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Dave I
11/04/07 03:29 PM  
Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
Hey all,

I tend to make high gravity brews and sit on them for a long time. I have also been getting myself amped up to try homebrewing some wild brews (e.g. Oud Bruins, Lambics, Brett. beers, etc.) and maybe some non-infected beers (e.g. cask aged Baltic Porters, Stouts, IPAs, etc.). Currently I do not have access to barrels, so I am wondering a few things:

1) How much of a difference is there between aging in an oak barrel, using a lot of oak cubes, and dowels? I understand you need a lot of surface area to age the beer correctly (hence why an actual barrel is preferable to some oak cubes) but what if you had a LOT of oak cubes or dowels to give the yeast a place to hang out and increased the oak surface area? Can you get close to mimicking cask-aging via any other way (provided you boil the oak cubes or dowels first so they are not overwhemingly oaky)?

2) Does it really pay to use oak cubes in beers like Flanders Red ales, Lambics, barrel-aged Stouts, etc.? Since such a great part of the development of the beers seems to be due to the expanding/contracting, limited oxidization, and surface area of the oak in the barrels, will something like oak cubes or dowels and a wooden cork on a carboy (to allow a similar amount of O2 into your beer) do anything remotely close to that? Basically, what is my best bet if I DON'T have access to a barrel(s)? Oak cubes, dowels, or just skip the wood?

3) Is it worth soaking oak cubes or dowels in bourbon, red wine, chardonnay, etc.? Will that give a wine-barrel or whiskey-barrel flavor, or just be like adding a little bit of wine/bourbon into a lot of beer?

4) Longshot, are there any homebrew-friendly wineries in Wisconsin anybody knows about, or any great places to get 5-to-10 gallon barrels? Anything more than that and I think all of my typical 5-gallon batches would get lost, anything less and I am making mini-batches.

-Cheers

Baums
11/04/07 03:57 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
Oak affects the beer in a few ways. First, the oaky taste, and you really don't need much new oak to get an overpoweringly oaky taste. New oak barrels need a lot of effort to strip out this taste.

Second is that when used as a barrier between the beer and the atmosphere, oak allows a small amount of oxygen in. Many containers allow various amounts of oxygen in, so you don't need oak for this to happen. That said, anecdotal evidence suggests that a rubber stopper with an oak dowel in it DOES allow a nice amount of oxygen into the barrel that makes a noticable difference in brett behavior (faster pellicle, etc). Oak is much more permeable along the grain than across the grain, which is Raj Apte's theory as to why you can get significant oxygenation from just the cross section of a dowel. In a barrel the air has to go across the grain.

Finally oak is a good home for brett and other organisms--but that's not a big deal because you can get bugs into your beer one way or another.

(And yes, brett can eat some sugars that come from the oak itself, but has anyone ever seen real evidence that this is significant in terms of flavor? Maybe it matters. Maybe it doesn't. I'd guess the latter.)

More practically, good beers unquestionably have been made in glass, plastic, steel, and wood, with and without the presence of oak. Examples of each of these can be cited. Orval and De Proef Flemish Wild Ale are one kind of "wild" beer with no oak and no long-term microoxygenation of brett. Gueuze is the opposite on both counts. So you can make SOME kind of wild beer no matter what your setup.

Oversimplified guidelines:

1. Many lacto strains will not sour the beer once it's fermented, no matter what your setup.

2. Many pedio strains will, long term.

3. More long term oxygenation helps brett and increases its contribution

4. Too much oxygen leads to vinegar (from acetobacter that you can't really avoid, and possibly from brett also)

5. Your brett strain makes a big difference. Wyeast B. lambicus (or Roeselare) is pretty user friendly for secondary ferments. Orval dregs have been known to work well too.

"I tend to make high gravity brews and sit on them for a long time"

Why do you sit on them for a long time?

Baums

Dave I
11/04/07 04:11 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
Thank you Baums.

<<"I tend to make high gravity brews and sit on them for a long time"

Why do you sit on them for a long time?>>

1) So they mellow. Young Barley Wines do not tend to taste as good as well-aged ones. Same with the Baltic Porters I make with high gravities and lager yeasts. After a year (give or take) they seem to taste very nice. However, some beers taste really nice young, and those get drank faster/first.

2) I drink most of my beer, and do not drink all that much in a sitting, so it takes a while to get through a five-gallon batch.

So I kind of plan around those two criteria.

