Barrel Aging Attempts Not Like the Real Thing

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DaveTF

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I've tried a few bourbon barrel aging attempts with varying amounts of oak cubes and bourbon. While the imperial stouts themselves turn out good, the bourbon barrel part seems to be ruining them for me. They have an after taste which is just like adding some bourbon to a glass of beer. What I consider the "real thing" is a commercial brewery aging in a bourbon oak barrel. I don't get that astringent aftertaste, it's much more subtle and smooth.

One of my goals when I took up brewing last year was to make barrel aged imperial stouts. I've done a ton of reading on different methods of doing this but I'm starting to get convinced that I'm not going to duplicate that taste I'm after since I don't have the capability to fill a large barrel.

I haven't had the opportunity to taste a homebrewed version from someone else to see if I'm getting those same tastes. Has anyone else been experiencing that? I'm thinking of just working on perfecting an imperial stout and forget the bourbon barrel aging part.
 
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DaveTF

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I've gone from 1 month to 4 months on oak cubes. Without actually adding any bourbon directly to the aging beer the oak cubes don't have enough bourbon in them to impart the flavor. I've soaked oak cubes in bourbon for a month before using them and it's still not enough. Not much of a comparison of one month in bourbon vs. 7+ years of a barrel aging on it.

I keg all my beer and let them age there as well. I've found an imperial stout benefits a lot letting it rest before drinking. The one constant with that is that aftertaste isn't aging out.
 

Jag75

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Maybe try using oak spirals instead of cubes. More surface area . I do think you'll never get that actual yrs of aging in a barrel flavor by using cubes or spirals . If you really enjoy that style I'd get a 5 gallon barrel as @SanPancho mentioned and let it age . I've never messed with this style so I'm just spit balling here. I hope you get that flavor your desiring.
 

Dr_Jeff

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I have several ten gallon barrels, paid 100-150 each for them.

First time you use one, you will want to be ready to swap the beer at 3-4 months, second time, 4-6 months, after that you can let it go closer to a year.

The latest barrel, is on it's fourth use, and I will likely add a spiral, next time I swap the beer, which needs to be done soon.
 

davidabcd

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I was just reading what one of the brewers for Founders said. This is from the Founders website:
"Let the beer age with the wood. Use your palate to decide how long. Oak chips are pretty quick; a week or so can be plenty."
I made a Dragon's Milk clone, used the chips for about five days or so. It was one of my better successes.
 

Dr_Jeff

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I was just reading what one of the brewers for Founders said. This is from the Founders website:
"Let the beer age with the wood. Use your palate to decide how long. Oak chips are pretty quick; a week or so can be plenty."

Too many samples, diminish the final volume, and each time introduce an opportunity to contaminate the batch.

So this is true.

You don't want to leave the barrel empty after beer has been in it.

Now lets put into real life and into perspective.

The beer is in the barrel and you sample and it is right at the "perfect place".
You now have to brew a replacement beer, likely a big beer, and if you are not brewing big beers all the time and always have one ready, time to brew.
Big beers often take a bit longer to finish fermenting.
So you brew that day, since you keep a good inventory of everything.
You likely need to allow 10-14 days for the beer to finish and the yeast to settle out.
Now it's two weeks since the sample date where it was perfect, and the beer has changed a bit/quite a bit, because it happens fast in smaller barrels.

Once the beer is swapped, the clock starts ticking again.
Lots of planning and scheduling for a homebrewer with a barrel.

And you really need to like barrel aged beers.

Having been gone for a while, and my ability to brew while home was limited, there are currently five barrel aged beers on tap, with more on deck.

I need to brew several to have some session beers, IPAs, etc. and still need to replace the beer in a couple of barrels.

