Ale Tales for Modern Times: Craft Brew Strategies for Barrel Aging

Posted by Darin Haener on Apr 8, 2019 8:00:00 AM

In beer, brewing, barrel, barrel aged

 

barrel

 The timing of barrel aging is another layer of deadlines and notes to keep track of, and the FermentAble barrel aging feature can help you to keep it all straight.

 

In our last post, we provided a brief introduction to the world of barrel aged beers. While this was a thorough overview, it served more as a ‘tasting flight’ than as a full pour, so now we intend to get down to business. The nuts and bolts of barrel aging can seem complicated at first, and even to an experienced brewer the mere pacing of the process can become a slog. If you thought that brewing notes could get stained and torn over the course of a regular brew, imagine what they look like after six months!

 Here at FermentAble we have been working on precisely that problem, and are proud to roll out our new barrel aging tab on the dashboard. With this new feature, the nuts and bolts of the aging process are kept in line automatically, leaving the brewer to do what he loves – tasting and perfecting the brew. Along with this, there are some “Best Practices” that will help you on your way, and this article will help identify and streamline these.

 

Barrel Types

Oak Barrels are the industry standard, and for good reason. They are sturdy, the flavor profile is uniform (not to mention delicious), and the whiskey industry ensures a nearly constant supply of used, tasty, empty barrels. While fresh barrels are important to get, meaning that the barrels are still soaked with the residue of whatever spirit they previously held, sometimes they must set for a while before you are ready to fill them. Pro tip – Get a 1.5 L of a neutral spirit (or of what was stored in the barrel originally) and slosh it around in the barrel periodically. This will keep the barrel moist, and the alcohol can help to retain a sterile environment in the barrel. The Barrels tab will store all this info for you right on your dashboard.

 

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 Be wary of throwing just any old barrel at your brews. Choosing the right barrel is as important as any other ingredient in the recipe. 

 

“Juuust Right”: Using Temperature as a Tool

Like most beers, barrel aged brews prefer to be in the 50ºF – 60ºF range. This is the sweet spot where the beer remains fairly static, and the wood is warm enough to still impart its flavors. If you are at the stage in your production where the barrel is just taking up space in the back of the warehouse, then merely keeping it at this temperature range will be challenge enough. FermentAble’s new barrel age feature helps to keep track of everything for you, including your weekly temperature checks. This way, by comparing against your tasting notes (more on this later), you can see if any fluctuations in temp have had an effect on the beer. This will provide important data if the beer becomes an overnight success, and you want to replicate the process precisely in the future. Some brewers have even experimented with deliberately fluctuating the temperature, in order to coerce the beer through the wood. Experiments like this will be easy to keep notes on with the new feature as well.

 

Proper Barrel Storage

Once you have tracked down the ideal barrels for your barrel-aged-beauty, made sure that they are airtight and filled them, comes the issue of where to store the dang things. As mentioned above, temperature is an important factor, which of course is important, but the literal logistics of storing the barrels can be tricky too. You need to find a place in your brewery that isn’t in the way, but is also accessible for samples. You wouldn’t think it immediately, but once you factor in the time that the barrels will be under your roof, storage quickly becomes the largest outright cost of the endeavor. You know your brewfloor better than anyone, but be sure to take extra care when deciding where the barrels will live for the next 6 months to a year. A little foresight can go a long way. Once you have decided, FermentAble's new barrel aging feature is customizable to create a visual representation of the barrel on your brewfloor, wherever it may be.

  FermentAble DashBoard

The FermentAble Dashboard has always served as a live "EKG" of your brewery operations, and now it can include Barrel-Aged beers as well.

 

The Fun Part: Sampling

Now that the beer is safely resting in its oaky cradle for the next few months, it may be tempting to “back burner” it, and check in on it after it should be done. But on the contrary, the beer should be checked for its developing flavors weekly. Thankfully, tasting beer isn’t exactly a rough chore, so this weekly progress check is a fun process, longer-term than most brewery chores. It is important to run the brew by the best palates in the brewery, and to take thorough notes of the flavors each time. The Barrels tab can help you with this as well – it has a section specifically for tasting notes. Now, regardless of who sampled the beer, all of the notes will be in one place, easily accessible from anywhere on the planet.

 

The End Result: Drain That Keg!

Once the flavor is right where you want it, it’s time to rack and bottle that brew. The first step, “racking”, requires transferring it to a clean, sanitary vessel for a few days in order to stabilize the brew. Any clean stainless steel tank will work for this. This allows for any sediment or little bits of soaked char or wood to sink to the bottom of the tank. The Barrels tab on the dashboard can help with this as well. You can even package the beer directly out of the barrel if you like, adding a particularly rustic element to the process. All of this can be accomplished within FermentAble as well, allowing a seamless representation of inventory in the cloud.