Author Topic: (Small) Barrel size  (Read 1218 times)

Offline unclebrazzie

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(Small) Barrel size
« on: February 03, 2015, 10:52:12 AM »
I'm thinking of purchasing a small barrel (30l - 60l being roughly 8 - 15 gallons) to brew some collab sour and/or solera in.
I keep hearing how the surface-to-volume ratio of these small barrels is undesirable, particularly when it comes to imparting oak flavours. In the case of souring, I'd imagine more surface also means more oxygen and hence a higher risk of developing acetic acid.

The barrels I can get hold of are new "port" barrels, which I'm thinking is probably not oak but likely chestnut or beech. trying to get the supplier to give me some technical detail on them but he's not too savvy on brewing specs (deals mostly in ornamental barrels but has recently gotten wise to the hombrewers' interest).

Any thoughts on using these small barrels? Pros? Cons? Beer styles more/less suitable for them?
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Offline majorvices

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Re: (Small) Barrel size
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2015, 12:15:22 PM »
The times I have used the small barrels the flavor was imparted very quickly. As quickly as a couple of weeks. You may be better off using oak spires or cubes.

Offline reverseapachemaster

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Re: (Small) Barrel size
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2015, 04:08:38 PM »
I'd want to know what the barrels are made of and whether they were made for use or ornament. Ornamental barrels often have thinner staves and may not seal watertight. I would probably stay away from those although I wouldn't be afraid of using chestnut barrels.

On a smaller barrel you probably want to seal the outside with wax after swelling it to ensure a good seal. You will certainly get flavor extraction much quicker in a smaller barrel. You'll need to run through several beers in a short period of time to extract a lot of that wood flavor out unless you want very woody sours. You may even want to run distilled water through the barrel several times to try to extract a lot of it out if you don't want gallons and gallons of beer with a new wood flavor.
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Offline unclebrazzie

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Re: (Small) Barrel size
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2015, 06:50:42 PM »
Far as I can tell (supplier doesn't seem too sure, I'd have to check with other people who've bought from him before) they're chestnut, as he also explicitly sells french oak barrels at steeper prices.

From what I gather, chestnut would suffice if I'm only interested in souring, in which case I could make do with a glass carboy anyway. If it's woody flavours I'm after, oak it will have to be.
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Offline majorvices

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Re: (Small) Barrel size
« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2015, 03:14:41 AM »
The ones I have used are American oak and medium char. Least, that's how they are advertised. I am wont to believe it, too. Smells and tastes like oak.

Offline unclebrazzie

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Re: (Small) Barrel size
« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2015, 08:35:49 AM »
Supplier got back to me: the port barrels are chestnut, toasted and not coated with parafine or anything else.
They've got french oak as well, which is about 3 times more expensive. About 50$ for a 30l port barrel vs roughly 150$ for a 40l oak barrel.

Some concerns that keep me from just going out and purchasing either one:

The smaller size will likely lead to faster extraction of wood tannins (not sure how chestnut tannins taste/behave btw). Shorter ageing is good because it will allow me to rotate beers faster, but it sort of goes against my idea of ageing, really :)
Also: thinner staves and higher surface-to-volume ratio, with implied increase of oxygen uptake and increased acetic acid production.

I'm wondering if, with the volumes I'm capable of producing (5 gal), a simple glass carboy plus oak chips approach wouldn't yield equally pleasing results. Sure, I'd not have a cool barrel sitting in my basement, but at the end of the day, it's the beer that counts, innit?
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Offline 1vertical

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Re: (Small) Barrel size
« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2015, 01:26:13 AM »
What I found to be taxing was the fact that you will want to keep the barrel full.
So after the angels get their share you will find it a regular chore to accomplish this topping off.

Larger barrel, larger top off volume requirement.
Smaller barrel, smaller volume to top off.

You think you own the barrel,  but it owns you. (with me it was a borderline labor of love and now
I would not undertake the project again.  Live and learn.)   :)
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