Oaking & flavouring advice

Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum

Help Support Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.


"Lazy extract brewer."
Apr 3, 2015
Reaction score
I plan on making a dark ale, in the 6.5-7.0% ABV range, that I'd like to add oak chips, cacao nibs, part of a vanilla bean, and maybe bourbon to for a late winter-warmer. I understand I can use the bourbon to both sanitize the oak, cacao, & vanilla bean as well as add its own flavour.

My question is, how much of each should I use to make a 2.5 gallon batch? Also, for the recipe, what kind of hops would be best? Do I need anything other than bittering hops due to all the other flavourings I am adding? I know I am going to get "start here and taste until you like it" but I don't know where to start. Please help!


PS - no, I don't have a recipe down yet, but just run with what I am giving you, OK? :)
For a 5 gallon batch I use 2 ounces of oak but it really depends on your tastes.
At 2.5 gallons you may want to consider
1 ounce of oak
One vanilla bean
2 ounces of nibs
Enough bourbon to cover it all. 6 ounces or so.
You can always go stronger on the next batch.
CJ-3 gives good starting points for amounts.

What I would strongly suggest that while the cacao and vanilla can just be added directly and let sit for 7-14 days with no issue usually, the oak should be approached carefully. Extraction from chips is extremely quick. You can overdo it in 24h if you are unlucky. So what I would do is soak it in bourbon for 24h, add the bourbon to the beer, taste, and if you think it could still use a little more add the actual chips in a bag you can pull out. From there taste every 12h. Seriously. Be that careful
You want the oakyness probably a touch more than you would like the finished beer to be as it will mellow a bit.

Those issues with overoaking have made me go to cubes. Much easier to handle. I can give em a quick boil to extract exessive tannins (most barrels are not fresh either and seen previous use which lowered tannin levels), dry em out again, and then soak them. I can leave em in the beer for days or even weeks without overdoing it. Highly recommended.
I've never used cocoa nibs or vanilla. but I would go light on them. I have a Russian Imperial Stout (5 gallons) in secondary on 4 ounces of medium toast oak chips soaked in 2 of the small hip pocket bottles of Jim Beam Bourbon. The first one didn't soak the chips deep enough. I drained off the bourbon and will have it as cocktails. I plan on bottling after a week or so and aging for at least 5 months. before trying one. These may last a couple of years.
I suggest just one ounce of oak chips in primary as a starting point. Put the the the chips in a hop bag for the last few minutes of the boil, then use sanitized tongs to add them to the primary.

EDIT: my 1 ounce for 5 gallons.
Yep, I completely agree with the rest. Careful with the oak. This year I did five gallons of bourbon and oak porter. I let a half ounce of oak chips soak in 4 tbls of bourbon for a day and after the primary was done racked gallon of that onto the bourbon/oak and let that sit for a week. Then combined the gallon back with the rest and bottled. After a month and a half the oak is mellow enough to enjoy. Before that is was a whole lot of oak! Like an oak version of pine-sol...
If you are open to aging for some time, oak cubes have less surface area than chips and slower extraction allowing for more control (fewer samples needing to be drawn as well).
Thanks for all the help. If I ever make this, I'll be sure to let you all know what I end up using.
OK, I have made the beer. It's done, and has been waiting (like me) for the weather to clear so I can get out & get the oak chips. The LHBS was out last time I went, and then the weather hit. ANYWAY - my question now is, what is the timing on soaking these things? I plan on putting the vanilla & cacao nibs in one hop-sack & the oak chips in another. It seems like they need to sit for different periods of time, and again, it seems like the cacao/vanilla can sit longer than the oak chips, but I am not sure.

Any help/guidance/advice, again, is much appreciated!
I am thinking I should have used more than 4 oz of bourbon - 2oz of oak chips have soaked up about half the bourbon already, and I poured it over the chips not even 5 hours ago.

Time to start shaking the container...
For 5 gallons, I usually take a smaller mason jar (6-8oz?), almost filled with oak chips then topped off with bourbon. Put the lid on and let it sit for weeks to months.

Then I brew the beer, after primary ferm, move to secondary, then add the bourbon and oak to the fermenter. I'll let this sit for up to a month, then rack into the keg.
I am thinking my 2oz won't take but a couple of days to get a nice oak-iness into the beer.
I did about a half ounce of chips and about a third of a cup of Jim beam. Let them sit for a few days. Poured off the harsh initial Bourbon and added more. Let sit for 2.5 weeks. Currently have it in a 1 gallon batch of my Porter we made. It's been since last Saturday. Still not super oaky though I didn't try it last night. Will taste to night and let you know. I added a bit more Bourbon a couple nights ago, maybe 3 tbls worth. Wanted it a bit more boozy so it could balance better.
Best result is still to be had with cubes. Easiest to controll. If you do a quick boil in water on them to pull out the excess tannins (I do that for 70-90% of the ones I use so I can controll the tannin amount) and then soak em for minimum a week, better more, you can just dump that in and try sometimes. With chips the extraction is so quick that you can easily go overboard.

Then I can leave the cubes in for weeks and have little risk of going overboard. Nicer controll.

If you use soaked chips I recommend adding the liquid first, part by part, as it has absorbed most of the character. And taste. Just to be sure you don´t go overboard. When chips are added my experience says taste often. Again, they work really quickly.
I don't know how many other beers I will ever be "oaking", so cubes were a waste on me. But I did look at them.

I put the chips & bourbon both in yesterday. I'll sample it today to see if they need to come out. I imagine I need to leave the cacao nibs in for a while longer.
I don't meant to hijack this thread, but I put an imperial stout into primary yesterday that I plan to add oak and bourbon to in secondary, so this thread is particularly timely for me.

I think I am going to use the oak spirals rather than chips. According to the manufacturer, the spirals continue to add flavor for 6 weeks, and after that they are done. I plan to add 1 spiral and bourbon before I rack into secondary and let it go for the full 6 weeks. After 6 weeks, I'll pull a sample and taste. Add more bourbon and/or oak as desired at that time and check again in 6 weeks or sooner.

I figure the boldness of the IS should be able to handle a good bit of oak and bourbon without getting overpowered, plus I plan to bulk age it in secondary for at least 6-9 months before I even think about bottling.

Let me know how much bourbon you used and what you think of the amount.
I hijack others' threads all the time. No worries! I can't say anything about a spiral as I have no experience with them, nor could advice about how much bourbon it would take. I personally used 4 ounces of bourbon in my 2 oz of chips, and dumped everything in.


For an update, I let the chips soak in the beer for 2 days, tasted, and thought it had plenty of oak to it, so I pulled them out. Letting the cacao nibs & vanilla bean sit for a few more days, though.
Was that for a 5 gallon batch or 2.5 gallon? How was the level of the bourbon flavor from the 4 ounces?


It wasn't "hot" with bourbon, but you could smell it easily. At the taste, I got oak, malt, bourbon, then chocolate. I know the oak will mellow, and I plan on leaving this alone for 3 months before I try one, so I am okay with the level of oak. It's up there, but I like it that way anyway. The bourbon will also mellow.

I am only leaving the cacao nibs/vanilla bean bag in for 2-3 more days because I want that to be at the front.