post Boil Volume: 16.00 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 15.50 gal
Bottling Volume: 14.65 gal
Estimated OG: 1.102 SG
Measured OG: 1.092 SG
Measured FG: 1.021 SG 
Estimated Color: 53.7 SRM
Estimated IBU: 70 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 67.70 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

72.8% - 42lbs 4oz - CMC Superior Pale Ale Malt (3.1 SRM)
8.2% - 4lbs 12oz - Flaked Oats (1.0 SRM)
4.1% - 2lbs 6.4oz - Chocolate Malt (350.0 SRM)
4.1% - 2lbs 6.4oz - Roasted Barley (300.0 SRM)
2.8% - 1lb 10oz - Crystal 120L (120.0 SRM)
2.8% - 1lb 10oz - De-Bittered Black Malt (550.0 SRM)
5.2% - 3lbs - Light Dry Malt Extract - Late boil addition

Boil: 60min - 3.50 oz Nugget [13.00 %] - 42.1 IBUs
Boil: 25min - 4.50 oz Willamette [5.50 %] - 15.9 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 3 Whirlfloc Tablet + 3.50 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil: 15min - 7.50 oz Belgian Bittersweet Chocolate
Boil: 15min - 4.50 oz Unsweetened Cocoa Nibs
Boil: 10min - 6.25 oz Willamette [5.50 %] - 11.5 IBUs
Boil: 0min - 8.00oz Reanimator Coffee (added at flameout and steeped until chilled)

6 pkgs - Safale US-05 - Rehydrated

Sacch rest - 75 min @ 155 F

Fly Sparge 10.00 gallons of 170f

- 90 seconds of pure O2. 
- Filtered NJ Tap water, no water treatment as I am unfamiliar with the profile.
- 8.00oz Cold Steeped Reanimator Coffee added when racking the beer into the barrel.

Notes: I fermented 11 gallons in my Spiedel in the fermentation chamber, started the fermentation cool and was held at about 62f for the duration. Bill took the 5.25 gallons and fermented it at ~60f for the duration.


  1. Sounds like you are going to have your hands full with this. One of these days I'd love to have my own barrel, I'm sure I would go about it the same way as you are.

    1. Hands full indeed, I want to consistently keep the barrel full so once this comes out the next beer needs to be ready, or close to. Next is a Quad, I just brewed it this weekend. I elicited the help of a few other brewers to fill it. Brew on your own time and show up with 5 gallons of fermented Quad, same recipe, taste each one and fill the barrel.

  2. How long did you keep this in the barrel? I have an imperial stout in a 15 gallon barrel and am wondering how long I should expect to keep it in there. Yes, I know that tasting it will tell me when it is ready (I have a Vinnie nail in it), I am just hoping for a rough estimate as to when my refill beer should be ready. Thanks.

    1. This was in the barrel for 2 months, had a very nice oak/whiskey character but I feel it could have stayed in there even longer. Like you said, tasting is the only way to know so youre on your way, I would sneak the first tastes at 1 month, then again 2-4 weeks later and evaluate from there.

    2. Thanks. I am coming up on 2 months this weekend. I tried it at 4 weeks, and the bourbon and oak were beginning to appear nicely. I guess I'll try it this weekend to see where it's at. Also, great blog. I have used a lot of your info to much benefit in my brewing. Keep it up!