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07/08/07 08:29 PM  
Oak chips in sour ale
I have a flemish red type sour ale goin which has been in the secondary for over six months now. I plan to bottle after a full year of fermentation (primary and secondary combined). I wanted to thro some oak chips in at some point but i'm not sure when. They told me at the homebrew store that oak chips contribute a large amount of oak character and should only be left in for about a month. I also know that brett and other micro-organisms love to make homes in the wood. So, with all that said, when's the best time to add the chips? Are they okay to add in the beginning of secondary or should they be added a month or so before bottling? Also, i'm using french oak instead of american for a more mild character.
07/08/07 10:01 PM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
Any time. I like oak in a red, keep in mind Rodenbach used to be lined with big oak barrel after barrel. The beer sat in there for way more than just a month. Also, its not uncommon that the oak character fade. If it were me I'd add them now.
07/09/07 07:21 AM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
I know the Rodenbachs are aged in oak, as well as other sour ales like cantillon....The reason I ask is that the chips (from what I'm told) provide more surface area in contact with the beer than if it were to be aged in an oak barrel , and therefore imparts a stronger character than if it were to be a large batch of beer aged in a barrel........

Thanks for the input.....I figured they would be fine to add and just let sit but I wanted to ask some people with experience first....

07/09/07 08:22 AM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
This brings up an interesting question. Some amount of chips would provide more surface area than a barrel of some size. Any math wizards out there that could calculate the surface area of a Rodenbach barrel and come up with an approximate proportionate amount of chips (though cubes would seem easier being consistantly sized) for 5 gallons? It seems incomplete to say that chips provide more surface area in contact, all you'd need to do to fix that is reduce the amount of chips.
07/09/07 11:03 AM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
I think those ancient Rodenbach barrels might not have a whole lot of oak flavor left in them... at least compared to new chips.

I have tasted a fair bit of overoaked stuff, and based on that I'd be very nervous about putting any chips into a nice 6-month old Flemish Red, until I had a recommendation from someone who could say that a certain amount of chips, for a certain time, worked well for them. Unfortunately, I've never used oak chips and don't have a suggestion like that myself... sorry.

07/09/07 11:24 AM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
there are a hand full of us on another board doing a group brew, and we've settled on an oak dowel in the stopper. Pics can be see here ( brewboard(dot)com/index(dot)php?showtopic=69895&st=270 ). We've been putting them in for the full secondary...the amount of surface area mimics the Rodenbach system pretty closely
07/09/07 12:19 PM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
Baums, I can say I added a package of toasted beans once - actually twice - to a flanders red-ish thing. Got them from the Grape and Granery, the poutches were 2.5 ozs. This may come down to taste, but I really loved the effect. Although I'd have to agree that I've had over oaked beers.

EWW, that's an interesting approach, I wonder though how you came to the conclusion the surface area is similar. Just playing with estimated numbers, if the carboy were a barrel and that barrel was 30" in internal circumference and the beer extended 20" from bottom to surface, the contact area would be 640". If you have a carboy the same dimensions and a dowel, lets say the circumference of the dowel is 5" (which sounds high) the surface area over the same 20" would only be 100". Are there other factors in there that balance this out?

BTW you need not substitute a . with (dot). The only thing you can't do is have h t t p : / / in the URL. Blocks a decent amount of spam. Thanks for posting that, the images are compelling.

Mike T
07/09/07 12:23 PM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
“the amount of surface area mimics the Rodenbach system pretty closely”

I don’t believe it is the volume to surface area ratio matches Rodenbach, it is the oxygen permeability that is matched (Issues on wood type, thickness, and direction of the grain all come into play when you talk about O2 permeability). I would guess that the wooden peg system has more oak contact than the gigantic Rodenbach tuns, but I haven’t done/seen the math for it.

