Thinking of home brewing

So, I'm on to the next! This time I will take a stab at making a stout. I really, really love me some whiskey barrel stouts. I was thinking I'd never be able to make one because where am I going to find a 5 gallon whiskey barrel, but then I found out I don't have to get that fancy. I can just dump some whiskey soaked wood into the beer after fermentation. So, that's what I think I'll be doing next.

Of course that started the search for what bourbon/scotch should I use! I've never really been a whiskey drinker myself (I am now), so this began several months of intense "research". It's a little gimmicky but I settled on Johnnie Walker's Game of Thrones tie-in "White Walker" whiskey. Obviously there are better, more expensive choices, but I'm not going to throw a $75+ bottle of scotch in my beer. Plus, this was blended/designed to be put in the freezer (the bottle actually glows blue when it's cold) and served cold which coincidentally is how I like my beer, so win-win. But I do actually like this particular whiskey as well (For the record, my favorite so far while "researching" has been Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14yr).

As I said before, for the stout itself, I'm going to get a kit (or comparable ingredients from LHBS) and just stick to the recipe. No substitutions, tweaks, or enhancements (other than dumping a bunch of wood and whiskey into it). So, what I'm curious about is have any of you guys done this before? Did you use chips or cubes or maybe spirals? American, French, or Hungarian? To toast or not to toast? And if you have done this, how long did you have the whiskey and wood in a jar soaking together and how long did you leave it in the beer after fermentation? I've been reading about this on other sites but I trust your opinions more than the general internet.

I've been doing a lot reading about simulating the barrel aging. I have a feeling I'm again trying to do something that I probably shouldn't be attempting just yet, but what's the worst that can happen.

I've decided to use Hungarian oak cubes with a medium toast. I'm getting a 3oz bag, but I'm thinking I'll probably just use 2oz of it. My plan is to boil the cubes first, partly to sanitize, but mostly to remove the harsher oak tannins. It seems there is some debate whether the soaking in alcohol is enough to sanitize if it can't penetrate the wood. I saw some suggestions to bake the wood at 200° for 20 minutes, but I don't know if I'll bother with that. Then I'm going to soak them in the whiskey for 2 weeks and dump them in during secondary for at least a month, maybe 2 if I can be patient. I'm still on the fence about whether to include the whiskey from the soaking or not. I figure I'll taste it weekly to make sure I'm not destroying it, but from I read it seems it will start off very oaky but mellow over time. Crossing my fingers, this should be a fun one.

That sounds fun. Definitely let us know how it turns out.

I have done this before Vega! I currently in fact have this exact kind of brew in my keg in the keezer hooked up to the tap.

I used two ounces of these toasted American oak cubes, and soaked them in Longbranch Bourbon for I think three weeks before adding them after fermentation was completed. The first time I tried this kind of beer I boiled them before soaking them in the bourbon, but this time I just rinsed them off with some water. After adding them to the beer (and I did dump in the extra bourbon from the soaking too!) they sat there together for a month.

After kegging and carbonation I've tried it about once or twice a week. You really need to give it time to settle, because this kind of beer is super harsh at first. I've got no off-flavors that I can tell at least, and it is definitely getting better by the week. The first pull after carbonation was like "whoa no way", and it tasted like bad watery beery bourbon, but after a few weeks it got to "okay, getting pretty good" and at this point after about six or seven weeks it is finally getting nicely drinkable. I went with an imperial stout for the beer itself, ending at about 11% abv if I remember correctly. The hardest part of making a beer like this is all the waiting, but man, it can be amazing, and you really do get some of that nice barrel-aged flavor once it mellows. Good luck to you!

Happy National Beer Day!

To celebrate, I'm taking a break from my farmhouse ale experiments and getting started on a Rum Cask Stout. I'm using David Heath's Super Fast Imperial Stout recipe (which I've done before--it's great). It will be ready in a week or two to go into a freshly-dumped rum barrel for a couple of months.

