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Old 08-19-2012, 11:41 AM   #1
mjkinne23
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Default How much head space needed in a 55 gallon cider barrel?

I'm preparing for my first large batch of cider in a 55 gallon oak barrel. How much head space do I need to leave? If I'm using 2lbs of sugar for every 5gals of cider (as was recommended to me), how many gallons of cider do I use?

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Old 08-19-2012, 12:42 PM   #2
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Not quite an answer but another idea to think about... How long do you plan on aging this is the barrel? I'd probably recommend doing the initial fermentation in a different vessel, then rack it in to the barrel to age. This will keep giant piles of yeast out of the barrel.

I'm getting ready to fill a wine barrel with 59 gallons of sour beer today. I used 2 32 gallon Rubbermaid garbage cans as primary. I picked them up from lowes for about $20 each. They're the heavy gray plastic ones. They're used in food service all the time and are safe. When I tell people I'm using garbage cans, they always turn up their noses.

Also keep in mind that you'll lose about 5 gallons of cider per year to evaporation thru the wood.

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Old 08-19-2012, 01:37 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by cadillacandy View Post
How long do you plan on aging this is the barrel?
Thanks, interesting things to think about there. I'm an all-grain beer brewer and this is my first attempt at going solo on cider. We did one in this barrel two years ago but I wasn't there when it was all put together so I'm not sure how much of what to use. I'm really interested in knowing volumes of cider so as not to have a pond in my basement.

Not to change the direction of the thread (because I still really need to know the above ), ,any huge downsides to fermenting, aging, and storing all in the same barrel? I know the arguments for beer, but not sure about apple cider/wine. I'd prefer to use the same one for all. We did this 2 years ago and kept it in that same vessel for the whole time. We weren't fond of the flavor (but made a GREAT mixer) so I'm not sure if it was because it sat on the yeast or if it was the charred barrel that impacted the flavor.

Second direction shift- Another question, how much yeast do you pitch in such a large amount? I do yeast starters for my beer, is that common for cider? If so, it must be a massive amount for this barrel. Or, do I just let it reproduce on its own and leave it alone for months (which is what we did the last time).
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Old 08-19-2012, 02:10 PM   #4
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If nothing else I'd use a different primary vessel to not have to account for the krausen and to leave less headspace in barrel. If your barrel is 55 gallons, and you get a couple of batches going in other containers, you can always add a couple of gallons of juice when you go to fill the barrel to make up any cider lost to the yeast. Or you could fill it with 40 gallons, ferment in the barrel, then add another 7.5 gallons, let it go, then top it off with more as it finishes up.

As far as how much volume 1lb of sugar adds, I'm not sure about that, but some quick research says that 1lb of sugar takes up about 2.25 cups. Not sure if that's dissolved or not, or if it really matters.

I've never let cider sit on a cake for longer than 2 months or so, so I can't really give 1st hand knowledge of off flavors. Like I said above, I'd be more worried about the headspace than the yeast cake. I know they usually leave Lambics on the cake for the entire aging process. If the "off" flavor came from the charred barrel, at least it's had a previous batch in there to strip some of that flavor...

Did your last batch pick up any un-wanted contamination (Lacto, Pedio, Brett, etc)? If the barrel has been stored correctly since the last batch, you're probably still okay if the last batch was relatively clean. I took a swab from the barrel I'm using and innoculated some beer with it to see if I had any acetobacter. Test came out clean.

What kind of yeast are you planning on using? I've used both champagne (ec1118) and ale yeast (s-04, us-05, wlp530, WLP300, etc). The champange yeast has much less krausen than the ale yeast. Champagne yeast also seems to strip a lot of the flavor and takes it down to 1.00 and below. The ale yeasts I've used seem to stop at around 1.000 - 1.002, leaving it slightly sweeter.

Next topic - yeast. The juice I usually use (Motts) is about 1.046 as it sits in the jug. Adding 2lbs of sugar to 5 gallons will up the gravity to about 1.064. Based on the calculations from Beersmith, you'll need 222.8 billion cells per 5 gallon batch. 2 packs of Lalvin EC-1118 would be good for 5 gallons, or 1 package and a .9L starter. The same applies to US-05 - 2 packs or a .9L starter per 5 gallons. Here's a link to an online yeast calculator if you haven't seen it before - http://www.mrmalty.com/calc/calc.html

For my 60 gallon barrel project I made a 5 gallon batch and pitched the package of Roselare yeast/bug blend. I let that sit for about a month, then racked to secondary and used the yeast cake as a big starter that went in to the 1st 20 gallon batch. I let that sit for a couple of weeks, then racked to another container and pitched the next 20 gallon batch on to that cake.

That's a lot to think about and get in to writing... and I was jumping around with each paragraph, so forgive me if I missed anything or something doesn't make sense!

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Old 08-20-2012, 05:25 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mjkinne23 View Post
I'm an all-grain beer brewer and this is my first attempt at going solo on cider. We did one in this barrel two years ago but I wasn't there when it was all put together so I'm not sure how much of what to use.

We did this 2 years ago and kept it in that same vessel for the whole time. We weren't fond of the flavor (but made a GREAT mixer) so I'm not sure if it was because it sat on the yeast or if it was the charred barrel that impacted the flavor.

Second direction shift- Another question, how much yeast do you pitch in such a large amount? I do yeast starters for my beer, is that common for cider? If so, it must be a massive amount for this barrel. Or, do I just let it reproduce on its own and leave it alone for months (which is what we did the last time).
This is your first solo cider attempt at cider and you are making 50 gallons?

I've done a few oak barrels of cider, but I have never re-used a barrel. Cider is fairly low ABV. Re-using a barrel two years later would make me nervous. I hope you've maintained the barrel properly.

Dissolved sugar does increase the volume, but not significantly. Just a guess, but I would expect an increase of a gallon, or less, from the sugar you're adding.

Fermenting cider in a barrel and aging on the lees is a traditional fermentation method. I prefer to rack into a barrel after fermentation, but I know some very good cidermakers that do it that way. I believe the traditional method is to fill the barrel nearly full. During fermentation the foam overflows and expels some undesirable portions of the cider. You don't want that mess in your basement, so I wouldn't fill the barrel so full. As a brewer, you should have a pretty good idea of how much headspace a fermentation needs. A bourbon barrel is 53 gallons. I probably wouldn't go over 45. After ferment, I'd top off like cadillacandy suggested.

I use dry wine yeast. At a buck a pack, I think it's easier to add a few more packs than it is to make a starter.

You said you weren't fond of the flavor the last time. Six years ago, we aged cider in a Lairds Applejack barrel for 6-8 months. I wasn't fond of it when we emptied the barrel. So, I bottled my share and put it on a shelf. I forgot all about it. Two years later, I found the cider and figured I'd taste a bottle to decide if I should even keep it. It was excellent! I entered it in the NHC (National Homebrew Competition) and it took a gold in the final round!
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Old 08-20-2012, 11:09 PM   #6
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Here in the upper midwest The traditional way to make barrel aged cider is to wait until the weather cools in the fall, place the barrel somewhere unheated yet protected and not likely to freeze very hard. Fill it and let ferment very slowly until spring.

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