There’s nothing cooler than owning your own barrel right? How about actually using that barrel? Maybe throw a nice big stout in it? Sour that bitch up?! Anyway… this was an experiment I’ve been dying to try out. First step was to obtain a barrel. One of my buddies was actually able to find one for free and give it to us in exchange for some tasty beer. Easy enough right? This barrel came from a local distillery and was used for their bourbon. NICE! We knew exactly what to use this bad boy for… I have a russian imperial stout that won 4th place back a few years ago so I thought this would be perfect to throw right into that barrel.
Let me talk about the base beer for one second. This beer is based off of a Marshall Zhukov clone by Cigar City Brewing. It is in no way a clone but it was an attempt at achieving that end goal. My version comes out way more viscus and the alcohol isn’t as high. The first time I brewed this beer it was a beast to brew… 90 min mash along with a 2 hour boil. Did I also mention it takes 2 -10 gallon mash tuns to brew this beer?! 28 pounds of grain is hard to fit in 1 mash tun… Anyway…I think I ended up boiling about 9 gallons down to about 5. I also mad a huge starter because I knew the OG would be pretty high and I think I hit 1.126 this time around. I made a 4L starter using Wyeast London ESB and the thing really took off… Good thing I split it into 2 different fermenters. The krausen on each of them basically touched the top of the fermenters with only being half full… After about 3 weeks of fermentation the beer seemed done with a constant gravity reading of 1.050. I was expecting more attenuation but it is what it is… The ending ABV was just at 10% so thats fine with me! I begged this version and its been around for about 2 years now. It keeps getting better with age.
This new version used the same recipe but this time I had some help brewing. My buddy brought over his new collar system to try out and his shiny brand new 20 gallon SSbrewtech kettle. I wish we had more coolers so we could have done a double brew but we had to manage. This brew day was a little longer than the last. The boil was way different in the SSbrewtech kettle than in my Bayou Classic. My kettle also only holds about 9.5 gallons. We ended up with about 4.5 gallons of wort and the OG was 1.110. Not as expected but we did use new equipment so the efficiency could be off from mine. After a few weeks I couldn’t get the beer below 1.050 gravity. So I moved it to a chamber with heat and kept it around 70 for a week and it finally came down to 1.027. It’s just about 10.9% and was now ready to add to the barrel.
Our bourbon barrel is only 5 gallons so in theory with the thinner staves you want to leave the beer in the barrel for as short as possible to not get any oxidation. Theres also more surface area beer to wood so normally the beer will take on barrel characteristics much quicker. You also want to make sure you test the barrel 1 week in first then make your judgement on how long after that. I ended up tasting the first 2 weeks and made my judgement to then taste again after 4 weeks and so on. It really depends on the shape of the barrel. That being freshly emptied, wet, dry, still has bourbon in it, etc… Our barrel smelt of pure bourbon but it was actually pretty dry… When we added the stout into the barrel about a pint of beer leaked from the barrel before it soaked back up. My recommendation for bourbon barrels is if you want the bourbon character just dump your beer right in. I’d also make extra incase you need to top back up to full or lose any to leaks. So all in all this stout sat for 2 months to the day in our barrel. I think this was the perfect amount of time. It smells of pure bourbon and tastes like a mixture of both the bourbon and stout with some heat from the alcohol.
So my fist shot at barrel aging seems to have gone pretty well. I think we’ll throw another clean beer in the barrel before we turn it into a sour barrel. We just want to make sure we get all the barrel character out of it as possible. I’ll leave you guys with the recipe I used and hope this will help anyone who’s been looking to get into barrel aging.
13 lb United Kingdom – Maris Otter Pale
2.75 lb American – Munich – Light 10L
1.5 lb Flaked Barley
1 lb American – Chocolate
1 lb United Kingdom – Roasted Barley
0.5 lb United Kingdom – Black Patent
0.5 lb United Kingdom – Extra Dark Crystal 160L
0.5 lb United Kingdom – Crystal 60L
1.5 oz Magnum @ 75 min
Fermented @ 65° for 3 weeks. Ramp up to 70° if needed for 1 week to finish off.