And don't get me started on those d*** thieving angels.
 

davidabcd

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Too many samples, diminish the final volume, and each time introduce an opportunity to contaminate the batch.
Yeah, I don't open the fermenter ever before three weeks. The exception being taking less than 30 seconds to add the bourbon-soaked chips and taking the advice of the recipe for the time. I'm not too picky and someone did the heavy lifting by designing the recipe. If I could have used a transporter beam, trust me, I wood have.
Pun.
I'm not an advanced brewer with techniques or otherwise.
 

superiorsat

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I've been on a reinfuse program. This would be my 4th time on the barrels I'm using. When I got these two 3 gallon barrels they leaked faster than a garden hose could fill them. Just throwing this out there because it has been working for me. I filled both initially with boiling water to seal and kill anything, then each got half a gallon of bourbon. I rotate daily for a month or two then pour remaining bourbon back into the bottle ( which is drastically less than I started with). Fill with beer of choice let set for around 3 months and keg. Juuuuust barley get a full keg out of these 2 3 gallon barrels due to the angels but I've manage to get a full keg (maybe short a pint or 2) each time. Then I hit with boiling water again and drain, back in goes the bourbon plus another bottle and repeat. I'll try a 5th time next year but not sure how long a guy can keep going like this.
 

Golddiggie

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Something else you could try with both cubes and spirals. Move the container with the oak and bourbon in/out of the fridge and/or freezer. Let it reach room temperature as part of the stage. The thermal changes move the bourbon in/out of the oak and mimic (to a degree) the seasonal changes normally encountered when aging bourbon.

I did this with something I wanted to be sure the oak cubes really worked with. I used a sealed Mason jar to contain everything and moved it from fridge to counter more than several times. I then let it sit on the counter for several more months. End result was far better than it started out as. Of course, we're talking about over a year, and it was not a beer. ;)
 

monkeymath

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I recently listened to an old episode of the Sour Hour (podcast by Jay Goodwin) and Michael Tonsmeire was on the show and pointed out that commercial breweries would often use spirit barrels to impart a certain flavour because they are not legally allowed to add the spirit directly to the beer. Homebrewers face no such restriction and should have no qualms just adding bourbon straight to the beer.

It seems a bit funny, I admit, but soaking oak cubes in bourbon prior to adding them to the beer seems unnecessarily complicated.
 

madscientist451

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I've tried a few bourbon barrel aging attempts with varying amounts of oak cubes and bourbon. While the imperial stouts themselves turn out good, the bourbon barrel part seems to be ruining them for me.
There are way too many variables to address this with the information provided. What kind of oak? What bourbon was used? What is the toast level of the wood?
Large commercial breweries don't just put the beer in a barrel and then bottle it, they are blending from multiple barrels and then blending in some beer that has never been in a barrel at all. They may be adding vanilla and other flavors.
My suggestion would be too keep trying different methods beyond cubes to add your barrel character. I'm a lazy brewer, and there's no way I'm going to go through all the hassle of having a barrel to take care of. I just soak Jack Daniel's barrel chips in some bourbon and toss them in the keg. If the bourbon note is lacking I add some of the bourbon that the chips were soaking in. Sometimes I use a metal canister so I can pull the chips out, sometimes I just put them in loose. These barrel chips impart more of a woody note, since they are not toasted. Most times I'll have to blend back un-oaked beer. Sometimes I just add some of the wood-infused bourbon, and don't add the chips.
Someone has already mentioned spirals, but I would suggest using staves or chips and toasting them yourself, here's an article that explains the process, and if you look around there are many more ways to do it:
 
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DaveTF

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I recently listened to an old episode of the Sour Hour (podcast by Jay Goodwin) and Michael Tonsmeire was on the show and pointed out that commercial breweries would often use spirit barrels to impart a certain flavour because they are not legally allowed to add the spirit directly to the beer. Homebrewers face no such restriction and should have no qualms just adding bourbon straight to the beer.

