Friday, September 4, 2015

From End Table to Aging Vessel: Reconditioning an old barrel.

The beer world has been hungry for barrel aged beers for quite a while now, clean or funky, and we homebrewers are no different. However, not all barrels come in pristine ready to be filled condition which is something I learned when a friend very kindly gave me (actually I still owe him Pho lunch) an old dried up Dad's Hat barrel he had been using as an end table. I have some experience with these barrels, one of which is mine and another I have helped a friend fill, but they have always been water tight and ready to receive beer. This one was far from that, so I set out to see if I could breathe new life into this barrel and actually get some good beer to come out of it.
WOOOOOOOOOD
I reached out to a few brewers via Milk The funk for advice as well as refer back to the two great posts on Embrace The Funk regarding barrel maintenance, so I had a plan in place. When I first got the barrel home I pulled the bung and took a look inside to see if I could find any mold or anything else nasty in there, but it was completely dry and clean from what I couled tell. In hindsight I wish I had popped the head off because I couldn't see the top inside by the bung hole, oh well. Things looked clean but the gaps between the staves were so big you could see tons of sunlight shining through, I knew it was dry but wow. I attempted to fill it with water but it would drain as quickly as I filled it. See this fancy video below.



Since I needed it to swell and couldn't get it to retain water I resorted to floating it in a big Rubbermaid tub for a day or two until the staves swelled up enough that I felt I could try to fill it again. This time I filled it with 170F water in hopes that the heat would help melt the barrel wax that's already in there so it would then dry and harden over some of the holes. Another tip I got from a MTF'er was to use a mallet and hammer the hoops back into the middle of the barrel as it swelled. Good thing I did because they were very loose and everything really tightened up as I did this. After all that the barrel was nearly watertight save for a small leak in one of the heads which I sealed up with melted down paraffin wax that I painted over the leak. As seen in the video below, still in the plastic tub.



It took me ten days and 4 fills\dumps to get this fella sealed enough that I felt comfortable filling it. But since I wasn't going to get around to filling it with beer for another 2 weeks I filled it with a holding solution of 56 grams of Citric acid and 112 grams of Potassium Metabisulfite (2g\L of Potassium Meta, 1g\L of Citric Acid). The barrel smelled great prior to this but the holding solution should keep the barrel clean of unwanted bacterias but also help kill off nasties that may have grown in the barrel while it was an end table. When the time came to fill the barrel I dumped the holding solution and rinsed it well, REALLY well and let it fully drain. You don't want any of that stuff lingering in your next beer.
I should have been using this thing years ago, oh and more wood.
There was still a strong oak aroma coming from the barrel so I figured I wouldn't be aging beers in there for terribly long so my plan was to use it as a pseudo-Foeder. No sense in aging a clean beer in this one, since it's kind of a crap shoot anyway. So I brewed up a 15 gallon batch of The Farmer in the Rye with some late addition Hallertau Blanc for fun with loads of Brett strains and no intentional LAB pitched. A Suburb House ale as I have been calling it, I can't pass this garage off as a Farmhouse you know? I pumped the cooled wort right into the barrel, pitched a healthy Wallonian Farmhouse slurry and practically every Brett strain I had in my bank and hoped for the best. 


Didn't even have to use sanitizer that day.
Only 13 gallons went into the barrel for fear of blow off and the rest went into a Better Bottle to use as top off. There wasn't much of a blow off so I was able to blend the two together quite early and age in primary in the barrel for the duration. After 8 weeks I pulled the first sample and gravity was already 1.000, a lot can be said for well seasoned cultures. The aromas were of the fruity Brett variety which played well with the late addition Hallertau Blanc. There was a nice subtle oakiness in the middle of the palate and balancing acidity in the finish, but with as much Rye as was used the body was silky smooth. Great results thus far but we will see once it's packaged. I pulled the batch out and brewed a second batch straight away and right into the barrel that second batch went. Some of batch #1 was kegged, some was canned by a mobile canner (more on that in the tasting notes post), and the rest was racked onto fruit for this years fruited Farmer in the Rye.

Tasting Notes: 10/16/2015

An Ocean Between the Staves:

Brew day: 6/1/2014
Packaged: 8/4/2014

Recipe Specifications
--------------------------
Boil Size: 17.80 gal
Post Boil Volume: 15.70 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 15.00 gal
Kegging Volume: 14.50 gal
Estimated OG: 1.050 SG
Measured OG: 1.052 SG
Measured FG: 1.000 SG 
Estimated Color: 4.2 SRM
Estimated IBU: 36.8 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 80.00 %
Boil Time: 75 Minutes

Grain:
76.9% - 20 lbs Weyermann Pilsner 
15.4% - 4 lbs Rye Malt
3.8% - 1 lb Munich 10L
3.8% - 1lb Turbinado Sugar

Hops:
Boil: 75 min - 1.00 oz Magnum [14.20 %] - 20.0 IBUs
Boil: 30 min - 1.50 oz Goldings, East Kent [7.20 %] - 11.2 IBUs
Boil: 15 min - 2 Whirlfloc Tablet + 2 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil:  5 min - 1.55 oz Saaz [4.00 %] - 1.9 IBUs
Boil:  5 min - 1.00 oz Goldings, East Kent [7.20 %] - 1.9 IBUs
15 Minute Whirlpool 185f - Hallertau Blanc [10.50 %] - 2.1 IBUs

Yeast:
500ml of 3 week old The Yeast Bay Wallonian Farmhouse Slurry propagated in a 1L starter 
Lot's of Bretts including - Brux, Claus, Lambicus, Custer., Drei, Vrai, 4x The Yeast Bay Beta strains, BBY009, BBY031

Mash:
Sacch rest - 60 min @ 148 F 

Sparge:
Fly Sparge 13.10 gallons of 172f

Misc: Small adjustments for mash pH with Lactic Acid and some Gypsum to approximate Markowski's Saison profile, very approximate. Markowski's profile is...Ca-52, Mg-17, Na-35, SO4-107, Cl-20, HCO3-350

2 comments:

  1. Great post! Do you do bank all those bretts seperately or are you just listing off what is in your house brett culture?

    A buddy of mine in Toronto has taken on home barreling like a fiend. He managed to seal up a 60 gal whisky barrel that had been sitting dry for a few years. I believe he just kept adding boiling water over a few days as well.

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    1. Its what I have added to this barrel since I put beer in it. Either strains\blends that I have been keeping going or via dregs of beers that I have made over the years. This barrel's culture will likely change as I continue to hit it with Dregs.

      Its pretty amazing how you can turn an afterthought into something thats producing good beer.

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