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Author Replies
05/23/05 01:25 PM  
Does anyone out there own a barrel?
I've toyed with the idea of picking one up, I like making lambics and love the taste of oak-aged beers. Anybody familiar with what is involved? Steve
05/23/05 02:59 PM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?

Used to have one but I lost like 10-20%due of beer soaking in the wood first time. The rest of the beer was heavily oak tasting and i had it only in there for about 2 months. This probably cause it was only a new & small keg ( that has far more surface per volume). Next to that I had in the later brews often too much sourness cause of the bad cleaning and quiet high temperatures during aging (20-25 Celsius). You can only take hot water to clean and be sure you have temperatures quiet low so your brew doesn't get too sour. Make sure there is quiet some fermentable sugar left would say at least about 1 plato or even 1.5. Further take a thick keg. Good luck!

05/23/05 03:03 PM  
Never did whole ferm in them.nfm
05/23/05 03:12 PM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
One area where I am very curious is in the preparation of the keg prior to first use. I have heard descriptions of this over time but I had never been interested so it never sunk in. I think I have heard something about using parafin to seal the thing, in some cases I have heard something regarding actually charring the inside before use. I hope that is not what you do, it sounds aweful!
Jim Keaveney
05/23/05 03:24 PM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
Steve: wish you would have brought this up at the Heavyweight thing. Tom Baker does a lot with barrel aging and one of the guys pouring beer for him had a homebrewed tripel in a small barrel a couple of open houses ago.

I have heard the charring comment as well. Not sure how that works. I'd like to get my hands on a barrel that previously contained bourbon and do a big wee heavy type beer or a belgain strong dark.

05/23/05 03:32 PM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?

Once again your best source for information on lambics in barrels is the one and only Dave Pyle. I believe Dave now has 4 or 5 55 gallon oak barrels in his garage dedicated to lambic fermentation/conditioning. It is a sight to behold!

Also note that Dave got third place Best of Show at Spirit of Belgium for his gueuze. Andy Anderson judged it in the sour beer category and said it was excellent.


Bill S
05/23/05 09:47 PM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
I also judged the lambic/geuze at SOB at the First Place was outstanding. Makes me want to have a barrel.

I think part of the value is for growing bret... it likes slow diffusion of O2 and wood to grow in.

Also, some locals near Boston were using Potuguese ?chestnut? not oak... it had good O2 character but very mild wood.

Just ckecked my notes... chestnut.

Try contacting Francois at francois53@comcast.net.

Yes, he is a bit flakey but he has access to info. And barrels.


Jeff "TruthBrew"
05/24/05 11:17 AM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
A local homebrewer here (Steve Piatz) swears by just using a HDPE bucket with a chunk of french oak that he moves from batch to batch to keep the bugs growing and happy. The O2 permeability of the plastic is low, but slowly allows it to creap in. Would have to imagine it's similar to a cask.
05/24/05 01:21 PM  
Sour vs. savor
Not that I have a single thing against the use of a wooden barrel to propogate a lambic character but there is another application that is easy to look passed. Beers like the J.W. Lees specialty harvest ale series, 't Smisje Calva Reserva, Allaghash Curieux and Odessey etc. have used wood for reasons other than the introduction of bacteria. That was more what I was thinking about, a way to impart a toasted oak character without a specific goal of souring in mind. Something like a whiskey or port keg would be a fantastic find, though I guess for a 5-gallon-a-batch homebrewer something virgin would be a far more likely. I think I know where I could get one today if I wanted to play hooky. My big question is "then what"? What if anything needs to happen to the inside of the keg before it touches beer?
05/24/05 10:47 PM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
Dann Paquette acquired a small wooden barrel from, I believe Theakstons, for free. He brought it back with him last summer from the UK and has aged some wonderful beers in it. I believe he said he got it from a pub. They would have just thrown it away. Maybe you should ask Jeremy to check into it. I'll ask Dann the next time I see him and try to get some specifics.

I would not use a new oak barrel without first charring or toasting the inside. Unfortunately I do not have a clue how to do this.

As far as what to do before the wort goes into a prepared barrel...well we used to just rinse the inside of our hogshead barrels with boiling water. 5 minutes of that will take care of any nasties. In between batches we would burn sulfur wicks inside and plug up the holes to keep things sanitized. Not sure of the science behind sulfur wicks but they work. UK Brewing Supplies has all the sundries you need, shives, spiles, bungs, etc...


05/25/05 07:09 AM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
I can't believe I didn't think of asking Jeremy! He has some great inside contacts, great suggestion.

<<In between batches we would burn sulfur wicks>>

So you'd take this sulpher wick (I guess like a candle wick laced with sulpher?) mount it somehow then light it? It sounds like the sulpher smoke then has the sanitizing property? That sounds pretty easy, certainly more than charring the inside! Thanks Aaron.

