Fixing a gap in staves in a bourbon barrel

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GCGBrewing

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I bought a small (8-10g?) barrel about 3-4 years ago. I haven't had a chance to put any beer in it, so the only thing that has ever been in it is Whiskey. I am finally at a point where I am able to brew something to put in it, but found an issue today while looking it over.

On the bottom, there is a small gap in between 2 of the staves. Anything put into the barrel would quickly leak out and create a mess! You can see the sliver of light that is visible when looking through the bung hole (see 1st pic below).

I have read about putting 180F water into the barrel to get the wood to swell and fix any leaks, but would it swell enough to fix this gap? Would I be better served using the barrel in pieces to get the flavor contributions?

There are no off smells inside, just a subtle smell of bourbon whiskey. Its also bone dry inside. Thanks!
 

day_trippr

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There's only one way to find out.

fwiw, over the years I've read of folks rehabilitating dried out barrels with a very high degree of success. I don't recall anyone using such hot water, however. Most stick the barrel out in the yard with a hose keeping it full until it swells up tight...

Cheers!
 

IslandLizard

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You could also float it in a bin with clean water, the leaky area submerged. It may take a week for the wood to swell enough to reseal.

Hot water or steam is typically used to clean out barrels. There's nothing growing in there, is it? Does it still smell strongly of whiskey?

Once it's tight again, you may want to re-pickle the inside with some liquor for a few weeks if you want some of that character. When filling with beer prevent splashing at all cost, which causes unwanted oxidation. Leave only minimal headspace, again to stave off oxygen and bugs, like acetobacter. If aging for long times, you may need to top up regularly to replenish the angel's share.

Now smaller barrels have a relatively large surface to volume ratio, so wood character gets into the beer much faster, and can be as fast as from a few days to a week or 2. Keep acetobacter (fruit flies) out.

Once exposed to beer you should keep them filled, ideally with beer, but water can be used in between batches. A good scoop of meta and a regular rolling helps to keep all surfaces wet and sanitized.
 
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GCGBrewing

GCGBrewing

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I think I was mistaken on the hot water. That was actually for sanitizing inside a barrel. The cold water would work.
 
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GCGBrewing

GCGBrewing

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You could also float it in a bin with clean water, the leaky area submerged. It may take a week for the wood to swell enough to reseal.

I'm not sure that I have anything large enough to hold it, so filling it with water will likely have to be the way to go.

Hot water or steam is typically used to clean out barrels. There's nothing growing in there, is it? Does it still smell strongly of whiskey?

I wouldn't say it smells strongly of whiskey, but the only aroma is of the whiskey that used to be in there and smells awesome.

Once it's tight again, you may want to re-pickle the inside with some liquor for a few weeks if you want some of that character. When filling with beer prevent splashing at all cost, which causes unwanted oxidation. Leave only minimal headspace, again to stave off oxygen and bugs, like acetobacter. If aging for long times, you may need to top up regularly to replenish the angel's share.

I did read about others putting as much as half a bottle of whiskey back into the barrel, so I was thinking I'd add a generous amount (maybe 1/4 of a bottle to start) once I'm able to get it swelled back up again. I also plan to purge the barrel with CO2 before filling with beer, but will of course minimize splashing. I'll likely have to push the beer into the barrel with CO2 from my conical, because its too low to the ground for it to move via gravity.

Once exposed to beer you should keep them filled, ideally with beer, but water can be used in between batches. A good scoop of meta and a regular rolling helps to keep all surfaces wet and sanitized.

Thanks for all the good info. I certainly don't want to have this issue again, so I'll be sure to have a 2nd beer brewed right behind the RIS that ends up in the barrel.
 

madscientist451

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When I was a kid we had wooden rowboats and sailboats. They dried up during the winter, so when boating season came around, they got tossed in shallow water and they sank. After a week or so we pumped them out and they were good to go.
They still leaked somewhat, and that would be unacceptable for beverages.
Your dried out barrel will probably leak on the ends as well, it might take a while to get it to tighten up.
There are ways to fix leaks, check this out, good luck!
https://www.northeastbarrelcompany.com/barrel-care
 

imasickboy

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My method is similar to the one above.

