Monday, October 27, 2008

The Plan: Wine Barrel Flanders Red

For a couple of years now I've been playing with oak cubes, oak chips, and oak chair legs, all in an attempt to replicated the magical flavor of commercial barrel aged beers. Well all of that seemed lame once my friend Eric suggested that we buy a used wine barrel and make a real barrel aged beer. We found a winery willing to sell us an old barrel and recruited enough friends to brew the required 60 gallons of beer.

If you have the room, a full sized barrel has several big advantages over a small (5-15 gallon) homebrew-sized barrel. The biggest is money, our barrel will cost $125 ($2.08/gal), compare that to the price of a new 5 gallon American oak barrel, $160 ($32/gal). One of the biggest problems with homebrew barrels is how quickly the wood flavor can overpower the beer, both because they are made from new oak and their high surface to volume ratio, a big used barrel avoids both of these issues.

However, using a used 60 gallon barrels is not without its difficulties. First off they are big, and once they are filled with beer it is extremely heavy (~600 lbs), you pretty much have to fill, age, and empty it in place. There is also the risk that the wood harbors bacteria or wild yeast, but that is not a big deal for a sour ale. I'm sure we will run into plenty of other issues we haven't even considered yet.

Originally we were planning to age an imperial porter in the barrel before doing a sour beer, but that plan was scrapped in the interest of avoiding the chance of 60 gallons of infected porter. A project like this can be risky as either the barrel or an infection in one person's contribution can ruin the entire batch.

We are getting the barrel (not sure of the grape type yet, but it will be a red) from Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, Va. The winemaker, Curtis, was nice enough to include his services prepping the barrel right before we pick it up, so all we have to do is get the barrel in place and rack the beer into it.

My friend Nathan is going to store the barrel in his basement, where the temperature should be relatively steady over the next year. How much maintenance he will have to do while it is aging remains to be seen, but Nathan is a great brewer and we trust him to take good care of the barrel and the beer.

November 9th is the target date to get the beer into the barrel. Everyone will (hopefully) have their beer attenuated out, but many of them will still be young enough that they will not have dropped clean. We are also adding 5 gallons of unfermented wort to provide some easily fermentable sugars to get the microbes moving.

Our batch will be getting its Brett/Lacto/Pedio from 10 gallons of already aged Flanders Red. According to Wild Brews adding 10% aged beer is a common way for Flanders Red brewers to inoculate their "clean" barrels. I am contributing my most recent batch, as is my friend Scott (both batches are about 5 months old). I used the dregs from Lost Abbey Red Poppy to sour mine, Scott used Roeselare Blend for his, so we should have a healthy mix of different microbes.

The Recipe - 5 gallons:
The recipe is relatively open, giving a bit of choice to each individual brewer. We wanted to get this project moving quickly, so we decided against doing a bulk grain buy and a centralized yeast propagation, both of which we will probably consider next time.

OG 1.060
Base Malt (amount as needed to reach OG), equal parts Pils/Munich/Vienna (imported preferred, but domestic 2-row varieties are acceptable)
1 lb Wheat Malt
1 lb Medium Crystal (Crystal 60, or Caramunich)
.5 lbs Dark Crystal (Special B, CaraAroma, or Crystal 120)
Mash @ 157 for 60 min

90 minute boil with 15 IBUs of the hop of your choice to bitter (anything except citrusy American hops).

Clean yeast of your choice. We want the gravity going into the barrel to be ~1.025, so a lower attenuating strain is preferred. Most of the people I have talked to seem to be going with English or American Ale yeast.

We are looking to have a full 5 (10) gallons from each person to rack into the barrel, so that means brewing a 5.5-6 (11-12) gallon batch going into primary depending on the system. It is important to get, and keep, the barrel relatively full to hold the acetobacter to a minimum.

Assuming this batch tastes good in a year or so we will start thinking about what will go into the barrel next. Might be something similar, might be a big sour beer, might be something with some fruit, we will see. If the Flanders Red seems to be going well we may look into adding a bourbon barrel to the fleet to do something big, dark, and clean.

To read about filling the barrel read this post.


Seawolf said...

