Monday, June 13, 2016

Barrel Number 01: Process & Timeline

In January 2015, I ordered a 13.2-gallon barrel made of a new Hungarian Oak from MoreBeer. Barrel aging was something I had done a bit in the past with a 3-gallon whiskey barrel. That experience was fairly limited, however. I first filled the barrel with a stout to scrub a lot of the oak and whiskey character, and then subsequently added my first batch of Ruby (a Flanders Red-inspired beer). However, while the next beer was in the barrel (another batch of Ruby, I believe), I unfrotuantely discovered some mold growing on the bottom of the barrel due to excess moisture in the basement of the house we were living in at that time, and I ended up ditching the barrel as I didn't want to ruin another batch. (That barrel still serves as a nice decoration in our basement pub, however.)

For this barrel, I made sure to read all that I could about cleaning and maintenance. The post I leaned most-heavily on was Embrace the Funk's Barrel Cleaning and Storage post. I also followed the instructions from the barrel maker (Vadai), which indicated that a thorough rinse with hot water would be necessary to pull some of the "new oak" character out of the barrel. The instructions also call for swelling the heads of the barrel by putting boiling water on top of them, as well as a few other steps, so make sure to read the full instructions if you plan to use the methods discussed here and you're not relying on instructions from your barrel supplier or elsewhere on the web. I'm sure there are plenty of ways to properly hydrate a barrel and prep it for storage, but these methods worked for me so I'll be following them in the future.

With those thoughts in mind, I spent a few nights filling the barrel with boiling water, bunging it up, and rolling it around. Then I would rinse and repeat. I initially used the wooden bung/peg that came with the barrel as that swelled as water soaked into it, allowing it to form a better seal and stick inside the barrel as I rolled it back and forth. Then, in ordered to remove it, I gently tapped it back and forth with a rubber mallet. (Safety note: Make sure to very slowly pull the bung out and have it pointed away from you the whole time as the steam from the boiling water will create quite a bit of pressure.)

After the barrel was prepped using Vadai's methods, I added a "holding solution of citric acid and potassium metabisulfite (KMS) at a rate of 4g citric acid 8g KMS per gallon of barrel volume" based on instructions from Midwest Supplies since, at that point, I didn't have enough beer ready for the barrel. When using the KMS, but sure to be in a well-ventilated area and follow proper safety precautions, as the KMS has an extremely-strong odor that will certainly sting your lungs and make you cough quite a bit if you're not careful.

On May 30, 2015, I was finally ready to fill the barrel. At that point, the holding solution had been in the barrel for around four months. I drained out the holding solution, and then gave the barrel several rinses with hot water, followed by several rinses with cold water. I wanted to make sure I had rinsed all of the holding solution so as not to adversely affect the beer going into the barrel. 

The initial barrel fill was a mix of Citrine (spontaneous) and Farmhouse Mild (Batch 06). The ratio was approximately 10 gallons of Farmhouse Mild to a little over three gallons of Citrine. This was based mostly what I had on hand (as I was quite anxious to get the barrel filled at that point!), though of course I did a test blend in a small glass to confirm that I liked the ratio before filling the barrel. The combination of tropical fruit and light funk from the Farmhouse Mild paired really well with the earthy funk, lemon, and pineapple notes from the Citrine. Blending these two beers was nothing new to me, as earlier iterations of these beers had been used to blend the first beer in my Science & Art series. The tasting notes for Science & Art #1 can be found here. At this point I was just using a standard auto-siphon to get the beers into the barrel, though I've since moved on to a barrel-transfer tool that is quite useful (more on that below).

Original barrel fill (May 30, 2015)

Of course, I checked on the barrel the night after filling and there was either some residual fermentation going on or some trapped CO2 from the beers was released, as the bung popped out a bit (photo below).

Following other oak-aged beers that I had done in the past, the name for pulls of blonde saison from the barrel have been known as Dionysus #3.

