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Casking small batches with oak chips and wine/liquor

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Very few homebrewers have access to used wine or alcohol barrels, and even fewer brew in 50 gallon batches to properly use them, but it’s quite possible to achieve the “barrel aged” flavor in smaller batches. By using small amounts of wood chips, liquor or wine, water, and time, it’s possible to add those flavors in trace amounts to your home brew.

First, begin with your wood. Most homebrewing stores will sell oak chips of varying colors and origins. Since the goal is to add only a hint of this flavor, only a few ounces are necessary, 2-8 ounces for a 5-6 gallon batch. Liquor & wine are similarly used in only minute amounts. The strongest of Russian Imperial Stouts might use 12 ounces of whiskey, while a delicate Belgian triple would be overwhelmed by more than 2 ounces of bourbon. Again, that’s 2 ounces for a 5 gallon batch.

Once you’ve decided on the volumes of wood chips and adjunct alcohol, mix the two in a glass jar or other nonporous container. (If you use plastic, label it and only use it for that purpose afterwards) Add enough water to fully cover the chips (usually ¼ cup to 1 cup), seal, and place out of direct sunlight. After about two weeks, the liquid in the container will have taken on a darker color from the wood, and can be poured into the fermenting beer. Because you’re adding an aromatic, you should wait until the initial fermentation blow-off is done (at least one week) or you’ll lose a lot of the nose. For a more intense flavor, you can choose to add both the liquid and the wood chips and let them ferment with the beer for a few weeks. The alcohol will have sterilized the wood chips, eliminating the risk of infection.

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