I'm really excited to see how this beer turns out. I think a Lambic would be a fun project. Maybe we can get in good with some local farmers and trade some beer for raspberries.

Ben said...

Many of the Flanders red recipes I've seen include "unmalted wheat". This supposedly gives the beer better head retention as well as gives the bugs more to munch on. Is this something you heard and/or considered?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The same enzymes work on whatever starch is added to the mash, so you will get a similar carbohydrate profile with wheat malt, unmalted wheat, or pale barley. That is unless you do a more complex mash with the unmalted wheat, such as the turbid mash that lambic brewers do. Both wheat malt and unmalted wheat are higher in protein than barley (which is part of the reason why wheat is used to make bread) and will help head retention.

Ben said...

Awesome. Thanks again!

יובל כץ said...

Hello mike,
Me with a group of home brewers are planning to do a barrel project, we have the wine barrel, the original plan is to brew a big barley wine, i'm suggesrting 95% maris otter, 5% cara aroma, long boil - 3 hours, each home brewer will ferment it with some fruity yeast(not necessarily the same one) for one month, then rack it add some bugs to sour it a bit, how can we control the sourness?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

We've got something similar in a new bourbon barrel now. We went with an English barleywine with Brett lambicus.

Honestly you probably won't get very much sourness starting with such a strong beer. The Brett will work, drying out the beer and adding some fruity funk, but most strains of lactic acid bacteria have problems over 8-10% ABV.

In general your options for controlling final sourness are: microbe selection, adjusting fermentability, pitching timing, arresting fermentation when the desired acidity is reached, pasteurizing/blending, or adding acidity in the form of very sour beer, purified lactic acid etc.

Best of luck!

21 Day Sugar Detox said...

This is so awesome... can't wait to see how it turns out!

Juz said...

Our home brew club is planning on a RIS in a used bourbon barrel we're getting our hands on next month.

There's 10 of us sharing, so we'll each brew around 25 litres, and taste each brew to ratify quality.

My question is, how do brewers all transport their fermented beer to the barrel's location? You don't want it sloshing around in a plastic fermenter/carboy. And then once you have all the beer at the barrel, how do you transfer from each fermenter into the barrel, while minimising oxidation??

Silvio Grimaldo said...

Hi MIke, I have two simple questions. I've just started a solera project. I have a 15 months old Flamish Red on a plastic fermenter that I am planning to move to a 5 gallons oak barrel a friend gave me. The barrel is new, so to get away with some harsh oakness, I have cleaned it and fill it up with craft wine from a small winery located in my hometown. The wine is going to spend a couple of months in the barrel before I transfer my Flamish Red, that is my solera base beer. But I have two question: 1) I live in Brazil and temps are high most of time (today is 87F). The barrel is in room where temperature is around 25C most of the year, but occasionally it gets 30C. How this will affect the beer? 2) Since I filled the barrel wine wine, I got fruit flies all over the place, specially on the top of the barrel. I have cleaned it with hot water, but they still around. How can I get away with them?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Warm temperature will increase acetic acid production if oxygen is available. That is one big issue with small barrels, they have about twice the surface area for the volume compared to a standard-size commercial barrel. Pair that with thinner staves and you can create malt vinegar quickly. Taste the beer and be ready to transfer it and refill if you start to taste vinegar, nail polish remover, or anything else solvent-like.

TO get rid of the flies, you may need to set up some traps. I have a few around (and sometimes in) my airlocks each summer. Good luck!

Suitbrewing said...

Hi Mike!

I have just finished your fantastic book, and this one (flanders red) was my choice to brew first. I have a very simple question. Do I build a starter for the ESB strain? Also per the book you suggest no starter for the mixed culture, is one wyeast smack pack sufficient or should I add two??

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I'd either make a starter with the Sacch, or harvest from another batch. I am just looking for it to start quickly and protect the wort from spoilage (by microbes other than the ones I want). No need for a starter from the blend, the lactic acid bacteria and Brett have time to grow and work after the brewer's yeast completes primary fermentation. Making a starter changes the ratio of microbes as each has a particular set of often mutually-exclusive optimums.

Glad you enjoyed the book, and best of luck!