Author Topic: Hydrating a wooden barrel  (Read 3442 times)

Offline jeffy

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Hydrating a wooden barrel
« on: December 09, 2015, 01:37:37 AM »
When filling a once-used whiskey barrel, it seems safe to say it will not leak if it was freshly emptied and/or wrapped securely in plastic soon after it was emptied.  I have siphoned beer into fresh barrels without worrying too much about loss from leakage.
If the barrel is left empty for a while it will need to be rehydrated so as not to leak.  I have successfully rehydrated a dry 53 gallon bourbon barrel after filling with water for a day or two.  I had one that was leaking at the rate of a gallon every 20 seconds, but was sealed up in less than two days with water.  I now have two 15 gallon barrels that have been empty for 15 to 18 months that I am trying to rehydrate.
What I am wondering is how they make the barrels leak free on initial production.  I have seen many videos of cooperage construction and of the charring of the inside of the barrels with flames.  This would seem to make the barrels extremely dry.  What step did I not see in these videos that tested the barrels before they added the whiskey or the beer? 
How much loss of char and whiskey flavor is lost during the rehydration process?
Jeff Gladish, Tampa (989.3, 175.1 Apparent Rennarian)
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Offline mchrispen

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Hydrating a wooden barrel
« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2015, 02:18:02 AM »
I visited a cooperage in Tennesee years ago that has since been closed. After the barrel was charred, cooled and head fitted, they would fill then barrel with hot water, fit the head and final bands. Then drill the bung and drain the hot water.

No idea if that is standard now. I have rehydrated an older whiskey barrel with both internal and external soaking. Took a number of days, but it went from seeing light through staves to water tight in two days. I sanitized with a fill of boiling water. Smelled like heaven.

The water clearly pulled some flavor and some of the char.
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Offline majorvices

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Re: Hydrating a wooden barrel
« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2015, 11:46:26 AM »
When I become unsure about a barrel I usually fill it with 180 degree water and let sit until it is sealed up. Sometimes this may take a second filling to be sure all the staves have swelled sufficiently. I then assume this barrel is suited more for a neutral barrel project where I will not be intending to pull a lot of barrel character from the beer. Sours work great for this. OTOH it is hard to tell exactly how much barrel character will be left.

Offline morticaixavier

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Re: Hydrating a wooden barrel
« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2015, 01:44:10 PM »
I suspect that a newly coopered barrel is tighter than that same barrel after being filled, emptied, and sitting dry for some time. Once the wood is soaked it will dry again and there will be changes in the shape of the staves that allow leaks to develop where they weren't when it was first made.
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Offline jeffy

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Re: Hydrating a wooden barrel
« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2015, 03:27:10 PM »
I suspect that a newly coopered barrel is tighter than that same barrel after being filled, emptied, and sitting dry for some time. Once the wood is soaked it will dry again and there will be changes in the shape of the staves that allow leaks to develop where they weren't when it was first made.
This makes sense.  Expansion and contraction may cause shape changes.
Jeff Gladish, Tampa (989.3, 175.1 Apparent Rennarian)
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Offline jeffy

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Re: Hydrating a wooden barrel
« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2015, 01:59:06 AM »
Reporting back in on this project, I rehydrated the barrel with near boiling water and decided that, in spite of a little seepage, I would siphon almost 13 gallons of Imperial Porter into it.  It leaked a bit into the tray I had it resting on, but I figured the higher gravity of the wort would seal better than plain water, so I let it ride for about a week.  It started leaking more after almost a week.  It was actually dripping, so I put a 2 quart sauce pan under the end and watched it fill up over a day at which point I tasted a sample.  I pulled it all out of the barrel after a week having lost more than I'd like to admit.  I will call the missing portion "the roaches' share"
The sample has a lot of oak flavor and almost no bourbon.  I will have to carb some up to evaluate it better.
The lesson:  don't let your barrels sit empty for over a year.
Jeff Gladish, Tampa (989.3, 175.1 Apparent Rennarian)
Homebrewing since 1990
AHA member since 1991, now a lifetime member
BJCP judge since 1995

Offline morticaixavier

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Re: Hydrating a wooden barrel
« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2015, 02:21:46 PM »
Reporting back in on this project, I rehydrated the barrel with near boiling water and decided that, in spite of a little seepage, I would siphon almost 13 gallons of Imperial Porter into it.  It leaked a bit into the tray I had it resting on, but I figured the higher gravity of the wort would seal better than plain water, so I let it ride for about a week.  It started leaking more after almost a week.  It was actually dripping, so I put a 2 quart sauce pan under the end and watched it fill up over a day at which point I tasted a sample.  I pulled it all out of the barrel after a week having lost more than I'd like to admit.  I will call the missing portion "the roaches' share"
The sample has a lot of oak flavor and almost no bourbon.  I will have to carb some up to evaluate it better.
The lesson:  don't let your barrels sit empty for over a year.

could have been worse I guess. I remember when I rehydrated my barrel it took a good three days with the hose in it topping off every time I remembered before it really started to hold water well.
"Creativity is the residue of wasted time"
-A Einstein

"errors are [...] the portals of discovery"
- J Joyce