Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oak Barrel Aging for Homebrewers (Part 3)

The day of transferring our Russian Imperial Stout to our new 55 gallon American Oak (heavy charred) barrel was finally upon us.  With the winter's first blanket of snow outside we finally were ready to take the 12 fermentation vessels of beer and get them into an oaky new home!  We brewed this beer on October 30th and wanted to give it time to really finish out before introducing it to the barrel.  We transferred it from bucket to barrel on December 12th which gave it about 43 days to completely ferment and settle out.

We followed our prescribed steps to preparing the barrel found HERE.  Unfortunately, after letting the barrel fully soak up the water and expand, and filling the barrel with a water/barrolkleen mixture, we discovered a tiny leak in the end of the barrel.  To fix this problem, a small wedge of natural cork was cut and hammered into the hole.

After soaking up liquid, the cork followed the oak's lead and expanded, thus stopping the leak!  After fixing the leak and cleaning away the barrolkleen, we moved on to the next step.  We dissolved 1 Oz. of citric acid and 2 Ozs. of sodium metabisulfite into 2 gallons of warm water, and used this mixture to rinse the inside of the barrel for about 10-15 minutes.  This was done to kill any wild bacteria/yeasts.

We rinsed the barrel out until the water was running clear, and put it on it's stand where it will rest
until the beer is ready.

We moved all of the buckets to the garage so that they were ready to transfer.  My HERM's system has a March pump attached to the body, and we wanted to use this to move all of the beer instead of the tedious task of siphoning it all.  We set this all up and then took a set of Final Gravities which averaged about 10 Brix. After adjusting for the alcohol, we came up with a calculated ABV of around 9-9.25%.

It tasted pretty good and will definitely benefit from the added complexities of the oak barrel.  We made 60 gallons of the beer originally.  We put 55 gallons in the barrel and kept 5 gallons in a carboy to age as a control.  This will give us an idea of what the stout tasted like sans oak flavor.  Because this is a new barrel we will probably start testing the flavor fairly soon as to make sure and get the beer off of the oak before it becomes to flavor dominant.  Overall the process went smoothly and we are excited to taste the results!  Cheers and we look forward to letting everyone know how this turns out!

All photos courtesy of Libby Connell