Oak chips in beer


New Member
Trial Member
Feb 6, 2013
Reaction score
So I have a recipe I'm going to do in the future using bourbon-soaked oak chips. My LHBS sells both medium and heavy toast versions, so I was wondering about opinions there; my initial thought is the heavy, since it's a porter that I'm brewing, and I like the idea of having more of a coffee flavor along with the vanilla. But my main question is this: am I better off soaking in bourbon and then adding to a secondary and racking onto it? I have never used a secondary and I bottle my beer. I'd prefer to keep everything in the primary if I can help it, but I was wondering whether I'll be better off moving to secondary and allowing it to age with the bourbon-oak chips for a month or so. Thoughts?
Continuing in my tradition of answering my own questions, I wanted to post the results of some research combined with my own thoughts. Depending on the recipe or the brewer's preference, I have seen anything from a 7-10 day flavoring time to several months. However, given a few different factors, I think I'm going to opt for the shorter timeframe. My beer is a whiskey maple porter, not so much a bourbon barrel porter, so I'm not as concerned with the oak flavors being heavy up front. I want those notes present, but not necessarily as the headliner. I would also prefer to flavor in the primary vessel and I think that can be done easily enough. I was also reading about making an oak tea or liquor tea, how that will pull out the oak flavor and concentrate it. My thought then is that I can create an oak tea by boiling the chips in a bit of water, then add the whiskey, and then add to the wort after primary fermentation is complete. Having pulled out a lot of the flavors from the chips, the shortened timeframe should be fine. Plus, I'd rather go shorter and have the oak flavor be underwhelming than go the other way around; I can always opt for more aging with another batch.

Plus, I've had some bourbon barrel stouts that ended up being pretty oxidized due to the long aging period, and it was not at all appealing to me.
Answering an old question here again... But here's what I did with a 5 gal batch of Oak Aged Rum Porter I just bottled. I always secondary, always. So, for me to add the oak here to was rather trivial. But, you do need to be certain that the oak is sanitary prior to pitching it in your beer. To accomplish this, I soaked the oak cubes in ~6oz Appleton Reserve Rum (the rum portion of this porter) for about a week. I got a really nice infusion of oak smokiness into the rum. I then took a sample off the primary and began to test. I setup several shot glasses, added the porter and then added calculated amounts of the rum to each glass. I sampled each to find the right ratio. (Actually, I went a bit on the light side since I was also going to toss much of the oak into the secondary.) Add that amount of the infused liquor and rum soaked oak to the secondary, rack the beer onto the secondary and give it a few weeks. (the longer the better IMHO) Top tip: SAVE your leftover liquor in case at bottling time you need to make it stronger for your taste. Like I said, I just bottled this porter of mine. It is rich. Quite rich. Lots of chocolate, roasty goodness in this beer along with the oak smokiness. Key here is not to let the oak overpower your beer. And, of course, the more it ages, the more the flavors will mellow out. I plan on keeping several bottles of mine in the cellar for years, just to see how it ages. :) Cheers!
If you're going to add Bourbon-soaked oak chips, sanitize them in, wait for it, bourbon! That way you can dump sanitizer and all in and get an added little "kick" of bourbon flavor.
I agree with Nosy on this one. I rarely used to secondary but lately I find myself doing it more often now, I like the clarity it helps create - especially if kept cool in the basement. I used oak chips once in the past without sanitizing and I had zero problems (I could have just been lucky). The beer came out great - 2 weeks in secondary with light oak chips - oak was noticeable but not overpowering. My buddy swears by the dark chips. Anyway, if your going for the bourbon flavor it is only safe and practical to soak in bourbon...