-Fill the barrel with 1/10th its volume of hot (175°F; 80°C) water

-Insert the bung and roll the barrel being sure to coat all interior surfaces with water

-Stand the barrel on end, fill the head area (on the outside of the barrel) with hot water

-Let it stand for at least 30 minutes before repeating on the opposite end

-If there is a suction on the bung when it is removed, the barrel is sealed

-Drain the barrel and let it cool
 

chrilr

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If you have that big of a gap you will most likely dump that liquor thru the barrel onto the floor. You need to re-swell the barrel to close it up. Either submerge it in a large tub(bathtub/Rubbermaid tote) or build a barrel steamer out of a wall paper steamer. Got one at goodwill for 5 bucks and it took almost a week to close up a 5 gallon barrel
 
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GCGBrewing

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I keep mine filled with whiskey in between batches. It's quite neutral now though.
How much whiskey do you normally put in there when storing? I'd like to get it swelled up prior to brewing the RIS, but it ferments for a month before going in the barrel. During that month, I want to make sure there is Whiskey sitting in it to keep it from drying out again.

My method is similar to the one above.

-Fill the barrel with 1/10th its volume of hot (175°F; 80°C) water

-Insert the bung and roll the barrel being sure to coat all interior surfaces with water

-Stand the barrel on end, fill the head area (on the outside of the barrel) with hot water

-Let it stand for at least 30 minutes before repeating on the opposite end

-If there is a suction on the bung when it is removed, the barrel is sealed

-Drain the barrel and let it cool
This is likely the method I will use. I'll post photos of the process, so everyone can see the results and so if anyone else has this problem in the future they can reference this for information.

If you have that big of a gap you will most likely dump that liquor thru the barrel onto the floor. You need to re-swell the barrel to close it up. Either submerge it in a large tub(bathtub/Rubbermaid tote) or build a barrel steamer out of a wall paper steamer. Got one at goodwill for 5 bucks and it took almost a week to close up a 5 gallon barrel
Dumping $10-20 or more of good whiskey on the floor is definitely not my plan! I'll do what I can to get it swelled back up, and assuming I get that done, then put some whiskey into it for the month+ until the brew is ready.
 

microbusbrewery

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Some good ideas here. Another option, and something that has ended up being one of my favorite pieces of equipment, is a barrel steamer. I pretty much copied the one from Beer Diary, with the only real difference being that mine is all stainless. It uses a Wagner 705 Wallpaper Steamer to provide the steam. Check local classifieds, and you can probably find one for less than $30. You really don't even have to build the steaming wand, you could just cut the end off the hose and feed it in. Run that for about 20 minutes and I bet it'll tighten the barrel right up. It's also super handy for sanitizing kegs after running wild beers through them.

Here's a link to the one I built, and to Beer Diary.

http://www.microbusbrewery.org/2018/10/barrel-steamer.html

https://abeerdiary.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/my-diy-barrel-steamer/
 

shoengine

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How much whiskey do you normally put in there when storing? I'd like to get it swelled up prior to brewing the RIS, but it ferments for a month before going in the barrel. During that month, I want to make sure there is Whiskey sitting in it to keep it from drying out again.
I usually just get a handle from Costco. And it doesn't get dumped out on the floor. I've had mine since Sept of 2017, used it for three batches and it has never leaked.
 

william_shakes_beer

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when I did the tour of the dog fishead brewery, they walked past a 5,000 gallon aging tank made of an exotic wood ( zebra wood, I believe) they weren't using it at that time and had it filled with water to keep it sealed up.
 

ten80

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Some good ideas here. Another option, and something that has ended up being one of my favorite pieces of equipment, is a barrel steamer. /
Yep, steam is my favorite tool as it strips less flavor from the barrel then does filling the barrel with hot water.

I use a pressure cooker with silicone tubing slipped over the stem where the weight normally sits. The steam comes out of the 3ft long hose at around 201F and I was able to get a 5-gal barrel to about 190F during swelling, which has the added benefit of sanitizing the barrel. The hot steam swells the barrel very quickly and only a very small amount of water is accumulated in the barrel by the time you're done.

A a cheapo thrift store pressure cooker is fine for up to 5-15 gallons and a carpet steamer is more powerful and works great for any size barrel up to about 85 gallons based on my experience.
 

thewitt

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Put a hose in the bung and let it run for a couple of days. That little crack should swell shut.
 
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