-Cheers

Dave I
11/04/07 05:43 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
I suppose I should add "Infusion Spirals" to the list.

www.thebarrelmill.com/spirals.html

I have no idea if these are any better or worse than the cubes/chips, dowels, or any other option. Just thought I would add them for the sake of being thorough.

-Cheers

BPotts
11/04/07 05:55 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
Dave-

I've thrown a handful of new french oak in beers and with that much it seems necessary to sit for a month or so. Recently I bottled a strong stout aged on 4 oz. of fresh french oak (about 3 or 4 handfuls) and in two or three weeks I had an extremely strong tasting oak flavored stout. Very strong earthy vanilla notes, very whiskey-like. I think it's probably a bit much for what most consider a well balanced oak aged beer, but I love it. In a couple of months I think it might be one of my most successful stouts i've brewed. With chips or cubes, you can taste until it reaches the intensity and then rack-off. Not exactly the most authentic way of oak-aging but it works! By the way, cubes provide a less surface area opposed to the same weight in chips.

Happy Feet
11/04/07 06:13 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
I have an oak barrel I have been using for the past three years (wine not beer) Bought it from Okanagan Barrel Works in Oliver, BC. It was less then 200 CAN. I have another on order. Excellent craftmanship. The size I have holds five gal. and is made from American Oak. Web site is: www.winebarrels.com.
BPotts
11/04/07 06:14 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
"I understand you need a lot of surface area to age the beer correctly (hence why an actual barrel is preferable to some oak cubes)"

You will get more surface area with a measured amount of oak chips then you would with oak barrel. There's actually been a thread on the use of chips/cubes opposed to barrels in Flanders/wild beers a few months back, you should search it. There's even a comparison to the huge rodenbach barrels to chips...someone (i forgot who) actually worked out the rough math.

BPotts
11/04/07 06:21 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
While we're on the topic of oak...anyone ever make an oak aged scotch ale? How did you go about it and how did it turn out?
Dave I
11/04/07 06:27 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
<<There's actually been a thread on the use of chips/cubes opposed to barrels in Flanders/wild beers a few months back, you should search it.>>

Is this the thread?

tinyurl.com/ypapxc

Thanks. Looks good; I will pour through it shortly.

-Cheers

Ryan
11/04/07 06:48 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.

BPOTTS:

<<I've thrown a handful of new french oak in beers and with that much it seems necessary to sit for a month or so. Recently I bottled a strong stout aged on 4 oz. of fresh french oak (about 3 or 4 handfuls) and in two or three weeks I had an extremely strong tasting oak flavored stout. Very strong earthy vanilla notes, very whiskey-like. I think it's probably a bit much for what most consider a well balanced oak aged beer, but I love it. In a couple of months I think it might be one of my most successful stouts i've brewed. With chips or cubes, you can taste until it reaches the intensity and then rack-off. Not exactly the most authentic way of oak-aging but it works! By the way, cubes provide a less surface area opposed to the same weight in chips.>>

Man are you and I on the same wavelength. I just made my first stout (seems crazy) and racked it today onto oak chips that I had soaked in Jack Daniels with a Vanilla Bean.

I decided to do this after recently drinking the anniversary addition of Old Rasputin stout which was aged in bourbon barrels for 9 months. It was over the top oak and vanilla and no one could possibly call the flavor contribution subtle, but it was remarkable. I'm sure this is a beer that will be drinkable only in small quantites. But it tasted great today going onto the chips. So I have high hopes.

BPotts
11/05/07 08:58 AM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
sounds good! I was thinking for my next one (an oak aged scotch ale) of soaking some chips in scotch...I must say though, even without soaking them in whiskey, the bourbon-esque flavor/aroma notes were still very strong. How much chips did you go with?
BPotts
11/05/07 09:02 AM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
Dave - That is the post.
Mike T
11/05/07 09:18 AM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
“While we're on the topic of oak...anyone ever make an oak aged scotch ale? How did you go about it and how did it turn out?”

Last February a couple of us sis a parti-gyle Scotch/Scottish ale. The big half was aged for a few months on about .75 oz of Cognac soak medium toast French oak cubes (I can check my notes if you want the exact numbers). I thought it turned out very well, with a subtle vanilla/grapey note.

I tend to live a lower amount of oak for a longer period, .5-1 oz per 5 gallons aged for 4-9 months. I think it gives less of an in your face “OAK” character, more of a subtle tannic dryness and complex wood notes. I do however use bigger amounts for less time if I want a strong spirit flavor, I had good results with 2 oz of bourbon soaked American heavy toast oak in 3.5 gallons of Imperial Stout.