05/25/05 10:28 AM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
The whiskey barrels we used were already charred. The French Oak barrel had already been used at a winery. These were hogshead size, 55 gallons.

Dann is moving to England and getting married next year. I'm headed over for the wedding and hope to score a wooden pin sized barrel. If you can wait, I can try and grab you one also. It won't be until May next year though.

The sulphur wicks look like fuzzy yellow tongue depressors. We made a little wire basket with a hanger, placed half a wick in the basket, lit it, then lowered it into the barrel through the spile bung hole leaving the hanger wire hooked on the edge of the bung hole. We'd stick a bung in the hole to seal it up. These sulphur wicks stink to high heaven so make sure you do this outside of your house.


05/25/05 09:47 PM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
you may find a used barrel at www.winebusiness.com
Tim L
05/27/05 11:55 PM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
Oh, man that rotten egg smell of Sulphur. Sulpher was & still is used as an antiseptic.

One of the GHHA members bought a 55 gal. Wild Turkey Whiskey barrel at an auction. We each made a 5-12 gal batch of Wee Scotch Heavy (7 months) & some did a Oatmeal Stout (4months) in the barrel. The Stout got infected a little from what I heard. I didn't participate in the Stout. You can really taste the whiskey in some bottles. I bottled. Some people kegged their.

Steve in Bourbon. The product that comes out of the distiller is White Lightning/Moonshine. It is watered down & put in barrels to age. They char the barrels before they put the top & bottom on it. I'm not sure if they use a wood fire or gas to char the barrel. From what I remember from the shows I watched. It is definently charred inside!

I think it's 2 planters now.

05/28/05 08:51 AM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
<<I think it's 2 planters now.>>

That was worth a chuckle! 55 gallons does seem REALLY commital, I would not want to use anything bigger than 5. Well, if it was a great barrel (as in previously contained something really desirable) maybe 10.

OK, so here is the big question. How do you char the inside of a barrel? I can understand if it was not already assembled but the thing is enclosed. Even if you remove the top or the bottom, how could you expose the inside to flame evenly? I had imagined some sort of blow torch, but you mentioned they might use a wood fire. On these shows did they demonstrate the technique? I suppose that would probably have been the point!

Anyway, it sounds like the charring part is bourbon or whiskey specific. If I bought a new barrel to make beer that would probably ruin it (unless I did up a load of whiskey to further prepare the keg!). Do you think this is right?

Thanks for jumping in Tim, this thread is slowly producing some great data.

Tim L
05/29/05 10:59 PM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
No problem!

I just remember it was a huge flame shooting up through the inside of the barrel. I think the barrel straps were glowing red. If I see it again. I'll email you. I think it was "Hand's on History!"

05/30/05 10:14 AM  
NJ wine makers as a source...
Steve, Warren and I are planning a project that requires a barrel. I was think of contacting the NJ wine makers and see if I can find one. I'd like something might have lactius bac (spelling) such as a Charddonay.

Let's stay posted on this.

Tim L
05/30/05 12:27 PM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
From what I remember is a huge flame coming from the bottom. It even looked like the barrel straps were glowing red. I think it was "Hands on History" series on the history channel?
06/03/05 06:55 AM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
Thought I would mention, as a stop gap I picked up some toasted French oak cubes. I have never been that satisfied with chips, but I saw these and decided to try 'em out. You can get these cubes in a variety of toasting levels and so far they seem to work really well. They have the exact aroma I would hope to find in such a thing, which is something I never got from chips.
06/21/05 10:10 AM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
Tom Cannon from BURP just sent me this, looks like if you want a whiskey barrel there may be a way...

I will be parking some barrels at the Iron hill brewery warehouse in Wilmington DE. on the 23rd 0r 24th so If any homebewers you run into want any let me know asap. I don't know if you can do any announcements there but if you can...... thanks. $80 each for homebrewers. sweet deal as the shipping alone is $100-120 it they order one from Jack D's ...and These aren't no jack daniels barrels . this run will have Elijah Craig 12 or older. yummm.

I can also drop one somewhere off the T'pikes on the way home. Pa mostly I think but maybe Ohio maybe NY I am still mapping the trip out and will be doing so on Monday as I pick them up. give them my number and email if they seem serious. thanks

06/21/05 12:03 PM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
I just heard back from Dave, these are 55 gallon barrels. At that price I figured they'd be smallers, but no. If you or your club could use a 55 gallon whiskey barrel though, the price is unbelievable.
06/22/05 08:45 AM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
Hi Steve,

I own a "9", i.e. a 9 imperial gallon barrel made of alloy, but it's at my London place hiding........ one of these days I'm going to bring it over to fill it with something homemade and nourishing !!!!,



06/24/05 09:07 AM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
Some barrel sources/info (both show the flames shooting out of the barrel):


They have used barrels at the link below(were $40 apc. - what kills you is the shipping. Also don't have anything smaller than the 55 gal std).


