Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Malt Whiskey Barrel Rye Stout Tasting

Barrel aging requires dark arts not taught in most homebrewing books. It adds an additional layer of complexity to the timing and process compared to aging in impermeable fermentors. Last fall, I timed my brew days so that by the time the first beers had extracted enough character from my two 20L Balcones barrels (about three weeks), the second batches were ready to take their places. Being prepared to drain and then refill a barrel on the same day eliminated the risks of leaving it empty, or the hassle of burning a sulfur wick or filling with a holding solution.

The second beer aged in a barrel extracts a softer wood and especially spirit character than the first. The extraction also requires a longer time period. Many breweries age all of their non-sour beers in first use barrels, but Goose Island had great success aging Bourbon County Rare (imperial stout) and then King Henry (English barleywine) in the same set of 23-year old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels. Not the same barrels, but Goose Island has also produced at least one sour beer (Dominique) aged in barrels that previously held the standard Bourbon County Stout. A 10 gallon batch of sour brown in currently split between in my third use barrels.

The first beer I aged in my Texas Single Malt barrel was a rich caramel-focused strong lager. When I judged that it had extracted enough flavor and was ready to lager, I racked it to a keg, and rinsed the barrel three times with near boiling water. My naive assumption was that the heat would be enough to kill any brewer’s yeast that wasn't rinsed out. I was aware that it is nearly impossible to sanitize wood once it is exposed to Brettanomyces, but surely brewer’s yeast couldn't be as hardy!

Drinking barrel-aged rye stout in the attic of my 90 year old house.Valuable lesson learned, about a month after this rye stout was racked into the barrel it blew off the hard bung. New rule, if you want to age two clean beers in the same barrel, use the same yeast strain to ferment both! The resulting beer is still pleasant, but the additional fermentation reduced the sweetness and body below my original target.

Malt Whiskey Barrel Rye Stout

Appearance – Opaque black body with a solid light-tan head. The flaked rye provides wonderfully sticky retention and lacing.

Smell – Toasted wood, chocolate, plums, slight warm alcohol. The aroma is bold, but it is is still young and a bit brash. All the elements I want in a barrel-aged stout are already here, they just need time to mellow and blend.

Taste – Similar flavors to the nose, bitter chocolate and espresso. The barrel character fills in the gaps with vanilla and toast, not dominating the malt profile. The finish is firmly bitter, split between hops and roasted grains. The lingering character is faint charcoal, almost smoky. Relatively dry for a big stout, but there is enough sweetness to prevent the bitterness from being overwhelming.

Mouthfeel – Even after a few minutes of taking photos, the carbonation is still higher than I wanted. Luckily the residual lager yeast in the barrel kicked in mostly before bottling, so carbonation is just slightly higher than I intended. The Rumble Barrel Aged Imperial Porter wasn’t so lucky. The beta glucans contributed by the rye do an admirable job suggesting a bigger body without the sweetness you’d expect from it.

Drinkability & Notes – Drinks like a stronger beer than its 1.080 OG suggests. Classic imperial stout character without the syrupy sweetness. The barrel adds a wonderful layer of complexity that is much more intriguing than I've been able to achieve with oak cubes. I'm excited to see how this one ages over the next year!


RxAustin said...


The exact same thing happened to me. I bought a Balcones whiskey barrel and the first beer in was an Imperial stout fermented with US-05, left it in 3 weeks per your recommendation (came out great). Second beer was an Englsih-style barleywine with S-04. At about 5 weeks in the barrel I came home to a small spill on the floor (luckily it was on tile) and found the bung across the room on the floor. I was afraid it was infected but pulled a sample and it tasted perfectly clean. Since then I've been venting it once a day. It looks like you kept this one in the barrel about 2 months. Are you happy with the oak level? My barleywine just passed the 6 week mark and it's getting close to being ready to package. I too am planning a sour brown for the 3rd beer that I plan to do some blending with a Flanders red I've had sitting for almost 2 years. 10 gallons should be plenty to play around with multiple blends and fruit treatments.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

It is strange that such a small amount of yeast can survive and then kick into action seemingly so suddenly.

The oak level is about right now, but it may mellow further as the beer ages. I wasn't going for the huge barrel character that some commercial bourbon barrel aged beers display, just enough to add complexity and let you know it's there.

Sounds like a great plan, best of luck!