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Barrel Aging Beer?

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cycleak:
Aloha all.  Hope everyone had a great Holiday and Happy New Year. My wife got me a used Rye Whisky Barrel for Christmas from the Woodinville Whiskey Company.  I currently have a Brown Ale in the Primary Fermenter and will transfer to the Secondary on Saturday.  After 7 days in the Secondary I plan on aging it in the Rye Whiskey Barrel.  Since this is the first time Barrel Aging a beer I was looking for some insight from my fellow homebrewers as to how long should I age the beer in the barrel?  Thanks.  I look forward to your input! Aloha!

morticaixavier:
Don't bother with the first transfer. When the beer is done (gravity is no longer dropping) transfer to the barrel. how long in the barrel depends on alot of factors and the best way to tell is by taste. leave it a week and then start tasting.

I got a bunch of those little clear glass dot things and I add those as I take samples from the barrel to keep the level right full to the brim.

svejk:
It depends on the size of your barrel.  Smaller barrels have a larger surface to volume ratio than larger barrels, so there is a tendency for the impact of the barrel to happen quicker in small barrels. 

I have a 2.5 gallon oak barrel that I keep full of bourbon so that I can "recharge" the bourbon character between batches.  With such a small barrel, my best results have come when I leave the beer in there for 3-4 weeks and then I keg it.  The non-barrel portion of the same batch is also kegged and used for blending if the oak/bourbon character is too high. 

The nice part about having the barrel and non-barrel portions in kegs is that it is easy to pull a small sample of each and determine the ratio that gives me the desired level of barrel character.  I have an "out-to-out" jumper hose that I use to move the beer between kegs, so the whole process can be done without introducing additional oxygen.  I use a scale to weigh the beer as it is added to the receiving keg to get the ratios right.  If you have bulk storage space, I recommend that you brew up a blending batch in case the barrel character is too high.  If it ends up being just right, then you can put that second batch into the barrel when it is emptied.

A few other random thoughts about whiskey/bourbon/spirit barrels:

- No Sulfur Sticks (read Gordon Strong's book to learn the explosive truth)
- Have a plan for the barrel when you are ready to empty it because it shouldn't sit empty for a long period.
- The first use will have the strongest character from the booze, so it should be tasted reasonably frequently.
- It only seems like too much trouble until you taste the results.

snowtiger87:
I have a 5 gallon Balcones Whiskey barrel. When I first got it (after the whiskey had been taken out) I put a Wheat Wine in it that was perfect after 3 weeks. A brown ale with less body, alcohol, and depth of flavor may take less. Taste will tell you.

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