Monday, June 14, 2010

Oak Barrel Aging for Homebrewers (Part 1)

We have a large interest in brewing beers that we can age in oak barrels.  So, we are going to do an instructional set of posts on how to use 55 gallon oak barrels when homebrewing.  The same rules will apply for smaller barrels.  The amounts need to be adjusted appropriately, and the aging may differ slightly due to increased surface contact and increased oxygen diffusion in the smaller barrels.  These posts will be done as we go through the process and will be accompanied by instructions, recipes, pictures, opinions, and results.  This should give everyone a clear picture on what it is to use barrels and what sort of issues need to be addressed when using them.  We will be going a few different ways with the barrels.  We will be acquiring new American Oak barrels to start with.  These are also called North American oak (Quercus alba) or white oak.  They will contain high amounts of toasty and vanilla flavors. These will have an intense oak flavor and we will use these to brew BIG beers that can absorb the heavy amounts of oakiness and tannins.  As the oak flavors begin to mellow we will eventually switch to sour ales by inundating the barrel with a large set of bugs from dregs and commercially available bacteria and brettanomyces strains.  Finally, with enough beer/barrels we will use them for Solera brewing which involves using two or more barrels with different vintages of a beer; then pulling part of the oldest off for consumption and replacing it with newer vintages in series.  Hopefully this will be informative to you the reader and for us as well.

Our barrel has been stored dry.  This means that it will need to be swelled with hot or cold water to allow the staves to get larger as they soak up the water.   This seals any cracks and allows it to hold liquid.  We will begin by filling the barrel with 160 degree water.  We will do this by adding 13-15 gallons of water at a time in succession to start the sealing process.  Using water this hot will also help with sanitization.  Using water much hotter than this may results in warped wood.  The barrel will then sit for two days with the water remaining in it.  After a couple days, if the barrel is of good quality and built correctly there should be no more seepage or leaks.  You won’t want the water to remain in there for much more than 2 days for fear of contamination by mold or algae.  The curing process may take longer than 2 days.  If it does, drain and replace with new water to help avoid contamination.  Repeat until the seepage and leaks stop.   

After the initial swelling period, we will want to clean the barrel.  Because this is a brand new barrel with heavy charring, we want to make sure it is clean, and also remove some of the intense burnt flavors the char will impart.  This can be accomplished by using soda ash or BarolKleen.  We are using the BarolKleen for ours.  Mix 1 pound of BarolKleen for every 5 gallons of barrel space, which means we will use 11 pounds for ours.  Then Let this solution rest for 48 hours.  This will help leech excess tannins from the barrel. 

After the BarolKleen, it needs to be fluhed with water until it runs clear from the barrel.  This assures it is well rinsed out.  This is followed by a mixture of 2 ounces of Sodium Metabisulphite and 1 ounce of Citric Acid dissolved in 2 gallons of warm water.  Pour the solution into the barrel and roll it around so that all internal surfaces are contacted by the solution.  Do this for 5 – 10 minutes.  Then drain the solution and rinse the barrel well until the water is clear and pure. 

The barrel will then be ready for beer.  It will need to be filled ASAP to assure that the barrel is clean and free of any bad microbes.  

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Maifest Pictures

As most of you know we had Maifest on May 1st. It was a huge success!! We would like to thank everyone that made it out. The feedback we got from everyone was greatly appreciated. We estimate over 300 people attended Maifest. Great numbers for our first event. I have posted some pictures below of the event. If anyone has any other other feedback feel free to post below. We would love to hear what people thought or any suggestions anyone may have for next year. Again thanks to everyone that attended!!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Boulevard Brewing and Spiegelau Glassware Dinner

Thursday night Strube and myself (Thomas) went to the beer/glass pairing at Boulevard Brewing here in KC. They had glassware maker Spiegelau out of Germany (the world's oldest glass maker), who is a subsidiary of the Riedel family. As guys who are pretty big into beer, we had read many different articles extolling the use of intended glassware for different beer styles. I don't think that either one of us was wholly convinced of this making a huge difference. This event changed both of our minds completely. We are now both believers in using glassware intended for specific styles. I am going to list a few of the VERY apparent benefits. Then of course, like us, you will be skeptical until you experience these things. So go out and get some correct glassware and have a side-by-side tasting with a generic pint glass!

A few of the benefits...
1. We thought the thin glass would allow the beer to heat up quicker, and that the thicker glass of a pint glass would act as an insulator. Wrong! The thicker glass pulls the cold out of the beer as the glass itself attempts to achieve temperature equilibrium. Within three minutes of tasting the beer after pouring, the temperature difference was quite noticeable, as the thinner glass held beer much cooler than the pint glass.

2. We had never even considered that the quality of the "clear" pint glass would actually distort the actual color of the beer. Generic pint glasses are made from quartz, and to keep the cost of the pint glasses down, the quartz is sourced from low quality mines. These mines are ladened with iron oxide, which is a pollutant to glass giving it a greenish tint. The more iron oxide, the greener the tint. When we looked through the glass at the beers, it was apparent that the pint glass gave the beer a very skewed greenish tint versus the true color of the beer which was seen with the higher quality (less PPM of iron oxide) glass.

3. We obviously knew that pouring a beer into a glass was better than drinking it out of a bottle from an aroma standpoint. We were surprised at the difference between a pint glass and a glass made for a certain style. The biggest difference was with a wheat beer in my opinion. The aromas were there with a pint glass, but only a hint of some fleeting scents were there. With the proper glass you could pick out all of the aromas from the beer very easily, and they were much more concentrated. The aromas were also noticeably more apparent in the tulip style glass. The pilsner glass and the lager glass, a little, but not as obvious as the other two.

4. The higher quality glass has a smoother surface than the jagged surface pint glasses. This was shown under a micron microscope (or something like that). The more jagged glass encouraged fast dissipation of the CO2, which made the beer flatter quicker. With the smooth edges of higher quality glassware, CO2 retention is encouraged.

5. Proper design of the glassware is also important for head retention. This quality is more apparent in the photos below. The head in the pint glass was either non-existent of quickly disappearing. The proper glasses allowed for better head creation and retention.

Thinner glass is better as it keeps the contents colder. Glass made with less iron oxide represents the beers true color without a greenish tint. Proper glass design is important to capture all of the important beer aromas. Microscopically smoother glass design is important to keep the CO2 contained in the beer. Proper glass design is important for head creation and retention.

Thanks to Boulevard and Spiegelau for putting on this great event. It was very enlightening. Hopefully this post will encourage you to try proper glass styles. BUT... if you can't find one at any given time... drink it out of a pint glass cause it's still delicious!