Additional fermentation (or release of trapped CO2) (May 31, 2015)
The remainder of this post is a timeline devoted to the barrel.  I had incorporated notes on the barrel's path to date, and will continue to update the post as beers move into and out of the barrel, posting links to recipes for the beers that spend time in the barrel, as well as tasting notes for each beer that comes out of the barrel.  


07.05.2015:  I pulled my first "true" barrel sample.  (I had previously used a small pipette to take tiny tastes to check on progress, as I really wasn't sure how long it would take to get the character I was looking for.)  The beer smelled and tasted of pineapple and lemon with a light acidity.  There was a bit of background funk and citrus pith.  Delicate, with some oak notes emerging. Aside from the oak, the beer has a delicate white-wine character.  Hint of white grape and green gooseberry underneath the more-prominent pineapple and lemon.

09.07.2015: I transferred 5 gallons from the barrel to a keg and then topped off the barrel with Demeter Auran (Batch 101) and a little bit of the Yeast Bay Wallonian portion from Batch 100.   

Transferring from the barrel (09.07.2015)

09.12.2015: After the initial pull was carbonated, I was eager to start drinking it.  Unfortunately, I thought that the beer was a bit too oaky, especially when poured from the tap at a cooler temperature, so I mostly used this first batch as a blending component, filling glasses with a few ounces of this before filling the rest with other saisons that I had on tap at the time.

11.10.2015: Barrel gravity of 1.002 and pH of 3.59.  Still a bit too oaky for my tastes.  Transferred  three gallons to 14oz passion fruit pulp and three gallons to 2 lb of mango chunks.

Topped off the barrel with Namur 3724 (+dregs) (Batch #102) at 1.004 and pH 4.41. All of one carboy and a bit of another.

02.06.2016: Pulled the entirety of the barrel and then filled with a batch of Demeter Auran   This pull had less oak, mild acidity, lemon, hay, touch of vanilla, and tropical fruit.    Really, really pleased with it all around.  It might be the best beer I've brewed to date.

03.23.2016: Emptied the barrel of the Demeter Auran.  I didn't have anything at the time to re-fill the barrel and I wasn't brewing again for a bit after that, so I rinsed the barrel with warm water and filled it with the same holding solution I used after first cleaning it after the original acquisition, as described above.

I emptied the barrel with a very handy stainless transfer tool, pictured below.  Here are the plans I used to build it.

07.06.2016: I rinsed the barrel with several rounds of hot water followed by a spray-out with the hose, then several rounds of cool water. I then purged the barrel with CO2 and started adding beer:

  • 4.5 gallons of Blank Space (carboy-fermented). SG of 1.006. Light lemon and green grape with definite backing flaked grain body and feel.
  • 5.5 gallons of Blank Space (bucket-fermented). SG of 1.004. Flavor is similar to the carboy version but with a little bit of sulfur in the nose at first, though that quickly dissipated. 
  • 3 gallons of Wallonian-fermented wort from the 04.29.2016 WPA batch (Batch #104).  SG is 1.004.
12.17.2016: Filled barrel with Vert, Rustic with Saaz and Basil, and base Rustic.

12.29.2016: Added dregs of 10.27.2015 3F OG to the barrel.


  1. Love the post! My first batch in my rum barrel is extremely rum and oak forward. I'm thinking about kegging a portion of it and then letting the other portion mellow in another keg for a while. Just to see if it changes. Then I want to fill the barrel one more time to see if I can strip out more of the rum and oak flavor. After all of that I plan to use it to ferment Saison going forward.

    I need to pick up some of those bungs from somewhere. I plan on getting another barrel before the year is up.

    1. Thanks! All of that sounds great. Here are the bungs I use:

      Small (<30 gal):

      Large (>30 gal):

    2. You ferment with these bungs in there right?

    3. Yes, I do. They open and close so I leave them open during fermentation and then close them once things have died down. Likewise, I of course keep them closed when I'm just aging a beer that's already fermented out.

      When I did the barrel fermentation, I left around 2.5-3 gallons of headspace and fermented that amount in a 3-gallon carboy off to the side, then transferred the contents of the carboy into the barrel when fermentation was done and then closed the bung.