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Old 08-27-2012, 07:36 PM   #1
strongarm
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Default How to make a 15+% bourbon barrel aged imperial stout

As with any hobby I get into I often find myself getting quickly obsessed with learning everything I can about my new found interest. I don’t normally go through the getting your toes wet before going all the way in philospophy, I just find the biggest cliff and jump. I do however research to the exaustion how I should jump off that cliff. I preface with this so I can tell you I am no expert at brewing beer or spacifically barrel aging for that matter. I can tell you I have a love for beer making and am trying to push the limits…this is my journey and lessons learned of a limit being pushed.

This is my 7th batch I have made. I have a fondness dark high gravity beers, particullarly on the maltier side. I love strong belgians and stouts. I live in the Southern California region and recently had a brew from the Bruery called “Black Tuesday”. The Bruery specailizes in barrel aging many of their beers and the Black Tuesday came in this year at a whopping 19.5%ABV. The Black Tuesday is an imperial stout that is aged in bourbon oak barrels and it is the beer that inspired me to attempt a strong barrel aged beer.

I had the vision but there were a few issues. First off how do I make a beer anywhere near the strength of 20%. As I mentioned I have only brewed 7 beers and I am still an extract brewer and still using my basic brewers kit with a few addons. Doing a 19.5% brew alone was intimidating. I know from reading that when you start getting above 7-8% beers you move into needing some additional equipment and the overall process changes, I also know that going above 10-11% can cause additional changes in your brewing process, going above 15-16% reaches yet another level. Now, I have done a quadrupal belgium ale which got to 10.5% and this was a good leason on making a strong beer. Some new skills I had to learn past the basic 7-8% brew were, making a yeast starter, boiling nearly 20lbs of fermentables in a 20qt pot…it gets thick, getting an oxigenation tank with diffuser stone, dealing with very active fermenation and krausen overflow, dealing with a long fermentation period, long conditioning time in bottle and a long time for carbonation to build up. I decided to attempt a 15%ABV beer for this because even though most yeasts state they can achieve up to 10% ABV I have heard that many yeasts if treated right can achieve 13%ABV or even more.

I will outline some of the questions that I had while doing my first barrel aged beer and my lessons learned.

I want to barrel age a beer, where do I start? You first need to have a plan. 2 beers I know of that benefit well from a bourbon barrel are stouts and barleywines. There are many others that would benefit as well but these are the ones I have experience with. My goal was to make a 15% imperial stout then age in a 5gallon bourbon barrel to pick up those oak and vanilla flavors along with the bourbon. I created my reciepe and increased my usual 5g batch to a 6g batch. I knew that I was going to loose some volume due to overflow during fermentation and trub loss. I wanted to have enough volume after fermentationt to atleast fill the barrel and maybe have some left for top off. I brew my reciepe and beer is now in primary fermentation.

I need to get a barrel but I have trouble finding a reasonably priced (under $100) one that’s 5g? I recommend finding your source before actually brewing so you know it will be avaialble in time…you may have to wait. If you google search “used bourbon barrel” you will find some results. I feel that my best find was at Adventures in homebrewing. They get shipments of used 5g bourbon barrels every couple of months from a distilerry called Balcones. I simply requested to get on their email list when they were avaialble. Total Cost shipped was about $120.
http://www.homebrewing.org/Used-5-gallon-whiskey-barrel_p_2187.html


By slotline at 2012-08-27

How do I properly prepare this barrel for filling? My goal was to get oak and bourbon flavors from the barrel. I knew that many people prepared their barrels before using. All mentioned cleaning the barrel and sealing the barrel. First to address the cleaning. My worry was all the instruction involved filling the barrel with liguid (either water or alchahol) and some type of chemical. I was worried about this because I wanted to preserve the bourbon that I knew was residing in the barrel. Because the barrel was recently dumped of the bourbon (mine had a date right on the barrel) and after a sniff test and flashlight inspection I took a marginal risk and did no cleaning whatesoever to the barrel, I just left it sealed with the bung. For the sealing I had the same issue, all instructions I found talked about adding water in the barrel to swell and seal. This once again broke my goal of retaining the original bourbon flavor inside. I called the Bruery and asked how they prepped their barrels. They said 1 week before you are ready to add the beer soak the outside of the barrel to swell it. Made perfect sence and I don’t know why I didn’t think of that. Also my barrel was in very good condition so there were no obvious leaks in it.