I’m also a big proponent of the oak dowel/chairleg in wild beers, I think it gives a good amount of O2 and about the right level of oak flavor over a long aging period. I love the Flanders Red I made with it, very soft acidity without much (any?) acetic. Just toast the oak in the oven at 350 for a few hours, boil it to get as much of the oak flavor out as possible and hydrate the wood so it doesn’t expand.

My most recent attempt is in a better bottle, which supposedly have about twice the oxygen permeability of a standard wine barrel. I expanded the a hole in the stopper to put the chairleg through, and cut a small hole for the airlock (with out a way for pressure to get out the beer can pressure transfer itself out of the carboy).

Ryan
11/05/07 10:56 AM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
BPOTSS

I tossed in about 3.5 oz of oak chips that had been in the JD for about two weeks along with a vanilla bean. I am thinking it will be on the chips for about two weeks before I bottle it. MikeT is making me wonder if its just going to be overboard on oak.

We'll see I guess.

Baums
11/05/07 11:27 AM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
"I understand you need a lot of surface area to age the beer correctly (hence why an actual barrel is preferable to some oak cubes)"

I think you have to think about the surface area in terms of the various effects oak has. As a provider of oaky flavor--you don't need much surface area at all (i.e. Potts's handfull of oak, and many others who have gotten loads of oak flavor from not a lot of chips).

For microoxygenation, chips or cubes are irrelevant because they aren't part of the container.

As a way to store and transport/maintain bugs, then yeah more surface area probably = more bugs, but I'm not sure if that's really what you're interested in.

As an alternative to an oak barrel, I think Mike's experiments along the lines of the dowel/chair leg, and plastic containers like the better bottle, are promising.

I have two new oak barrels. Spent the first 4 months with them filled with metabisulfite + citric acid soln (three changes of it, actually) to strip out oak flavor. Each time I poured out the solution it smelled like pure oak extract. Put a Flanders Red (already primaried) in one of them 2 months ago and will put an old ale (already primaried) with claussenii in the other this week. Rubber bungs on both. Hope to brew beers that can handle some extra oakiness at first (old ale, flanders red) and then transition to lambic. Will report how it goes.

Baums

BPotts
11/05/07 02:11 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
Baums what size oak barrel are you using.....I'm thinking one of those micro ones that Happy Feet mentioned might be a good christmas gift to ask for....

Ryan - 2 weeks would be fine if you enjoy that strong oaky/whiskey flavor. I never used soaked chips so I'm not sure how they would differ in aging time to non-soaked chips...I had mine on for 3 weeks, and next time I will do a week less I think.....I forgot to mention before I always boil my chips for some amount of time (I've tried long and short boils) to leech out some tannins and some of the oaky flavors.

Baums
11/05/07 02:47 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
5 gallons -- I think the best way to go is to get the biggest barrel you can fill. They all cost about the same regardless of size. Unless you can fill a 50 gallon used wine barrel. Then they're only like 40 bucks.
BPotts
11/05/07 05:31 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
They cost the same either way? I only brew five gallon batches so I wouldn't be able to use anything bigger.
Mike T
11/06/07 08:35 AM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
You could do a Solera System. Get a 15 gallon barrel, brew three batches to fill it the first year, then every year bottle 5 gallons and top it off with a fresh 5 gallons batch of fermented beer. That way each year you get 5 gallons of blended sour beer and you never have to worry about dealing with an empty barrel.

I'm planning on giving it a go as soon as I have the space/stability to know I won't be moving for awhile.

mallace
11/06/07 03:44 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
Not to be contrary, but Wild Brews has a lengthy sidebar on how a Solera system with sour beers doesn't really work all that well because you don't have complete turnover of the older volumes of beer (i.e., you'll never really get totally rid of that first batch, or the second, or...). Has anyone tried this technique for an extended period of time...say six or seven years?

My homebrew guy suggested getting a five gallon barrel, and, when you plan on bottling or kegging, also plan on having a brew ready to go into secondary. Empty the barrel, rinse it out, then refill it.

mallace
11/06/07 05:04 PM  
Re: Oak: Barrels vs. Cubes vs. Dowels vs. etc.
Err...strike that last entry. I'm home now with my copy of Wild Brews, being corrected by what the book actually says. On p212, it says that using a solera system is unlikely to produce consistant results, but that it can be an interesting system for homebrewers not concerned with creating a constant product. P222 details what MikeT said. Whatever that idiot mallace said isn't really based on the book. Ignore him.
 
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