Just like to have a space to recognize some amazing pro Brewers, that really go above and beyond that you expect. I'd like to recommend James Cibak of Revolution, for this incredible email he sent me a few years ago.
Thank you for the kind words regarding our beers. I think I can help you.
The best way to get a great integration of both the bourbon aroma, flavor, alcohol and the wonderful silky mouthfeel and caramel / toasted coconut character from the charred American Oak barrels is time. Plain and simple you must give the proper contact time because that being said my philosophy is "Good beer in Good beer out" of a bourbon barrel. Barrel aging can't save a beer that is infected or you aren't happy with.
We purge our barrels with co2 extensively before filling and then we gently fill them from the bottom up and put a pressure relief silicone bung in the bung hole to allow co2 to escape from the beer within as it warms up. We store our barrels as you probably have seen in our taproom where we have a consistent room temperature. Some breweries will actually adjust the temp of the barrel room up and down to allow the beer to go in and out of the barrel staves to pick up more barrel character faster. However, in doing that you risk pulling a vacuum and pulling oxygen and possible other contaminants (wild yeast, bacteria, ect) into the barrel. We tend to shoot for 9 months to a year of barrel aging before we push the beer into a tank, carbonate it and package.
On a smaller scale they have other wood alternatives you may use. Search the internet there are wood chips, cubes and spirals. To simulate bourbon barrel aging you can char cubes or spirals with a hand torch and then soak with bourbon, rum, tequila or spirit your choosing. Then once you have your finished clear beer (seperate as much yeast as possible before going into a long aging period) put your wood chips or spirals into a straining bag in a clean corny keg that is purged with co2 fill gently with your beer and tuck in a cool place and say goodbye for a year! On of the big issues with bourbon barrel beers being thin and boozy is that with a short stay in the barrel the bourbon that has soaked into the barrel staves will be leached out into the beer and then there is a big alcohol burn and huge bourbon nose without all the great mouthfeel and flavors and aromas of caramel and coconut. Also, some beers are just really thin to begin with and then coupled with the alcohol pickup from the barrel ( which can be as great as 2-3 % by volume ) you have a thin boozy beer. Therefore, the recipe of the beergoing into the barrel has to be taken into consideration as well. We tend to like to put beers with a nice malt backbone into barrels with lower IBUs so the when the beer finally emerges from the barrel you have a nice round mouthfeel from the malt and the barrel to balance the strength of the beer without a sharp bitterness from the hops. You can also incorporate flaked oats, rye or rye malt to give your beer a big rich malt silky smooth body.
As far as coffee aging goes you need to find a coffee variety that you like. Unlike with the barrel aging you don't want prolonged contact time with the coffee. There are a lot of philosophies on how to use coffee but what we do is when it's time to transfer the barrel aged eugene out of the bourbon barrels we clean, sanitize, co2 purge a fermenter and put whole coffee beans in fine straining bags and then transfer the beer out of barrels into the tank with the bags of coffee beans. We let it sit cold for 7 days and then we transfer the beer out of the tank with the coffee beans and into a bright beer tank where we then carbonate and package the beer. You do not want prolonged contact with the beans or you will extract alot of astringency from them. Can't emphasize that enough!!
Hope this gives you some things to think about in your brewing process and keep an eye out for our barrel aged offerings this year. We are releasing the Deth's Tar Russian Imperial Stout today as a matter of fact and I suggest you check it out. Please keep me posted on how this works for you I will be curious!
Revolution Brewing Co."
I've not used this advice as well so should have, but it has made me appreciate every sip of Revolution a bit more. I'd also like to say if you have a chance to try the bourbon barrel, coffee aged Porter from revolution with some eggs Benedict, go for it! I'd love to hear anyone else who's had a great pro brewers experience.