Apple Brandy Barrel Project
A few friends and I have just acquired a 30 gallon apple brandy barrel with the intent of filling it with some sort of sour base beer. We bought the barrel from John at http://www.barrelbroker.com/
The barrel smells fantastic! Our collective experience with brewing sour beer is limited to the 2 batches I have going and a third one of my buddies has going. Mine are about 8 months in and taste pretty good so far. I have searched the forums and have read Old Sock’s account of his apple brandy barrel solera. All of this has been helpful. Of course, I still have a few questions…
1. The barrel still smells very boozy. Do we need to do any further sanitizing?
2. Aside from testing whether it will hold water, do we need to add boiling water to remove some of the alcohol “hotness”? Will the size of the barrel negate some of that? I have used a 5 gallon rum barrel before and I could only age for a few days the first time around. We are looking to age long term here and definitely want some of the apple brandy character but not a ton of extra alcohol heat.
3. I have used WLP 655 and dregs from Jolly Pumpkin in the previous mentioned batches but have read so many flattering accounts of ECY20. I know its availability is extremely limited but is it something that I can pitch at any point down the road (in addition to 655 and dregs) if I am lucky enough to source some? Any other suggestions for microrgansims?
We are still trying to figure what our base beer will be. Preliminary thought is Oud Bruin. Can anyone suggest a tried and true recipe for that style? I would welcome any other ideas for styles as well.
I am very excited to get this project underway and also very grateful for any pointers you all can offer. Thank you.
I'm gonna give this a bump as I'm one of the friends... anyone think the barrel needs more sanitizing, boiling water to eliminate the "hotness" and can we use ECY20 eventually?
I can add some info. The following is based on my experience over the last 18 months with wild ales, reading this section of the forum incessantly, and picking the brains of folks like the mad fermentationist and my local sour pro brewers. I just recently bottled my first sour blonde. I've had a successful 55 gallon wine barrel solera provide me with wild saison every few months or so for the 9 months. I've done countless all-Brett ferments and a few Berliner inspired beers in the last year plus, too. With my résumé, consider this:
When I obtained my barrel, it had been rinsed out by the brewery that used it. It smelled deliciously of red wine (Cab). They aged an "imperial saison" in it, apparently and the friend that acquired it said it may have had wild yeast in it. that was fine with me because i wanted a wild barrel aged belgian. As for sanitation, I did a lot of reading and opted not to do sulfur. Instead, I added five gallons of boiling water, sloshed it around and drained it. Certainly not a major treatment. In not sure if the thermal mass of the five gallons of boiling water even did anything in the huge barrel.
If I had your barrel, which is pretty boozy, and had a general idea of how long it had been exposed or if it had been exposed at all to fresh air, I may not do anything. I would expect that the brandy would be great at sanitizing the barrel or keeping nasty bugs minimized. Use your instincts, I guess. A lot if this wild ale business is art as well as science.
Like you intend, I anticipated adding several strains of bretta and lacto (I have avoided pedio) over time so I was never super concerned with what was already potentially living in the barrel. I have also fermented everything that I've added to the barrel in a carboy (primary), then secondary in the barrel. Primary with a saison yeast and rack to the barrel, followed by tertiary for some variations. I suspect that conducting a sanitary primary has helped keep some, if any, nasties at bay.
I've racked beer from the barrel and refilled it three or four times since last December. The first time I pulled beer out, it had a weird smokiness that I couldn't get over. The two kegs sat in the back of the garage until we tapped them again months later to find delicious dry fruity and slightly funky saison. Ever since then, the beer has been consistently delicious! I've made multiple fruit, dry hops and blended variations. It's a really fun project that I'm sure you'll enjoy!
After rereading this, I might not be the best person to get advice from - my post comes across as alarmingly nonchalant in my concern for sanitation with this barrel. I am religious about sanitation, however, and everything that touches the barrel is sanitized and dedicated to the wild barrel. Treat the beer like you would any other beer.
Hope this was beneficial.
Thanks berebrando, we really appreciate the input. It sounds like you have a fantastic barrel going there.
My unstinct tells me that the barrel is probably good to go. The more I think about it, the more I am leaning towards doing nothing about the booziness. Aside from it adding another dimension to the beer, as time goes on and beer is removed/replaced, the brandy character will decrease.
So, we will fill the barrel with boiled water to make sure it holds liquid and then brew and ferment in primary carboys. We have 3 -4 people brewing so we will agree on a recipe and probably brew separately.
As far as primary yeast, can we start with a mix (such as WLP655) and then transfer (pellicles and all) to the barrel or should we use Sacc and then add a mix/dregs directly to the barrel? Will transferring a sour/wild beer in progress with a pellicle be detrimental? Thanks again.
I do have a fantastic barrel going. And no doubt that with sound brewing and sanitation practices, so will you.
I'm on board with doing nothing about the booziness. Make sure you hang on to several vintages of the barrel to compare how it changes.
What you ferment with is completely up to you. I think you could go either way - straight sour blend (aka 655; I'm doing this on a 3 gallon batch right now), or clean primary with wild secondary (aka Sacc then mix/dregs). It really depends on what you want to achieve. The fact that my current 3 gallon batch with 655 is my first time using 655, means I can't offer any valuable input. Here's a good thread with some info direct from White Labs. For your info, I'm using 100% 655 - no primary strain. Some brewers on the above-linked post are doing the same. A clean primary/wild secondary, in contrast, will produce less sourness, I suspect, even with the 655 blend.
A pellicle is a sign that there is oxygen in your headspace. I have had wild ales that never developed a pellicle and my barrel has no pellicle despite the wild microbes. I don't see any reason why you can't rack from under a pellicle. If the new vessel has oxygen, the microbe community will just recreate the pellicle.
Thanks again for the input berebrando. I am meeting up with the others tomorrow to discuss what exactly we want to brew and the profile we are ultimately seeking. Its good to know we can start our primaries and combine at a later date. After doing some reading, I opted for the Roselare blend (which will be supplemented by various dregs).
We decided that we would like to put a golden ale in the barrel. All of us are relatively new to making our own all grain recipes. We took a collective stab at it and came up with this. Does anyone see anything objectionable here? Any input is appreciated. Thank you
Belgian Pilsner 8# 62%
Belgian Wheat Malt 3# 23%
Flaked Wheat 1# 8%
Acid Malt 6 oz 3%
Caravienne 5 oz 2%
Melanoiden Malt 4 oz 2%
1 oz Hersbrucker 60 min
Mash at 156 for 1 hour.
recipe looks great. you're going to be aging it for a long time with bugs, i'm of the opinion that under these conditions the malt bill doesn't matter all that much... in year's time there won't be all that much left of it :D
looks like you've moved away from making an oud bruin.
Thanks for the feedback sweetcell. Yes, we figured that we would be aging a lot of this on various fruit over time so a golden ale would allow for that character to shine through better than an Oud Bruin.
We filled the barrel and let it sit for a few months. I checked in it yesterday and have a couple if concerns. It is very boozy and there is a slight white film on top. No wild yeast or bugs have been pitched yet so this came from the barrel or from the beer. No off tastes have developed except for the booze. I am seeking advice on how to proceed. I am currently planning on removing 15 gallons and replacing with 15 gallons if newer beer (same recipe) to cut back on the booze. After that I was going to pitch 3 vials of ECY20 and 2 packs of Roselare and dregs. Does this sound like the best way to proceed? Any input would be appreciated.
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