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Old 04-08-2013, 01:00 AM   #1
JStans12
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Default Reusing sour barrels

So I've got a 5 gallon barrel. It had bourbon in it for 250 days. Soon I will attempt my first sour ale. I'll be fermenting with a commercial Belgian yeast and then racking to the barrel with some Jolly Pumpkin dregs.

I'm wondering how possible it would be to continually produce a consistent beer in a single barrel (no blending). I know that over time the amount of oak flavor will decrease. Can I expect the yeast character to change as well? What else will change about the flavor over time if I keep my recipe and primary fermentation the same? How long can I expect the barrel to last and what will signal that it is time for retirement?

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Old 04-08-2013, 03:26 PM   #2
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I too am looking into getting some oak barrels for this purpose. While I don't have the experience yet for all the sour questions, the first few batches at least are going to impart some of the bourbon flavors into your beer. With that in mind I would do something that will lend itself to that style first until that starts to diminish before attempting something else. I have some friends that have done BIPA's in 55g Templeton Rye barrels with great results. I think most try to use old wine barrels so that they get some of the fruitiness of the wine for their sours. This is not to say you wouldn't eventually be able to use yours for this purpose, its just that at first be prepared for heavy bourbon flavors with a diminishing return each time. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but its my understanding that eventually the bacteria that sours beers will eventually find its way into the oak and should start to sour all beer that you place in it.

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Old 04-08-2013, 05:48 PM   #3
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I've done some volunteer work at a brewery that uses bourbon barrels for both sours and standard bourbon barrel aged beers. We give the barrels a good rinse and a citric acid soak. Considering the barrels typically only have a tiny port in them, scrubbing their insides is really out of the question. Plan on rinsing them and scrubbing the outside. I don't know if we use barrels for sour beers on non-sours after the fact, but I personally would not. Then again, I personally would never make a sour beer.

I have a maker's mark barrel coming to me here in a year or so. Bourbon barrel aged black beer. Oh. Yes.

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Old 04-09-2013, 03:15 AM   #4
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O ya scrubbing is out of the question. I'm not sure what exactly I will do In order to reuse the sour yeast. It would be nice to just give the barrel a quick rinse and then rack in the next beer assuming that some of the funky yeast will be left over and ready to do some work. I'm really just wondering how long that will work. Will a barrel last a year? a decade? a lifetime?

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Old 04-09-2013, 03:23 AM   #5
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I suspect you are going to have way too much bourbon in there to go straight into long term barrel ageing.

If I were you I would do a beer that can handle this type of barrel and do a short term ageing in there to pull out some of the bourbon. Depending on how much bourbon you get, you might need to do a couple of brews in there.

The increased surface area of such a small barrel will increase this effect.

If you plan on leaving a sour in there for its entire fermentation, ie a year or two, you may need to run a bunch of beers through there first.

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Old 04-09-2013, 05:23 AM   #6
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I scored a bourbon barrel last year and aged my Christmas Ale in it for 10 days - turned out just about right as far as oak and bourbon flavor go. I heard somewhere that one month in a 5 gal barrel is roughly equivalent to a year in a 50 gal barrel.

When I got the barrel I wasn't sure what, if anything, I should do to it. I ended up buying a 1.75 liter bottle of Jim Beam and sloshing it around then letting it sit in the barrel for a couple weeks. This helped swell the barrel too. It leaked for a couple days then sealed up. Once I was ready to use the barrel I just put the JB back in the bottle. When I was done aging the beer I gave it a rinse with water then put the JB back in it. I slosh it around once a month or so.

I'm thinking I'll put this years Christmas Ale in for two weeks and see how that goes. If it seems pretty oaky and bourbony still I think I'll try to get another Christmas Ale out of it, if not I'll use it as a Brett aging barrel. Not sure how long it'll last - I'll just roll with it and see how it goes.

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Old 04-09-2013, 02:25 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lpdjshaw View Post
I ended up buying a 1.75 liter bottle of Jim Beam and sloshing it around then letting it sit in the barrel for a couple weeks. This helped swell the barrel too. It leaked for a couple days then sealed up. Once I was ready to use the barrel I just put the JB back in the bottle. When I was done aging the beer I gave it a rinse with water then put the JB back in it. I slosh it around once a month or so.
I've been doing just about the same thing (Benchmark 8) and using distilled water for rinsing.

The bourbon and the oak will fade after each use. After the third beer, it really wasn't adding much. I am either going to inoculate it with Brett C or drill it out and use it as a pin for serving real ale.
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Old 04-10-2013, 06:08 PM   #8
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Thanks guys I guess I'm going to do a few (non-sour) dark beers first to try and break in the barrel.

I know that smaller barrel = more surface area. Another thing that it means is that the wood is less thick (fewer layers of char) and will contribute less complex flavors. This is true for whiskey anyway. I wonder how noticeable it will be with beer.

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Old 04-10-2013, 08:05 PM   #9
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Keep in mind that traditional Belgian sours have very little (to no) oak taste or aroma. The barrels have re-used for decades in a lot of cases, so they are as neutral as can be. They are mostly used to create a nice home for all the microflora, and it allows a certain amount of oxygen absorption which plays a role in the souring

Clearly, oak character is sometime desired, and i have added oak cubes to my sours.

I have been seriously considering doing this for a wee while now, but... haven't pushed the buy button as yet. I would prefer a 15 gallon barrel, but they seem nearly impossible to get over here. Or ridiculously expensive to get a new barrel.

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Old 04-11-2013, 08:35 AM   #10
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Quote:
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The barrels have re-used for decades in a lot of cases, so they are as neutral as can be. They are mostly used to create a nice home for all the microflora, and it allows a certain amount of oxygen absorption which plays a role in the souring
That's what I wanted to hear! So I could potentially just keep a barrel for 10 years or so as long as no other bugs creep in. Sounds like a perfect way to never run out of sour beer.
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