I was recently given a 5L oak barrel from Oak Barrels Ltd. and I've never used such a thing before and have some basic questions.
The barrel came with a great little instruction guide which talks about basic barrel prep, sanitation, and storage (among other things). Also on their website they link to this article by Terry Terfinko from 1995 titled, Oak Barrel Experiment, which answers a lot of questions about beer making with barrels. However there are a few pieces of the puzzle missing:
- 5L (1.3 gal) vs 5 gal: I have 5 gallon batch equipment currently. Should I invest in some stuff like 1 gallon carboys and mini auto-siphons for smaller batches? Should I scale recipes which are for 5 gal down to smaller sizes by just dividing everything by 5?
- The instruction guide mentions the idea of "topping off" the barrel from time to time. This is because of the Angel's share, that being the beer/wine/whiskey that evaporates during the aging process. So how do I do this with beer? Do I need to keep some extra beer around somewhere (refrigerated?) maybe in growlers or something? This may play into the answer to the first question about batch size.
- I've been doing extract brewing (with grain bags in there too) so far and don't have all grain equipment, I assume that won't be a problem. I guess the question is, will it (be a problem)?
- Any suggestions on kind of beer to make? I thought stuff like a Russian imperial stout or Scotch Ale or some other strong ale might be good. But most of those say to age for 6 months minimum and the guide suggests 4-6 weeks aging for the 5L barrel. Maybe just some basic brown ale for the first time, since they're usually pretty cheap and easy to make.
Thanks for taking the time to read this longer post. I'm excited to start trying this thing out but without answers to some of these questions, I'm a bit nervous about messing it up (I know, RDWHAHB).