Please let us know how your method and beer turned out! - A thousand ways to skin a cat...
Thanks, I may go with secondary when I get around to brewing this one I've got in mind. Probably looking to do it in the Fall, but we'll see. I may go with the secondary too, but we'll see. It's going to be a dark beer and I don't plan on entering any competitions with it, so I'm not as concerned with secondary. Aside from improved clarity, will racking to secondary to flavor provide me any benefits? I would imagine that racking the beer on top of the bourbon-soaked oak chips will allow the flavors to mix more quickly, but they'd naturally mix on their own even if I add the chips to primary and swirl occasionally, right? If I can still get the flavor, I would be okay sacrificing clarity for the move to secondary. Thoughts?
Sorry, one more thought: I've also read about using oak cubes or chips in the keg itself. Probably would need cubes in order to avoid getting anything stuck in the dip tube, right?
I have oak chips in a keg now. No problems yet.
bilhelm96 said:
I have oak chips in a keg now. No problems yet.

How much and how long have they been in? Is the keg in the fridge and tapped, or are you essentially using it as a secondary? Everything I've read about the chips says that they impart the oak flavor very quickly and could require a ton of aging if they're left in too long. Based on what I'm looking for in this beer, I don't want it to be heavily oaked, but for that flavor to be a background component. I might still rack to secondary with it but we'll see.
I have 4oz of oak chips in a keg of barleywine which were soaked in Maker's Mark for a week. I kegged the beer on May 24 and it sat at room temp to condition for a few weeks before I put it in my kegerator. It has been on service for a few weeks and I get a nice earthy flavor. Last year I put a single oak stick (Oakboy) in a keg to make my Oaktoberfest for a month before I put it on tap and the flavor was spot on. Can't say how that one would have evolved over time since we killed that keg in about 4 hours.
So did you rack to secondary at all, or just put the bourbon-oak chips in the keg and rack into that? Then did you just purge the O2 and set aside? I'm new to kegging and I'm still learning the ropes. I also plan to dry hop this beer, so I'm thinking of the different options; I don't secondary and I dry hop with pellets. My options are:

1) dry hop and add bourbon-soaked chips to primary on standard schedule

2) add hops and chips to secondary and rack on top of them

3) dry hop in primary as usual and then add chips to keg and go from there

I'm thinking one of the first two is better, as I'm looking for a little oak flavor, but not much. I'm probably just beating the heck out of this dead horse, but I get really anxious about new stuff that I've not done before. At the end of the day, I'd prefer to maintain a light hand with the oak, as I can always dial it up in future batches. What I don't want is something overpowering that I'm forced to age out longer than I'd like, you know.
EvanAltman36 said:
So did you rack to secondary at all, or just put the bourbon-oak chips in the keg and rack into that? Then did you just purge the O2 and set aside?

Yes. I soaked the oak chips in a mason jar for about a week. I drained off the bourbon, then put the chips in the keg and racked onto them and purged.

For my brewing style I would do number 3 if I am using chips. I don't secondary either and dry hop in primary once fermentation seems done. If you are only looking for a slight oak flavor, use less oak chips.
Okay, one other thought: if I'm looking to have a subtle oak flavor, but want the bourbon to come through as well, would I be able to extract enough oakiness by creating a tea and letting the bourbon pull out even more of the oak flavor? For instance, I could boil the chips in water to release some of the flavors, add bourbon, and then seal the mixture up. Then, after a couple weeks, I could simply add the liquid to the fermenter to get both the bourbon and the oak flavor. Just wondering whether the bourbon imparts more flavor to the oak chips, or vice versa, or if the flavor exchange is about equal.
Also, if I add chips/bourbon to the primary, will that compete with dry hops at all? My initial thought is that it won't matter, because the oak/bourbon will diffuse through the beer for flavor, while the dry hops are for aroma. But if there's an issue with those things competing, I can add the oak/bourbon tea to the keg and rack to that.
My friend did a Stone smoked porter in which he used a little smoked malt, and I felt that that imparted some of the richness that I'm trying to achieve. This got me thinking that I really want to keep the oak understated. I know I just keep pounding this same point home, so I apologize for just being so dense. Someone should probably just tell me to shut up and RDWHAHB.