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Old 05-18-2011, 04:25 AM   #1
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Default Preparing A Used Wine Barrel

I am going to be buying a used 55 gallon wine barrel for a solera project. I understand that I need to fill the barrel with water to saturate the wood so it doesn't leak. Do I need to soak it with any chemicals (soda ash, sodium metabisulfite etc.) before I fill it with ten gallons of year old flanders red, a collection of bugs and a bunch of newly fermented beer?

Also, how quickly will I need to fill up the barrel? Can it sit partially full for a few weeks while the new batches ferment down with a more neutral yeast strain?

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Old 05-18-2011, 07:44 AM   #2
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Yes, the barrel needs to be wet so that the staves expand and hold water, this is usually done by soaking it with water. As far as chemicals, I would add sodium metabisulfite to the water when you are soaking it, then rinse with hot water. As for filling the barrel, if you don't have fermenting beer in it you need to do one of two things. Either fill the barrel all at once, or clear the head space with c02 or argon. If you are keeping the barrel less than full for a significant period of time you will need to turn the barrel and clear the head space at regular intervals. This stops the barrel from drying out and the beer from oxidizing.

May I ask, how are you planning on doing a Solera using only one barrel? And do you know what was in the barrel before, the toast, and how many times it was used?

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Old 05-18-2011, 12:53 PM   #3
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I am planning on filling the barrel once with partially fermented beer and the ten gallons of flanders, the I will periodically pull out five gallons (every three or four months) for kegging/bottling. I plan on using Oldsocks's/madfermentist's/Michael's solera aging spreadsheet to calculate the amount of beer I can remove from the barrel each year. This way, the average age of the beer can remain about three years old (after it gets up and running obviously). It isn't a true solera, but you can read briefly about it here and here.

Thanks for the tip on the sodium metabisulfite. I am going to have to research how much I am going to have to add. I also will have to get forty gallons of beer fermenting asap. Summer break can't get here soon enough.

I don't know anything about the barrel yet, I am going to be heading down to Denver to pick one up from Rocky Mountain Barrel Co. He said he gets them from California and they typically still have some wine leftover in them. I would like to get a Pinot Noir barrel, because I like the fruit flavor of that grape. Is there anything I should look out for or any questions I should ask before picking up the barrel? Also, how old of a barrel should I try to get?

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Old 05-18-2011, 02:55 PM   #4
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We've had the best luck just getting barrels freshly emptied and filling them as soon as possible. You’re doing a sour beer so sanitation isn’t nearly as important as it would be for a clean beer, a few Brett cells won’t ruin it.

Good luck, we’re going to make the first pull from our wine barrel solera soon, 18 months is a bit longer than we intended, so we may pull more than the ~15 gallons we were intending. Glad the spreadsheet is helpful.

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Old 05-18-2011, 08:54 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ovidsmuse View Post
May I ask, how are you planning on doing a Solera using only one barrel?
I've heard it described as you seem to think it is only done, and just adding new product to a barrel after drawing some off to consume. I'm not sure if there is a de facto standard law to this, and if so it's moot anyway since it isn't done for beer. Of defined as such.
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Old 05-18-2011, 09:27 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ovidsmuse View Post
Yes, the barrel needs to be wet so that the staves expand and hold water, this is usually done by soaking it with water. As far as chemicals, I would add sodium metabisulfite to the water when you are soaking it, then rinse with hot water. As for filling the barrel, if you don't have fermenting beer in it you need to do one of two things. Either fill the barrel all at once, or clear the head space with c02 or argon. If you are keeping the barrel less than full for a significant period of time you will need to turn the barrel and clear the head space at regular intervals. This stops the barrel from drying out and the beer from oxidizing.

May I ask, how are you planning on doing a Solera using only one barrel? And do you know what was in the barrel before, the toast, and how many times it was used?
What would you consider a "significant period of time"? Weeks? Months?
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Old 05-19-2011, 07:57 PM   #7
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Ok, that system of doing a solera with a single barrel is pretty cool. I agree with Oldsock about just filling a barrel as quickly as possible if it was freshly emptied, if you want to preserve the taste of what was in the barrel or if your looking for a sour/funky character. If either of these is the case do not soak the barrel, and if you really want a lot of wine flavor don't even rinse it.

As for age, the fewer times the barrel has been used the more tannins and flavor you will get, the darker the toast the more caramel/toffee/mocha flavors. A neutral barrel will give you almost no flavor. A barrel that has been used three times is usually a good starting place for a beer if you don't want overwhelming oak flavors. Keep in mind that as you continue to use the barrel it will eventually become neutral.

Hope this helps!

@tasq Significant implies two or three months, thats a lot of time for a beer to sit with a lot of head space.

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Old 05-19-2011, 07:59 PM   #8
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@tasq Significant implies two or three months, thats a lot of time for a beer to sit with a lot of head space.
Thank you!
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Old 05-19-2011, 10:18 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ovidsmuse View Post
As for age, the fewer times the barrel has been used the more tannins and flavor you will get, the darker the toast the more caramel/toffee/mocha flavors. A neutral barrel will give you almost no flavor. A barrel that has been used three times is usually a good starting place for a beer if you don't want overwhelming oak flavors. Keep in mind that as you continue to use the barrel it will eventually become neutral.

Hope this helps!

@tasq Significant implies two or three months, thats a lot of time for a beer to sit with a lot of head space.
Thanks for the info. I am thinking that I need to ask more questions regarding the barrel before I pick it up.
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