I have left several batches on oak for 6 months+, the key is the amount and treatment of the oak. I normally use only .5 oz and steam or boil the wood before use. This method gives a mild wood character that blends into the beer. If I am looking for a more in your face character I’ll soak 2-3 oz of oak beans/cubes in bourbon and have a brief 2-3 week contact time.

Good luck, I’d add the oak now and taste it periodically until the flavor tastes good to you.

Mike T
07/09/07 01:32 PM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
Steve, (assuming I am understanding your post correctly) the difference is that Rodenbach uses 10,000-20,000L barrels, not 20L barrels as in your example. Just imagine a 20,000L barrel filled broken down into 1,000 20L units, almost none of the 20L units would have any contact at all with the wood (and those that did would only have it on one side. The bigger you scale up a barrel the lower the surface area to volume ratio will become.
07/09/07 01:49 PM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
Correct the larger the barrel the less beer comes in contact with the surface.....I forget where I saw it but I read a bit on the subject recently...i'll have to find where I read about it...maybe Vinnie's ppt.? Otherwise it was in a book I have....
07/09/07 10:10 PM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
Since we're on the subject, I also have an extra high gravity beer I pitched with the lambic blend from White Labs and then added Cantillon dregs....what are peoples thoughts on the timing of adding oak to that? Does a higher alcohol percentage extract more oak flavors? I think it would be quite tastey - i'm open to suggestions and thoughts
07/10/07 06:27 AM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
BPotts, my guess would be higher alcohol would have the opposite effect, although I can't think of any examples off hand of high grav and acidy beer. I know that the first batch of Allagash Oddessey was really woody when it was released but that integrated very well into the beer over 6 or 8 months. That one is 9ish%. I had a Captian Lawrence Smoke in the Oak (a strong porter aged in 2 different wine barrels) a couple weeks ago, there was also no overwhelming wood presence.

Maybe there is a way to pre-treat the chips or beans. In time the flavors definately seems to leech from oak, perhaps you could first stick them in something else for a couple months? Maybe a gallon or so of something made from second runnings?

07/10/07 06:40 AM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
Mike, re: oxygen permeability - good point. I can't double check this (I'm at home and my 'puter here doesn't open powerpoit files) but I'm pretty certain there was a page in Vinnies thing that covered this. It compared oxygen permeability in a barrel to a carboy and bucket.

So let me ask, lets say we could find reasonably accurate dimensions on a Rbach barrel. It seems like it would not be too hard to calculate the contact area. I'm pretty sure I remember pics of those showing they are cylinderical (not bowed), that would make it all the easier. Then if we knew the capacity it would not be too hard to figure out a sqaure inch/gallon contact ratio. Do you think there would be value in knowing that ratio? If oxygen permeability is a big factor then maybe the answer is no since chips would have to involvement there.

If scaling up does impact I guess you would need something in there to tweek the ratio based on volume, I have to admit I have no ideas there. But it might be good to have actual data on which to base a call on adding chips. When I add wood its typically a poutch just cause that is convenient. So far I like my results, but it would be nice to base the addition on something tangable.

07/10/07 07:28 AM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
My inspiration for the high gravity sour ale was Abbaye de St. Bon Chien from Brasserie Franches Montagnes (in switzerland). It's a strong, dark, sour, belgian style ale weighing in at 15% ABV and is aged in several types of oak barrel. Also I had an Oer Bier reserve which was 13 % ABV which was also aged for a year or two on oak. Both of these beers are amazingly smooth and Have a nice touch of sourness.

The surface area shouldn't be too hard to figure out....i think the hard part would be accurately scaling it down to chips...as you said before this would be a little easier with cubes...I think the only way to find out whther it's worth it or not would be to try (of course!)...

07/10/07 07:35 AM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
I just added chips to a belgian imperial stout and before that I boiled them for a half hour or so....so I treated them slightly, not sure how much it affected the flavor, and i just threw them in by themselves...i'll be bottling in a week or so so i can post my results....I read that boiling releases tannins in the wood that would otherwise be released in the beer.

