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Last month I bottled my 09 Chardonnay. I had a small (15 gallon) french oak barrel on the side that I aged some of my topping wine in, blended into the final blend. It was used for Brandy once, then reconditioned (shaved) and re-toasted before I used it to age a Chardonnay for 10 months. I just threw an IPA into it, sat it for 10 days w/ dry hops. Booya.

Question: with wine you can use a barrel 3 times (3 years) if you're religious about barrel sanitation and burn sulfur 1x/month while storing. With beer, how many batches can I get out of the thing before all the oak tannin is extracted? This 15 gallon barrel is so perfectly conditioned for IPA that I'd like to keep her in the mix as long as possible.

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I can't really speak to non-sour brews, but that is a great question. As far as sour beer goes, there's a belgian brewery that will reuse barrels for 70-80 years. Pretty much until the structural integrity is too worn down by the acidic nature of the sour. They also don't pitch yeast, merely using what is left in the pores of the wood.

Do you know why you can only use a wine barrel 3 times? I realize that the "guess and check" method is dangerous, because that's a lot of beer to waste. But can you tell the difference batch to batch? If not, then just keep on keeping on until the barrel falls apart. If so, then maybe when one batch isn't quite oaky enough, that's the end of that barrel?

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lol thanks brewchez. (note to self: coffee before interwebz) –  hookedonwinter Jul 31 '10 at 21:26
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Due to the higher alcohol and lower pH of wine, tannin extraction happens relatively quickly. After 3 years use (at least for Pinot Noir, which you only age for around 1 year), the barrel is considered "neutral" in that it doesn't impart any more oak tannin to your wine. I figured with beer, being more alkaline and less alcoholic, you might get 6-10 uses from a barrel before it's neutral. Since I'm not making native sour beers, I'm not trying to get "the funk" from the barrel, just oak for a traditional barrel-aged IPA. I'm going to go with the guess and check technique, see what happens. –  Juanote Aug 1 '10 at 16:15
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Now see that's the kicker. Traditional barrels being used to transport IPA were lined with brewers pitch keeping the beer oak flavor free. So a neutral barrel is exactly what you want and you can use it indefinately. –  brewchez Aug 2 '10 at 11:46
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