Using fresh wood chips/cubes?

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winnph

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I'll start by saying I've never used wood in a homebrew, but I have become something of an avid experimenter. It's been awhile since I brewed a beer that didn't have something bizarre going on in it (wild yeast, sour bugs, unusual fermentables, spices, etc.).

On a recent trip to Mexico I brought back a bunch of vanilla beans, so I am wanting to brew something that is really richly vanilla-laden. Since vanilla and wood are such a common combo, I thought I'd try that out. Rather than buying something I can get for free, though, I'm considering just sawing a branch off one of the trees in my back yard. Other than tree species that I would be wary of using (pine, holly, etc.), I have two species of oak, a hickory tree, and a maple tree.

So, what process should I use to turn a tree branch into a ready-to-use wood chip or cube? Which tree or trees should I use? I only have the usual yardwork tools -- hand saws, a hatchet, machete, etc. I imagine I should start by selecting a wrist-sized or larger branch, shaving off the bark, cutting it into smallish cubes/chips, and then some combination of drying and toasting in the oven.

If I don't get a response, I'll probably just play around with each one and see what I come up with.
 

dgremark

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I just did an IPA and used oak chips lightly browned in a pan then boiled for 10 minutes. I haven't tried it but the oak sure smelled good during the boil! I hope to try a bottle or two by New Years!

By the way I added it 3 days after the main fermentation happened!
 

dgremark

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Dried oak stick and just made small chips, about the size of a penny or less.
 
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winnph

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Sounds good, let me know how it turns out! I'm trying to decide whether I can just use fresh (i.e., still wet with sap) wood chips and just dry them out during the toasting/browning process, or whether that will produce some kind of off flavor.
 
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winnph

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Well first I want to decide whether it's necessary. If it is necessary, I imagine a low temperature in the oven for a couple hours should do the trick.
 

SouthBay

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If you check out homedistiller.org's forums, theres a sticky thread that details what flavors white oak takes on at different toasting temperatures. It's in a colorful little graph.

Just wrap it tightly in tinfoil, and bake at the desired temp. Btw, different species of a oak will give varied results, same with maples. red oak is more smokey, peppery, but can be overpowering by itself. American white has a hint of coconut, while french white has more vanilla. Sugar maple is kind of bacony
 
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winnph

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If you check out homedistiller.org's forums, theres a sticky thread that details what flavors white oak takes on at different toasting temperatures. It's in a colorful little graph.

Just wrap it tightly in tinfoil, and bake at the desired temp. Btw, different species of a oak will give varied results, same with maples. red oak is more smokey, peppery, but can be overpowering by itself. American white has a hint of coconut, while french white has more vanilla. Sugar maple is kind of bacony
Thanks! Do you know whether I should dry the wood before baking it, if it's freshly cut from the tree?

I think I'm going to brew something reminiscent of a Belgian tripel and use some red oak (mine is a northern red oak) and maple (mine is a Norway maple), in addition to a couple vanilla pods. It's not meant to come out perfectly, just an experiment!
 

SouthBay

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I think the wood will dry out in the oven. I did some red oak that way, split into 1/2 x 1/2 x 2 inch sticks. Did some at 350, some at 400 and some at 450. I like the 400 best. I found that 3 parts white oak to 1 p part red made a good blend for whiskey (similar to the peppery taste of jim beam black). fwiw, I then blasted the outside with a butane torch to char it, on the red oak.

I've oaked an ipa and a black bourbon old ale, but only with white oak. im curious to see what you come up with
 

SouthBay

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I just read a thing about drying oak for use in barrels used to age bourbon, sherry and scotch. Apparently, drying the wood first is really important, pre toasting. From what I read, an oven at low temps for a few hours before toasting at higher temps looks sufficient
 

helibrewer

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Just get yourself some oak cubes. 1oz per 5 gallons. There is American Oak, Hungarian Oak, and French Oak. The toasts are Medium, Medium plus, and Heavy.

There is a lot more to proper oak curing than just drying and toasting, it is a process that takes many months. You can make yourself a tea with boiling water and an ounce of cubes so that you can taste each type and get an idea of what it can contribute.

If you do try to make your own, I would still make a tea out of them to get an idea of what they taste like and whether you like it or not.
 
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winnph

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Just get yourself some oak cubes. 1oz per 5 gallons. There is American Oak, Hungarian Oak, and French Oak. The toasts are Medium, Medium plus, and Heavy.

There is a lot more to proper oak curing than just drying and toasting, it is a process that takes many months. You can make yourself a tea with boiling water and an ounce of cubes so that you can taste each type and get an idea of what it can contribute.

If you do try to make your own, I would still make a tea out of them to get an idea of what they taste like and whether you like it or not.
I appreciate the point that I'm not going to be able to replicate a "proper" oak cube, but that's not really what I'm going for here. I genuinely enjoy the idea of incorporating into my beers various ingredients I've harvested from the wild around me. For example, I'm probably going to try to make a pawpaw brew next year (I harvested enough this year but they were so tasty I just ended up eating them all).

I understand that this is a hobby where I could focus on beer style specs and use only the finest ingredients, but that's not the route I've taken. I'm in it for the tinkering and experimentation. This beer will probably be the closest thing to a "normal" beer I've brewed in more than a year, and as you can see it's not exactly normal: Late Winter Warmer.

That said, I will be boiling the wood chips after I toast/bake them, and I will definitely sample that water for both aroma and flavor to decide whether to add each one, and if so how much.
 

Rockape66

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With Pawpaws just make sure that you discard all of the seeds. The native americans used pulverized pawpaw seeds to cure migrains in very small doses. Just a little bit more, and I mean little, leads to a very painful death. This is what I've read, not experienced, but then I haven't tried poison hemlock either. Have you?
 
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winnph

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With Pawpaws just make sure that you discard all of the seeds. The native americans used pulverized pawpaw seeds to cure migrains in very small doses. Just a little bit more, and I mean little, leads to a very painful death. This is what I've read, not experienced, but then I haven't tried poison hemlock either. Have you?
Interesting, I didn't realize that. Luckily the seeds are enormous (like large lima beans or something), so I can't imagine many will slip through my brewing process. I googled it and found this interesting first-person story of someone who decided to eat a pawpaw seed to see how toxic they are: Pawpaw seeds - just how poisonous are they? - General Chowhounding Topics - Chowhound

Basically he felt like crap and then his digestive system took it upon itself to cleanse itself.
 

ohrinet

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Just looking into doing something like this as well and noticed that there are some bourbon barrel chips on Amazon, and I'm noticing that Amazon has a bunch of other wood chips available too. Would something like these grilling chips be considered acceptable to use in a brew?

Amazon.com: bourbon barrel chips
 
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