You think more alcohol would extract less, why? I figured it would infuse more into beer. When you infuse things into vodka or gin or other alcohol the higher the percentage the faster it extracts flavors.

07/10/07 09:28 AM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
I don't actually think more alcohol would extract less, the Oddessey example (9ish%) in particular was extremely woody upon release (2 months after bottling). But over time (I noticed this after about 8 months) the pretty extreme wood presence really faded, or maybe I should say integrated with the other flavors. Either way it did not last. Then again both beer examples are darker as well, maybe that could somehow account for it. But some beers definately don't hold on to the wood taste as well as others.

I bought 4 bottles of Heavyweight barrel aged Old Salty about a year ago, I had one a few months after purchase and the wood definately stood out. I need an excuse to pop another to see if it hits me in the same way.

BTW I still have the better part of a case of the first release of barrel aged Oerbier. Its been a little while since I popped one, but I don't recall a big wood presence from that one either.

Interesting about the tannin release, I've not heard that. I boil beans for about a minute (or less), when I drain them the water smells hugely oaky. Really liking that taste I hate pouring all that oak essence down the drain!

Mike T
07/10/07 10:42 AM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
Good to hear about the BA Old Salty, I was lucky to get a bottle of it that I have yet to open (still kicking myself for not buying more at the bargain basement price of $6.99)

Here is a great article about Rodenbach (www.brewery.org/brewery/library/Rodnbch.html) apparently they scraped their barrels before fresh beer is put in. No idea how much this would effect the oak character. Also remember they blend, so the oak numbers would apply to the Grand Cru.

Here is my shot at the math (please let me know if you see any slipups):

20,000L barrel

1,000L = 1 cubic meter

So the barrel should be 20 m^3

Rodenbach’s website says some barrels are 17 feet tall (about 5 m)

So Pi*r^2*5 = 20

I get r = 1.129 m

So those barrels are about 7.5 feet across (looks about right judging by the pictures I’ve seen)

The surface area of the big barrels is 2Pi*1.129^2+5Pi*2.258 = 43.5 m^2

So they have about (43.5m^2/20,000L) .002175 m^2 of wood for each L of beer. On a homebrew scale (20L) that would be .0435 m^2 = 435 square c, or 67 sq inches. If the beer does not touch wood on the top of the barrels you would drop 7 sq inches off the oak.

When I was making one of Raj’s wooden carboy toppers I calculated out that 1 oz of oak bean/cubes has approximately 32 sq inches of surface area, so 2 oz is about spot on for 67 square inches of contact.

However, almost no brewers use fresh oak, so the treatment of the oak before it is used is crucial if you are going to use such a large amount. I left 2 oz of untreated medium toast French oak in a barleywine for 2 months, it took nearly a year in the bottle to mellow out to a level where it was drinkable.

Al B
07/10/07 10:47 AM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
<<the pretty extreme wood presence really faded, or maybe I should say integrated with the other flavors>>

- one flavor being "vanillin" or vanilla-like.

Also, I think the Odyssey was first aged in NEW oak barrels, then blended with non-aged brew.

Errr on the light side when adding oak, add more later - as Mike T suggests, taste periodically (my favorite part).

07/10/07 11:14 AM  
Re: Oak chips in sour ale
Al - yes Oddessey was a blend of 50% oak aged and 50% stainless aged beers. And I'm not sure why but I also have in my head that the barrels were new. But still, it went from big oak to integrated oak in less than a year. I should mention that my experiences also favor erring on the side of caution. I added to much oak to an Oktoberfest once. I remember tasting it and doing an almost immediate emergency transfer! In the end that one integrated nicely as well, but for a while it was oaky enough to no longer be an Ofest.

Mike - that's what I'm talkin' about!! That's one for the archive. Also, as far as treating I like to get extra mileage out of my beans. I have some in my current Ambient ale that I intend to rack my next Ambient ale on top of (now that I may have figured that one out).

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