It seems a bit funny, I admit, but soaking oak cubes in bourbon prior to adding them to the beer seems unnecessarily complicated.
That's kind of my problem. I don't like just adding bourbon to the beer, it's not tasting the same. That was one of my questions for others;
do they feel the same way about the taste or is it maybe just me?
 

monkeymath

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That's kind of my problem. I don't like just adding bourbon to the beer, it's not tasting the same. That was one of my questions for others;
do they feel the same way about the taste or is it maybe just me?

Well it's hard to say what exactly the flavour is that you are looking for. If adding bourbon doesn't do it for you, I'd say it's not the taste of bourbon that you're looking for.
You mentioned barrel aging for 7 years - I've never heard of anyone aging beer for that long, but I imagine oxidation would play a lead role in the flavour by that time. Maybe that's your kink?!
 

MaxStout

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I've only done oak-aging a couple times, both RIS. I would use toasted oak cubes, 2 oz or so in 8 oz. of bourbon in a mason jar. I prepare that 1 month BEFORE I brew. Then brew. After primary is done, rack to secondary, add the cubes and the bourbon. Age for 6 months or more.
 
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DaveTF

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Well it's hard to say what exactly the flavour is that you are looking for. If adding bourbon doesn't do it for you, I'd say it's not the taste of bourbon that you're looking for.
You mentioned barrel aging for 7 years - I've never heard of anyone aging beer for that long, but I imagine oxidation would play a lead role in the flavour by that time. Maybe that's your kink?!
I was referring to how long bourbon typically sits in a barrel that is then used by a commercial brewery to age their beer. Soaking oak chips/cubes is never going to equal that length of time obviously.
I really like the bourbon undertones that good barrel aging produces. It's just not the same as just adding bourbon to beer and letting it sit. Maybe it takes up to a year for that aftertaste I'm getting to subside.
 
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DaveTF

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I've only done oak-aging a couple times, both RIS. I would use toasted oak cubes, 2 oz or so in 8 oz. of bourbon in a mason jar. I prepare that 1 month BEFORE I brew. Then brew. After primary is done, rack to secondary, add the cubes and the bourbon. Age for 6 months or more.
Since you're adding bourbon directly in the beer too, how does that end up tasting compared to a commercial barrel aged stout?
 

hottpeper13

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I read a paper from the MBAA where they put the same RIS in different ageing vessels.
1- control , just a CCV
2- A CCV with bourbon soaked wood (can't remember what kind)
3- A CCV with bourbon soaked wood with a micro oxygen stone ( being measured)
4- A bourbon barrel

The sensory said that the micro oxygenated one was closest to the barrel flavor ,so some oxidizing is needed.
 

MaxStout

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I read a paper from the MBAA where they put the same RIS in different ageing vessels.
1- control , just a CCV
2- A CCV with bourbon soaked wood (can't remember what kind)
3- A CCV with bourbon soaked wood with a micro oxygen stone ( being measured)
4- A bourbon barrel

The sensory said that the micro oxygenated one was closest to the barrel flavor ,so some oxidizing is needed.

That makes sense. With some beers, a little oxidation is a feature, not a bug. The trick is not overdoing it. I would think the normal racking to secondary, headspace, etc., would add plenty of O2.

Did the paper state the level of DO resulting from micro-oxygenating?
 

hottpeper13

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They did HPLC on all samples and had as graph , but I can't remember. I can't do it so I just use barrels,and don't need to remember much more.
 

hottpeper13

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Just had a thought. Could you get reasonable results by putting your whiskey stick(that's what my brother called them) at ambient and move it to 33-40* chamber with an "s" style air lok and starsan? Do that once a month for the duration of ageing and taste it now and then.
 

ITV

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My experience with using oak cubes is to boil them first in water, dump the water and let them soak in bourbon (mason jar) for at least 2 weeks.

The boiling water extracts the tannins and opens up the wood pores. I usually add enough bourbon to cover the oak cubes in the mason jar to avoid too much bourbon taste from filling the jar completely, assuming that you are dumping in the entire contents into the fermenter.

My preference is to use a whiskey barrel for oaking a beer which I get more complex flavors than using oak cubes.
 
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