Monday, August 14, 2017

Liquor, Barrel, and Wood-Aged Brown Ale

Removing the head from a barrel.Most of the events I do are 30-60 minutes, perfect for talking (ideally including questions from the audience). A few years ago I taught intro-to-homebrewing classes for LivingSocial, I quickly learned that 150 minutes was too long for a lecture alone. I added an extract brewing pantomime to demonstrate the key steps in wort production, brought ingredients to taste and smell, and loaded up with slides with photos to hold the audience's attention.

When Brew Your Own asked me to present on sour beers and barrels for their Boot Camp series, I knew I had to come up with ways to make it interactive to fill six hours! Obviously some of the time is me talking and flipping through slides and answering questions, but I wanted to mix in drinking and action. I've honed the sessions in Burlington and Santa Rosa, and I'm looking forward to the next two November in Indianapolis and February in San Diego!

Sour Beer Techniques
   Overview of wort production for sour beers
   Microbe selection, propagation, harvesting
   Capturing wild microbes
   Tasting and blending teas, tinctures, juices, wines, meads etc. into sours
   Tasting and blending three of my homebrewed sours
   Working with me on a custom sour beer recipe

Barrel and Wood Aging
   Discussion of barrel-aging and wood-aging techniques
   Tasting and blending wood teas with commercial beer
   Evaluating and inspecting a barrel from a local brewery (thanks FOAM and Rare Barrel)
   Hands-on leak repair tools and techniques
   Installing a stainless steel sample nail
   Removing and reseating the barrel's head
   Tasting a batch split between barrel – liquor – wood

Speaking of which, I thought I'd post a mini-tasting of that split batch for those of you who can't make it to the Boot Camps. This batch is a somewhat extra-hefty 15 gallon batch of English brown: infused with malt whiskey from Balcones Distilling, aged in a 5 gallon Balcones malt whiskey barrel, and aged on a medium toast American oak honeycomb from Black Swan Cooperage!

Big Brown Barrel-Off

From left to right: Barrel, Liquor, OakAppearance, all three look nearly identical. Deep dark brown with a three finger tan head. Beautiful lacing, although it appears too quickly as the head drops in just five minutes.

Balcones Malt Whiskey Barrel (pH 4.38)

Integrated slightly spicy oak and spirit. Brighter than the liquor, less dark fruit and sugar. Notes of toast and light roast coffee come through from the malt much better. Fresh plums. Drier than the liquor infused thanks to the oak tannins. A more balanced beer that I could consider drinking more than 6 ounces of in a sitting. Likely could have sat in the barrel longer if I knew I was going to sit on it for a year.

Balcones Malt Whiskey Infused (pH 4.32)

When this beer was young it was really raw and boozy. Both classes had sizable contingents that guessed this was from the whiskey barrel. It is still potent with a mild ethanol warming, but it has rounded out with dark sugar and caramelized plum joining the rich malt. Still a little dry, but age has really brought the flavors together. Nice vanilla as it warms, almost bourbon-soaked chocolate brownies.

Medium Toast American White Oak HoneycombBlack Swan Honeycomb Oak Aged (pH 4.42)

Had and continues to have an off-putting phenolic character that reminds me of cheap wood. On the edge of plastic. The flavor is bland and the oak again dominates. I’ve had some wonderful results from oak aging beer with cubes, staves, and spheres… I’m not adding honeycomb to that list. It didn’t appear to be well toasted (in fact none of the sample from their mixed pack appeared well toasted).

An interesting comparison to see what stays the same and what is different. I've had good luck with barrel-alternatives, but I've gone back to cubes after the results from the honeycomb.

The first two were kegged when the third half went into the barrel.Recipe

Batch Size: 15.00 gal
SRM: 22.1
IBU: 38.3
OG: 1.065
FG: 1.010
ABV: 7.2%
Final pH: Above
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75%
Boil Time: 65 min

65.2% - 23 lbs Rahr 2-Row Brewer's Malt
22.7% - 8 lbs Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Dark
3.5% - 1.25 lbs - Briess Flaked Soft Red Wheat
2.8% - 1 lbs Simpsons Dark Crystal
2.1% - .75 lbs Weyermann Caramunich II
2.1% - .75 lbs Weyermann Chocolate Wheat
1.4% - .50 lbs Dingemans Mroost 1400 MD (De-Bittered Black)

Mash In - 30 min @ 156F

2.75 oz Columbus (Pellets, 13.00% AA) @ 60 min

14 g Calcium Chloride


1 Whirlfloc Tablet @ 5 mins
1 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 5 mins

WLP023 White Labs Burton Ale

Yeast harvested from 2 gallon batch Audrey brewed three weeks prior.

9/10/16 Brewed

All filtered DC tap water with 14 g of CaCl. Minimal sparge with about 4 gallons of cold water.

Chilled to 80F with ground water, left at 65F for 12 hours to chill the rest of the way before pitching.

9/27/16 Kegged 4 gallons plain with 4 oz of Balcones Malt Whiskey, 4 gallons with one medium toast Black Swan White Oak Honeycomb (brief boil, decanted), and into a fresh Balcones Malt Whisky barrel (stopper had come off during shipping - smelled great still).

10/21/16 Kegged the barrel-aged version, nice strong spirit character.

I get a commission if you buy something after clicking the links to MoreBeer/Amazon/Adventures in Homebrewing!

Burlington Boot Camp, not Santa Rosa obviously.


Zeph Ozaroff said...

How much longer do you think you would've left the barreled batch? I know a lot of people are adamant about the small barrels imbuing a lot of character very quickly.

Andy said...

Not surprised about the Black Swan honey combs sucking, we got a load of barrels from them at a distillery I worked at and they were the worst built barrels I have ever seen. Smelled very raw and green, leaked like sieves, they didn't bother to plane the outside of the staves so the barrel wasn't actually round and they had to screw the hoops into place to get them to stay put. I'd never order or use anything they make again.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Another week or two may have been enough. A month total was about right for the first round. The fact that the bung had fallen off during shipping on this one likely allowed some evaporation of the liquor and softened the character.

That sucks! I got a couple variety packs for the class and all of the wood looked pretty raw compared to what I'm used to for medium toast. The sassafras and a few others worked well, but overall not impressed. If I use the honeycomb again I'll toast it myself.

RWC said...

Here in Austin we get a lot of those Balcones barrels and I put half a 5 gal 11% scotch ale in keg and the other half in one of the Balcones barrel for 7 months. For the first few months I had it in the fermentation chamber at 65 but since space is limited I pulled it and put it in a rather hot (80s) area just to see what it would do. The temperature at that alcohol percentage had almost zero change in effect though the oak flavor was underwhelming - you can tell the difference between the two, but not by a lot.

Now that my anecdotal experiment succeeded I think I'll continue to leave it in barrel til Christmas just to see if I can't get anything else out of the oak - worst case I have a buggy cask I can sour in.

Adam said...

Disappointing about the honeycomb. Seems like they go through a lot of work to cut them only to drop the ball on toasting.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

RWC, is your barrel only half filled? The biggest worry there is that the wood at the top will dry.

Black Swan offered to send me a fresh pack. They mentioned that they are toasted in an oven. I'm going to try adding a bit more color to them myself.