One of my favorite episodes of the “Sour Hour” was episode 6 when they brought on Dr Lambic from the sourbeerblog.com back in February. They spent a lot of time talking about using barrels as a homebrewer. Now, I’ve spent time googling about the subject and everything I’ve read has been very discouraging. Using smaller barrels has a lot of negatives to it.
- Increased oak surface area, resulting in over oaking / “whiskeying” your beer
- Increased oxygen exposure (making large amounts of acetic acid in particular for the sour brewer)
- They can be four or five times expensive compared to buying a carboy with oak cubes
- Difficult to care for if you don’t know what your doing
Despite all of this, Dr Lambic talked about using barrels and saying that they can produce some very good beer. On the show he brought a kriek that he made with a used whiskey barrel from Balcones distillery in Texas.
Now, some of my favorite beers have been oaked saisons and wild ales. Naturally I was bummed out to read all of these negative things about barrels, but after listening to the Sour Hour, I said fuck it and ordered one. The barrel I bought was the same one, a 5 gallon used whiskey barrel from Balcones. They sell their barrels through homebrewing.com. As of right now it looks like they are $140, however I would venture to guess that this price fluctuates. I got mine for $100 ($120 with shipping). I set out making a similiar recipe, a big roasty sour beer with lots of cherries being added in. The long term plan for this barrel would be to have a neutral barrel that I can spontaneously ferment saisons and other wild ales. Until then though…
Treating the Barrel
When I opened up the barrel it was wow, just wow… I couldn’t believe how strong the vanilla tones were. My little apartment was filled with this boosy kind of vanilla smell. One of the things to keep in mind when using a barrel is you really want to prevent mold growth. Many people will recommend rinsing it out with a metabisulfite and citric acid solution. I’m sure its the safer route, personally I got it on a Friday and planned on brewing with it that next morning. Therefor I opted to just keep it filled with 180 degree water until I was ready. It was filled for about 24 hours which gave it plenty of time to swell up. I did notice when I originally got the barrel the metal hoops were loose in some places. By the time it had soaked though, they wouldn’t even budge. It was quite incredibly how much it swelled up. Also at the end of the 24 hours the smell had died down at least to point where I had to stick my noise up to it and take a deep sniff to get the same sensation.
Batch Size (Gal) 3
Total Grain (Lbs) 12.3lb
Brew date 10/3/2015
Wort Boil Time 100 Minutes
Efficiency 60% (I still need to work out some kinks here)
8.5lbs 69% Pilsner
1.5lb 12% Flaked Wheat
1.5lbs 6% Vienna
0.4lbs 3% Crystal 60
0.5lbs 4% Chocolate
0.75oz East Kent Goldings
Wyeast Roselare Ale Blend
Cuvee Rene Dreggs (Straight from bottle, no stepping up)
Boon Kriek Dreggs (Straight from bottle, no stepping up)
Sacch Rest 60 minutes at 152F
I did two 3 gallons batches of this recipe to fill up the barrel. After a couple of months I’ll take a sample and see how its doing. Otherwise, I plan on buying red tart cherries from Oregon Fruit Products. It’s the brand that the Rare Barrel uses so I figured I’d follow suit. I haven’t quite decided how much I will put it, I’d like to see how sweet the cherries are before decided that, but I think it will be somewhere around 1g/lb.