bierblog: barrel Archives
September 8, 2009
barrel aging in markham
barrel aged beers... they can range from the wild and funky beers of belgium to things like bourbon and brandy barrel aged beers in the US and everything in between. eric and i have been talking about doing some barrel aging for a while now, and have done a bunch of successful experimenting with oak cubes (plain oak in the oaked wee heavy, merlot + oak in the merlot stout, plain oak and bourbon + oak in parts of the breakfast brown ale, calvados + oak in half of the 2008 monk's elixir, and brandy + oak in the old toby), but the idea of using a real barrel is just more exciting.
eric got an old wine barrel from his dad, somthing like 10 gallons in volume, and we had aspirations to try putting it to use. however, after being dry for many years, we just couldn't get it to hold a seal. we spent days trying to tighten up the rings and filling it with water, but a few of the gaps just didn't seem like they were ever going to close. we figure we can still take it apart and turn it into a whole bunch of oak staves, but our quest for an actual barrel was still on.
we're fans of applewood, a great little winery just up the road in stoufville. they make some pretty awesome stuff using entirely fruit and honey from ontario. mead, port, ciders, fruit wines, and all sorts of other cool stuff. eric and i first made a visit to them on a saturday afternoon back in december '08. after chatting with Matt for a few minutes and mentioning brewing he immediately said "you aren't those hopocalypse guys, are you?". we got a bit of a laugh out of that and ended up staying and chatting with him until an hour after they'd officially closed for the night. we both walked out with a box of their stuff and i think some of it didn't even last the weekend.
since then we've visited a few more times and eric has talked with Matt via email. we've been looking at getting a barrel and since he regularly uses them, we figured he was a good resource about where to get them and how to maintain them. well, as it turned out Matt recently emptied one of his barrels, a 47 litre medium toast american oak barrel, and asked us if we could put it to use. the barrel has held one of his meads for the last year and we thought that could work well with a beer, so we jumped at the chance. Matt's only request was that we hook him up with the final result from whatever we put in the barrel. sounds like a great deal to me.
so in late august jenn and i dropped in, restocked on some iced apple liqueur and other treats and picked up the barrel. it actually still had a wee bit of mead still in the bottom and it smelled amazing. this was going to be cool!
back in october of '08, eric had a batch of his pumpkin ale that he put into a cask for sharing at chris+kyoko's halloween party, so i threw together a quick stand for it. as it turned out, that stand was a great size for holding the newly-acquired barrel.
now for what to put in it. we knew we'd need something higher-gravity to hold up to the barrel and the mead character. the next brewday was already planned out, so we didn't really have anything new to put in, but we did have a few beers aging in secondary. notably, we had my half of our most recent old ale and russian imperial stout. we both immediately thought of firestone walker and their anniversary beers, which are blends of several barrel aged beers. we figured that both the RIS and old ale would work well with the barrel, and would get us most of the volume we'd need to fill it. eric and i decided we'd put them in and just split his previously bottled half of each batch. we also had the gonzo clone ready to go to secondary, so we used some of that to top it off and dry hopped the rest.
the first problem was how to fill the barrel. to siphon we needed to get the fermenters up higher than the barrel, so we improvised with some wood i had in the basement and one of our brewing pots. looked risky, but did the trick. sounds like a good reason to finally build a rig for moving beer with co2.
eric posing as the first thread, the old ale, starts going in.
a little closer view.
second thread, the ris, going in.
checking the fill level as we approach the end of the RIS. it was already smelling pretty damn good.
the barrel, full and ready for a long rest.
so now we just wait. it smells pretty excellent right now. we're going to check on it from time to time and see how it progresses. we also thought it would be neat to add a little of every beer we make between now and whenever we bottle it. you likely won't taste the other beers, but it'll be neat to know that we've got something like a year's worth of beer going into the barrel. we'll keep you posted on how it progresses.