Well, yesterday was brew day for the Chocolate Stout. Didn't realize it was National Beer Day, but I guess I celebrated in the proper way. Everything went smoother with this one. My main struggle has been cooling the wort during transfer to the fermenter, but I prepared better, had extra ice ready, and a larger container for the hot water run off. It went pretty quick and went in around 66°. First brew it was 84° and second brew was 74°, so I think I have handle on it now.

The problem this go around is that only 4.5 gallons went into the fermenter. I think something is wonky with Grainfather's water calculator or something. For one thing, the calculator on their website and what their phone app calculates for you when you start a brew are different. For a 5 gallon batch with an 11 lb grain bill the website says 4.48 mash and 2.63 sparge. The app tells me 4.48 mash and 2.24 sparge. Not a huge difference but odd they don't match. I went with the slightly larger sparge and still only got the 4.5 gallons at the end. Looking through several of the uploaded recipes on the GF site I see a lot of people using 5.75 or 6 gallon batch sizes so I'm thinking maybe this is a known issue so people compensate with the larger batch size. It's like it's not compensating for the deadspace at the bottom and what gets stuck in the chiller but you'd think their own calculator would know that. Or maybe I just had an unusually high boil off rate? So, I still have some things to figure out with the water calcs I guess.

Anyway, I briefly thought about topping off the 1/2 gallon with distilled water but decided against it for now. I'll just see what happens with it and how it tastes. If I think it needs it I figure I could do it at bottling time and include extra water with the priming sugar. I'm also wondering if when I dump the whiskey and oak in later if I should hold back a few of the cubes since my volume is lower than expected. Maybe a half gallon won't make much of a difference.

d4m0 wrote:

I have done this before Vega! I currently in fact have this exact kind of brew in my keg in the keezer hooked up to the tap.

I used two ounces of these toasted American oak cubes, and soaked them in Longbranch Bourbon for I think three weeks before adding them after fermentation was completed. The first time I tried this kind of beer I boiled them before soaking them in the bourbon, but this time I just rinsed them off with some water. After adding them to the beer (and I did dump in the extra bourbon from the soaking too!) they sat there together for a month.

I did end up boiling them twice for 5 minutes each time. Put them in a jar with somewhere around 10 oz of whiskey. Right before I did this I was out shopping and happened upon some vanilla beans so spur of the moment I picked one up, split it, and threw that in as well. Figured why not. And you sold me, I'll likely just dump it in, liquid and all.

d4m0 wrote:

The hardest part of making a beer like this is all the waiting, but man, it can be amazing, and you really do get some of that nice barrel-aged flavor once it mellows. Good luck to you!

Thanks! Ya, I'm hoping to let this one go for at least 2 months before bottling. Depending how it turns out I'll probably even save some of the bottles for next winter since I'm kind of brewing this out of "season".

So, update on the Stout. It turned out awesome! It has a very chocolaty aroma but hits you with a nice roasty coffee flavor. It's a bit on the sweeter side (the recipe was for a sweet stout) which I think is because of the water issue and it's more condensed then it's supposed to be. After not being happy with my first 2 attempts I was super happy how well this came out. Before I dumped the oak/whiskey in I went ahead and bottled 2 of just the plain Stout. I wanted to have something to compare it to at the end. Really see how much the oak and whiskey added to it.

I dumped the whole jar in but I held back a few of the oak cubes since I ended up with 4 gallons (after bottling 2 bombers) instead of 5. It's been a couple weeks now and I sampled a bit just to see how it was doing and it's actually still pretty good. I had read others taking early samples had spit out their first taste because of too much oak that eventually mellows over time. It has a bit of an oaky, smokey flavor to it, but it's not overwhelming. The mouth feel was a bit odd, like a coating on your tongue after swallowing, that I assume is from the tannins. I'm hoping that will improve over the next month or so. I'm figuring I'll probably bottle somewhere around mid-June or so.

The last thing this recipe calls for is adding cocoa nibs to the secondary a couple week before bottling. I'm hoping that might add some bitterness to cut the sweet a bit.

There is a software update and a new kit for the PicoBrew that lets you use whatever ingredients you want. That makes it a lot more interesting product.