By slotline at 2012-08-27

How do I fill this thing? This was pretty easy and very similar to transferring from a primary bucket to a secondary carboy. You follow the exact same steps treating the barrel like the carboy. Make sure you tube is at the bottom of the barrel so you don’t introduce excessive oxygen. The only issue I had was it’s hard to see where the level is in the barrel when you fill it and I didn’t want to overflow it. I used a flashlight to help me see where it was at. Once filled I recommend putting a stopper with an airlock to seal the barrel. I just used the bung it came with and after a few days went to open it and there was signifigant pressure built up in the barrel. You could probably replace the airlock with the bung after a few days but I would wait till things settle down. I stored the barrel where I would normally store a carboy…around 70degrees.


By slotline at 2012-08-27

When do I stop the barrel aging? This was one of the tougher decisions to make. I didn’t want to short change the aging but didn’t wan’t a fortified bourbon beer either. I highly recommend taking a sample once a week to judge if you feel there is enough bourbon in it…the bourbon will come through much quicker than the oak and will be the dominating taste. I guessed on 3-4 weeks based on everything I had read and heard. After 2 weeks I could definetly taste bourbon in the beer but since my beer was so big I thought it could use more time. I eneded up stopping at 5 weeks. For a more common 8-12% beer you are probably going to be closer to that 2-3 week mark but it’s up to your preference and your samples.


By slotline at 2012-08-27

How do I bottle this? I treated this process just ast I would with a beer in a secondary carboy. I siphoned it from the barrel to a bottling bucket but only 2.5G (you’ll see why later on). The issue I ran into was that my auto siphon did not fit into the barrel hole. I had to use the old school method of siphoning with a tube filled with sanatized water. I added my priming sugar and bottled from the bucket. *** Update, after 3 months of conditioning in bottles at 80degrees there is 0 carbonation in this beer. I think the yeast was spent before bottling.***

What happened to the 2G’s left over? I filled 2 1G glass jugs with the beer and added 2 sliced vanilla beans and 2 oz cocoa nibs to the each jug. I let that sit for 5 weeks. After 5 weeks I transferred the 2G’s to a 2.5G keg (I knew the bottled beer didn’t carb so I had to force carb). After 3 weeks set to 10-12 PSI at 35 degrees the beer finally was carbonated to the level I wanted.


By slotline at 2012-08-27

By slotline at 2012-08-27

I used a cut off racking cane connected to the tap to fill my bottles. I did purge the bottles with CO2 prior to filling. I used oxygen barrier caps.

This is my anyversary beer that I will make 1 of every year. I wanted to finish off the bottles with some style so I made tags out of metallic cardstock which included a # and details on the brew. Additionally I dipped the bottles in wax (actually it’s a polymer). This gives the bottle a cool look but is also functional to give an additional barrier for oxygen to enter the bottle since these can be aged for a long time. The “wax” was purchsed from http://www.etchedimages.com and is a no chip wax that has a very hard plastic like finish that is very shiny. Keep in mind that this does need to be heated to 360 degrees to melt and if you get it too hit you can blow up a bottle…I learned this the hard way.

By slotline at 2012-08-27
Best way to melt is to use a fry daddy junior or a crock pot that has a temperature setting and just put your clean soup can in it.

I ended up getting only 19 bottles total that I am very pleased with out of the entire batch. I learned a lot through the process though. This writup will hopefully help others learn from my experiment and lessons learned.

By slotline at 2012-08-27

By slotline at 2012-08-27

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Old 08-27-2012, 07:51 PM   #2
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This was a really well thought out and put together idea. Congrats!

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Old 08-27-2012, 07:54 PM   #3
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Nicely done!

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Old 08-27-2012, 09:23 PM   #4
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Very cool man. What kind of bottles are those? I'd imagine they're bombers, but they look stubby, and I cant imagine you lost that much beer in the process, so maybe they're 750ml bottles or something?

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Old 08-27-2012, 10:24 PM   #5
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There stubby's 11-12oz in the back and 7oz in the front. Half the batch was bottled earlier and not given the vanilla cacao treatment or force carbing. Thanks for the kind words!

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Old 08-28-2012, 05:34 AM   #6
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Nicely done man!

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Old 08-28-2012, 04:12 PM   #7
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Very well done writeup. Care to share the recipe for the beer?

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Old 08-28-2012, 05:08 PM   #8
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Keep a few of those around to enter in the NHB Competition next year!!

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Old 08-28-2012, 05:13 PM   #9
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Very very nice write up and pics!! I am the same thinking as you to go "find the biggest cliff and jump", and for my 2nd brew did a Vanilla Bourbon Oak Russian Imperial Stout that's over 11.5%. Still a month and a half in bottles, but coming along very nicely. I would almost kill to try one of yours in a few years!
Great touch with the wax and cards!!

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Old 08-28-2012, 07:37 PM   #10
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Go big or go home! Very Nice!!

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