Oak guide

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Nateo

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I had a hard time finding a comprehensive, brief break down of all the commonly available oaking options, so this is my attempt to put together a guide.

If you have anything to add, please do so.

If I got anything wrong, please let me know. I don't have firsthand experience with every toast/type so I'm mostly synthesizing what I've found elsewhere.

Varieties:
American - Big, aggressive oak flavor. Aromatic sweetness with lots of vanilla flavor (think whiskey).
French - More "noble," subdued flavor. Aromatic sweetness with cinnamon, allspice, butterscotch, milk chocolate flavors. Dark fruit/raisin flavor?
Hungarian - Lots of vanilla, with coffee and bittersweet chocolate flavors. Leather and black pepper aroma.

Toasts:
Light - Fresh wood flavor, coconut
Medium - Less wood/coconut, more caramel/vanilla
Medium + (House) - Less wood/coconut, more coffee/roasted character, mildly campfire-y
Dark - Less wood/coconut, more vanilla, more campfire/roasted character, fewer subtler flavors (cinnamon/allspice/chocolate etc)

Oak Media:
Barrel - Big, heavy, expensive. Look really cool. Not every toast/origin combination readily available.
Spiral - More expensive than chips, less mess than chips.
Dowels - A common source seems to be chair-legs from your Lowes/Home Depot type store. Toast with open flame or oven to desired darkness.
Cubes (beans) - Several layers of toast due to shape and thickness. More complex flavors than chips. 2-12 month extraction time.
Chips - One layer of toast. More "one-dimensional" flavors. 1-2 week extraction time.

How to Sanitize cubes or chips:
Do nothing - Dump from sealed bag directly into beer.
Boil - Boil several minutes in water. Dump into secondary.
Steam - Steam several minutes over boiling water. Dump into secondary
Booze - Soak in 1-3oz spirits (Bourbon, rum, etc) for 1-2 weeks. Drain (or not) and dump into secondary.
K-meta solution - Spray or rinse with K-meta. Alternately, heat k-meta solution in a glass measuring cup until steaming, place in a bowl surrounded by chips, and put a lid on the bowl.

How to use chips:
When added to primary, yeast will metabolize vanilla compounds, leaving more of the subtler flavors behind. Good for beers with short ageing requirements.
Can be used after fermentation to preserve more vanilla compounds.
Baseline usage: 1/2-1oz per 5 gallon of beer.

How to use cubes:
Add to secondary for 2-12 months. Good for bigger beers needing extended ageing.
Baseline usage: 2-3oz per 5 gallon of beer.
 

cactusgarrett

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I would suggest under "Media", adding Dowels of which you can toast your own. Here's a handy graph I've used to obtain different flavors via different toasting temps (at 3-4hrs toast time):

 

Homercidal

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You say chips leaves a one-dimensional flavor, yet you can buy chipped Jack Daniels Barrels and I "think" (because I have not used them yet) that they would add a bit more than one dimension. So that is another option.

Look for Jack Daniels Smoking Chips in the Bar-B-Q section.
 

Revvy

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You say chips leaves a one-dimensional flavor, yet you can buy chipped Jack Daniels Barrels and I "think" (because I have not used them yet) that they would add a bit more than one dimension. So that is another option.

Look for Jack Daniels Smoking Chips in the Bar-B-Q section.
I first learned about this from one of the mods, years ago, Biermuncher.



I use them all the time, and even toast them, I would NOT say they are one dimensional....Just the opposite, I think they have much more character than just buying a hunk of graded "fresh" from a lhbs.

I've steamed them, soaked them in both more jack, and cheaper grade bourbon, and toasted, steamed AND soaked them.

They work great, and a 7 dollar bag lasts forever. Plus you can find them in just about any grocery, big box, or hardware store.

Your info is all well and good, but try to avoid slapping "judgments" like "one dimensional" on things. For every one person that doesn't like something, there will be at least one more that tells a different story. There are very FEW absolutes in brewing, there are as many ways of doing things as there are brewers. There's a saying here, ask 10 brewers a question and you'll get 12 different answers...and they ALL will be correct.
 

ScottD13

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Medium Toast + is often described as mildly camp-firey..and in my experience it's sure it.
 

Yooper

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As far as sanitizing, I'd mention what some of us winemakers do. One is nothing- the chips come fresh out of the bag, and go right into the carboy.

For more anal types, the chips can be sprayed and/or rinsed with k-meta or even put in a k-meta "humidor". You just heat up some k-meta solution, so that it's steaming, in a glass measuring cup, place it in a bowl and stick the chips around this cup and put the lid on the bowl.

Some will put the oak chips in the oven to sanitize, too. Most winemakers don't steam/boil/soak the oak chips since that removes some of the "oakiness".
 
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Nateo

Nateo

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Like I said, I'm hardly an expert and don't have firsthand experience with every variety. I was just synthesizing info I've found elsewhere. If more than a few people said the same thing, I put it on the guide.

Revvy: How would you change the "oak media: chips" entry?

Thanks for the feedback everyone.
 

jessup

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wow cactusgarret that's a great chart, thanks! and thank you to the OP for creating this thread. i remember there was another thread similar that i'm searching for but i'm not seeing it yet. just a buncha posts with very little important content. if i see the other thread i'll be sure to post it. aging in barrels is great i recommend it to everyone. oaking adds much, much more than a single dimension and that's a fact.
 

JimTheHick

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Great info!

Any consensus on adding the soaking liquid (wine/port/whiskey) into the fermentor?

I've read to add the soaking fluids in some posts and others say this contains bitter-tasting tannins from the oak and thus should be thrown out.
 
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Nateo

Nateo

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Jim: Good luck finding consensus on anything homebrew-related. FWIW I've done it both ways, and they both work fine. The liquid has a lot of flavor, both from the spirit, and whatever flavors the spirit sucked out of the wood. Taste the spirit before you dump it in (be sanitary) and decide for yourself if that's the kind of flavor you want in the beer.

Since initially writing this, I've found and used some of those Jack Daniels smoking chips. They're the exception to the "chips are one-dimensional" rule. The oak the Jack Daniels barrels were made from were charred, and then had whiskey soak in them for who knows how many months. So there are all kinds of flavors at work in them.

The kind of chips I've found and used from the LHBS are new oak, chipped up into bits, then toasted. They have such low mass the heat cooks them through evenly. So like that nice toasting flavors chart shows, for any given temp there are one or two flavor compounds that will be dominant. That's why I say the 'usual' sort of chips are "one-dimensional"
 

JimTheHick

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I hear you about the consensus!

I've got this oak spiral labelled "heavy toast" (american).

I'm going to put it into a Baltic porter. It weighs about 1.3 oz and I was going to soak it in some wine or rum(??) and add it. I really dislike bourbon in my beer.

image-136383582.jpg
 
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Nateo

Nateo

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I hear you about the consensus!

I've got this oak spiral labelled "heavy toast" (american).

I'm going to put it into a Baltic porter. It weighs about 1.3 oz and I was going to soak it in some wine or rum(??) and add it. I really dislike bourbon in my beer.
If you don't like the taste of bourbon, odds are good you won't like the taste of heavy toast American oak. That's where the bulk of bourbon's flavor comes from.
 

JimTheHick

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Great point my friend.

You happen to be in the market for some heavy toast American oak spirals? ;)

I have some light chips to use instead.

Edit: I think my early impression of bourbon stouts was a bad one where they just added bourbon straight to it. I was thinking about grabbing a bottle of schlafly bourbon barrel stout as the 2011 just hit stores my me. This one good?
 
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