Bourbon barrel char is a good alternative - it's the scrapings off the inside of a freshly emptied bourbon barrel. I've used it to good effect in a Wee Heavy, a Belgian strong dark ale, a D'Rye Stout, a Flemish Red, a Double IPA, and a Baltic Porter.

It's easy to experiment with if you have some growlers - try it in a wide range of beers, although the heavy ones work best. Of course, while it does create some oakiness, it's mainly adding bourbon/some vanilla. The char itself has the interesting side effect of smoothing out excessive astringincy (it's my assumption the charcoal absorbs it).

Bob Capshew is the guy that carries the bourbon barrel char; it ships out of southern Indiana (near Louisville, Ky) for $5/pound + shipping. Email him at the following:


06/24/05 01:03 PM  
Some info from WarrenB
Chet, great URLs man, thanks. The graphic with the flames shooting out the top is pretty reassuring!

"A word about toasting levels.

In Bordeaux, reds are aged in French Allier or Nevers oak barrels for ~16 months in medium or medium plus toasted barrels. In America, medium-plus is more common than medium for reds. Medium toast barrels are commonly used

for whites. Smaller barrels have a greater surface area/volume ratio so you will get more oak flavors, all other factors being equal. In other words, expect to achieve the same level of oakiness in less months in a small barrel. "



06/26/05 01:29 PM  
Re: Does anyone out there own a barrel?
Hey Steve,

Cool addition to the BBB. Between the new job, new digs, new homebrew set up (1 bbl system!), and watching the NEW NBA CHAMPIONS, I haven't had much time to check out the BBB. Ran into the Dews in Austin a few weeks ago and made a vow to check in. Anyhow, in keeping with this thread, some guys mentioned seeing some barrels in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart here in San Antonio, so I broke my no Wal-Mart rule and bought 2 55 gal whiskey barrels for $35 each.

Now I've got to figure out what to do with them.

Great thread.



06/27/05 11:23 AM  
Damn Brian!!!
So you're saying you now have an aging capacity of 110 gallons?? Whoa, let me pick myself off the floor and get back into my chair! Man, that is an unbeliebable price too, perfect for the homebrewer who has a - and I can't believe I'm saying this - 1 bbl system!!

Great to see you post here, hope you find the other threads compelling as well.

Oh, BTW, those barrels sound pretty gigantic, how did you get them home? Steve

Mark A
06/27/05 03:29 PM  
charring a barrel
On winery tours I've take, they mentioned that you can just use a welding torch to char the inside of the barrel. In the examples I've seen, the charring goes pretty deep (and would probably take care of sterilization issues.)

If you are getting a used barrel and want to take advantage of the flavors of whatever was previously in the barrel, further charring would probably have a detrimental effect. In fact, charring a new barrel for the purposes of aging beer doesn't seem like a good idea - it would just give too much of a burned wood flavor. Oak barrels used for aging wine are not charred.

06/29/05 12:45 PM  
55 gal capacity
Reality called for delegating one of the barrels to gardening duties. This was the original reason for buying 2 barrels. After all, does any homebrewer really need 110 gallons of barrel-aged brew? Cutting into the barrel did offer some insights as to the intoxicating ability of whisky fumes when propelled into the human face at high velocity.



10/17/05 07:57 PM  
Barrel Source
I saw your note about Tom Cannon from BURP having access to them. The text looked very much like it was written by a member of my homebrew club -- Tom Griffin -- who has a side business supplying *premium* used bourbon barrels to breweries. He started doing only midwest breweries, as we're in Madison WI, but now goes to the east coast and the Rockies too. Tom has almost single-handedly driven this current round of experimentation by brewers. Anyway, if you want a barrel, drop me a note (bill6beers _at_ yahoo dot com) and I'll put you on to Tom. They are 55 gallon, charred, used once barrels. They usually still have 0.5-1 gallon of bourbon in them to keep the staves moist. No Beam, JD, etc, only premium bourbons like old Craig, Forrester, 4 Roses, Evan Williams, etc.

The bourbon character really only comes out in the first use for beer. Subsequent uses get vastly decreasing levels of oakiness and little/no bourbon. Very little oak character is left after the second beer use. Then they'd be suitable for running a lambic solera like Piatz does in HDPE.

I was told during my Cantillon tour thet they use sulpher wicks between uses to kill unwanted bugs. That's after they tumble them with metal chains inside to break off the big chunks of unwanted stuff.


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