Homebrew #13: Bourbon Barrel Brown Ale

I've tasted quite a few barrel-aged beers since I started this blog. The original contents of the barrel (spirits or wine) penetrate the oak to add depth, complexity, and flavor to beer. Most craft brewers dabble with barrel aging, while others have extensive barrel-aging programs.

As a homebrewer, I've wanted to make a barrel-aged beer. However, there's a problem. Most oak barrels hold 55 gallons. That's a heck of a lot of beer if you brewing 5 gallons of beer at a time! So what do to? Simple, partner with other brewers to fill the barrel. Remember the scene from "Witness" where Harrison Ford and the Amish built a barn in an afternoon? Well, this was just like that, except replace the barn with beer, add a few propane burners and wort chillers, and you're there! So maybe it wasn't like Witnessbut it's a great movie, so watch it again if you haven't seen it lately.

Back to the beer... Mainbrew, one of my local homebrew stores obtained a few used Bourbon Barrels from Big Bottom Whiskey in Hillsboro, OR.  Through the magic of social networking, some local homebrewers and I decided to get together to fill that barrel.  We all agreed that a brown ale would be mighty tasty so Doug from Mainbrew developed a single recipe for each of us to brew independently: 

  • Style:  Imperial Brown Ale
  • Type:  All Grain
  • Boil Volume:  6.5 gallons
  • Batch Size: 5.0 gallons
  • Boil Time:  60 min.
  • Est. Stats:
    • Target OG: 1.083
    • Target FG: 1.024
    • ABV:  7.7%
    • IBUs:  39
    • SRM:  22.5
  • Efficiency:  70%
  • Grains: 
    • 6.5 lbs. Maris Otter Pale Malt
    • 6.5 lbs. Breiss 2-Row Pale Malt
    • 2.0 lbs. Munich Malt
    • 8.0 oz. Brown Malt
    • 8.0 oz. Carastan 30/37L
    • 8.0 oz. Special Roast
    • 8.0 oz. Honey Malt
    • 6.0 oz. Melanoiden Malt
    • 4.0 oz. Chocolate Malt
    • 1.0 oz. Roasted Barley
  • Hops:
    • 1.0 oz. Perle  8.0% alpha acid (60 min)
    • 1.0 oz. Willamette   5.5% alpha acid (15 min) 
    • 1.0 oz. Perle  8.0% alpha acid (10 min)
    • 1.0 oz. Willamette   5.5% alpha acid (0 min) 
  • Mash:  22.11 quarts (1.25 qt / lb) water @ 171.9° and hold for 60 min @ 154.0°F
  • Sparge:  15.09 quarts of 170°F water over 60 min
  • Yeast:  London Ale (WLP0013)
  • Ferment:  
    • Primary: 14 days @ 68°F.
    • Secondary:  7 days @ 70°F.
  • Bottle:  3.17 oz. corn sugar for 10 days at  70°F (2.0 CO2 volumes)

Brew Log:
Jun 14:  Made a yeast starter using my homemade stir plate. This is the 2nd time I've used it and I'm really happy with it so far. It does a great job and was a fun DIY project. I'll have to write about it one of these days.

Jun 17:   Brew day. I'm still figuring out the idiosyncrasies of my all-grain brewing system. This time, my mash tun did a great job of holding constant temperature, which ranged from just 154-156°F. Here are my gravity readings:

  • 1st runnings: 1.086
  • Combined pre-boil: 1.063
  • Post-boil: 1.079  

For the boil, I decided to use leftover hops from my freezer, so I substituted Liberty and Crystal for Perle. Since my 5 gallons will commingle with 50 gallons of other people's beer, I doubt the variation in hops will make much of a difference. I pitched my yeast starter at 76°F at 7:45 pm. About 4 hours later, I had airlock activity. I love the quick onset of fermentationone of the benefits of yeast starters!

Jul 20:  Racked to secondary. We're transferring the beer into the barrel on Sunday, so I want to take if off the yeast. I intended to do this sooner, but I got lazy. The picture below shows how it looks now. I took a quick uncarbonated taste and was VERY pleased! It has a light roast flavor with vanillaand even bourbon. I was really surprised that it already had a bourbon-like flavoreven before it went into the barrel!

Jul 22:  Today, I met up with the other homebrewers. From outside appearances, this barrel won't win any beauty contests, but it smells amazingplenty of bourbon and oak! As we slowly racked our carboys into the barrel, we had an informal bottle share. I brought my Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Imperial Stout and Citra Pale Ale. These are two of my favorite homebrews and the others seemed to enjoy them as well. So it looks like we'll leave the beer in the barrel for about three months or so. I can't wait to taste it!

Aug 17:  Got some bad news today. The beer got infected! We're not sure what happened, but I guess it isn't too surprising since nine people contributed to the barrel. All it takes is one sanitation lapse by one brewer. In addition, the barrel wasn't properly vented and it appears there was a bit of a beer explosion. Oh well, it was a good try!

Aug 22:  It appears only a small amount of the beer was lost in the "beer-plosion" and most contibutors want to salvage the contents. So it looks like I'll get to taste it.

Sep 9:  So it seems that the beer went sour—and in a very good way! I can't wait to taste it.

Sep 23:  I finally picked up my 5 gallons of beer today and tasted it. It's incredible! It has a toasted malt flavor, bourbon oakiness, and a not-so-subtle sour twang! I'm not sure what infected this beer—my guess is lacto and some brett strain. Whatever it is, it's tasty! It reminds me a of New Belgium's Clutch, but better. It's more sour. I hope to bottle it this week! FG = 1.007.

Sep 30:  Bottled it today with 3.2 oz. of corn sugar.

Oct 15:  1st carbonated taste! I heard a small fiz when I popped it open, but there's almost zero head retention. Hope this improves with some more time in the bottle. Other than that, it tastes great. I love the bourbon and sour flavors!

Dec 18:  Time has fixed my carbonation (lack of) problems. There's now a decent head on the beer and it's lasting for a few minutes.

More updates coming soon....

Have you aged a homebrew in an oak barrel? What style of beer, and how did it turn out?

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