The story is; We have 5-6 home brewer's who will be doing 6 batches of 5 gallon beer. We will be bringing the fermentators/carboys over to my house and re-racking all 30 gallons into a Buffalo Trace whiskey barrel.

We plan on aging it for only 3 months then force carbing 15g in Korny kegs for a going away party. Then bottle conditioning the rest of the 15g for all the brewers to take home with them.

My question is about the whiskey barrel. It has been sitting dormant for 4 months and I'm not sure how to sanitize it. Should I buy some high abv whiskey and roll it around the barrel or let it sit for several days with whiskey in it? I don't want to use anything that will bleach the taste out of the oak but I don't want our beer to get off flavors because some crazy bacteria is in there.

I've tried google and searching www.homebrewtalk.com and I haven't found any literature on the matter.

If anyone can shed some light on the matter it would help us out greatly. Thanks in advance.

  • Unaccept my answer and I'll delete it. I'm a little ashamed to have good advice alongside my seat-of-the-pants advice. Commented Apr 23, 2010 at 15:04
  • I know its been a LONG time since this thread was posted too, but I figured...what the hell...give it a try I was wondering how the beer turned out? As well as, how did you come across a Buffalo Trace Barrel. I'm getting ready to put 30 gallons of Imperial Oatmeal Stout into an Oat Whiskey barrel...but was tossing around the idea of a Russian Imperial Stout in a Buffalo Trace barrel just today...and, after reading this, I have to know...where did you get it? Jason
    – user1067
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 3:00

4 Answers 4


Sorry just got to this. Looks like you have some great info from some of the best people who would know.

Did you have this barrel for 4 months or you got it after it was sitting for 4 months? Either way for future reference. If you aren't going to use a barrel for a few months you need to either burn a sulfur stick in it or fill it with a sulfur solution. This will help keep the barrel from getting funky. You always want to keep the barrel sealed tightly with a wooden bung. If its only a few weeks just burning the sulfur stick and sealing it will be fine any longer than that you want to fill it with the solution, that way it keeps the barrel conditioned and keep it from leaking.

Good luck!!

Oh, out homebrew club is about to fill a 60gal used Merlot barrel in a similar fashion.

-Jeff Porn

  • There is a sulfer solution that the guy at "beer at home" showed me that we may try. Then do a combination of what the Breury and what Russian river does to seal the barrel. I think after getting the barrel sealed that we will put some whiskey on the inside and let it sit with the whiskey for a couple of weeks. That way if we bleached out some of the flavor we can impart some of the whiskey back into the barrel. home brewing like the big boys :-)
    – Derrick
    Commented Apr 23, 2010 at 15:49

I emailed Russian river, Avery, Boulevard, The Breury, and Lost Abbey

From Vinnie at Russian River

The first thing you’ll need to do is make sure the barrel is water tight, try cold water first, after that if it still leaks you’ll need to revert to hot water, the hotter the water the more flavor will leach out so start with warm water and work your way up with the temperature of the water.
At that point, let the barrel dry and smell it, if it smells clean than move forward. If it smells off, you most likely won’t get the off character out of the wood as it is porous. Good luck, Vinnie

From Tyler King at the Breury

Hey Derrick,

4 months is a long time for a barrel to sit empty. You have two major issues at hand; if the barrel was stored empty it will most likely not hold any liquid (it will leak from the staves and heads), secondly, if there is any bacteria or wild yeast in the wood there's nothing you can do. Before you fill the barrel you will want to soak it with water to make sure it will hold your product. You can fill the barrel up with warm water and let it sit till it seals (this will strip flavor from the barrel) or you can turn the barrel on its heads and soak it with water (flipping the barrel and soaking the other head every other day) till it is sealed from the outside in (this is what I do.) Once the barrel is sealed you can fill it. You can't effectively sanitize a barrel, if anything is living in it - it WILL be in your product! Any intelligent brewer who has worked with enough oak barrels to know will tell you this, you cannot kill all of the microbes living in the wood. I personally don't sanitize any oak barrel before I fill it, if the barrel has a funky smell and/or look it is made into a planter.

From Tomme Arthur at Lost Abbey


Thanks for the email about the barrel you guys are planning on filling. If the barrel is >new and has been bunged for the 4 months, you shouldn't have any issues with stability >(alcohol in the wood is still present and a great sanitizer). If you're concerned about >the barrel condition, you can always roll a bit of bourbon around to wet the wood on the >inside. My one concern would be the taughtness of the barrel and how tight the seal >between the stave is. If it were me, I'd roll the whiskey around just to get an idea of >how well the barrel is sealed.

Good luck and best wishes on an amazing beer

Tomme Arthur

  • 1
    That is awesome how responsive they were! Commented Apr 23, 2010 at 15:20
  • I know, makes me want to buy more of their beer, err, wait. I already do!
    – Derrick
    Commented Apr 23, 2010 at 15:54

See this question: Keeping a barrel

Our club put 55 gallons of Russian Imperial stout in a Merlot barrel a few weeks ago. We pumped 20 gallons of boiling water into it to sanitize.

I sent an email to Russian River a few weeks ago. Here's what Guy, an assistant brewer, said:

Hi Dean,

We always try to get the wine barrels straight from the winery and fill them as soon as possible. Sometimes we hot rinse them and sometimes we don't. It depends on the winery, how soon they had been emptied, and what the barrels smell like. If they do sit or seem pretty dry, we use a pressure washer-type device with a jet-like attachment that goes up through the bunghole and we blast hot water into them for 3-5 min. With the Sudzers barrel we just heated a bunch of water to "sanitizing" temperature and filled it halfway or so, let it sit a bit, then plugged the hole and rolled it over to expose the rest of the barrel to the hot water. Rinse and repeat as necessary. Also use your nose to make sure there are no strong acetobacter/vinegar aromas. We don't use any barrels at RR that have that smell, but we rarely get any that do because they don't sit long. We also fill them with warm water to allow the wood to expand and look for any leaks before filling. Even if they do leak a little...or a lot...letting them soak for a day or two and keeping them topped up usually cures it. We don't use any chemicals.

Good luck,



Send an email to the folks are Russian River. Tell them your situation and I am sure they'll give you some advice. You may even get a response from Vinny himself.

If the barrel has been stored dry, you may want to recondition it with some water. First to make sure its water tight still. Secondly, if you use boiling water this will help sanitize the barrel.

I'd look up barrel upkeep and maintenance for how a barrel is supposed to be stored. Pretty sure you want it wet inside.

  • 1
    Good advice on sending a email to the big guys, I sent an email to Russian river, Avery, Boulevard, The Breury, and Lost Abbey. We'll see if I get a response.
    – Derrick
    Commented Apr 22, 2010 at 19:48
  • 1
    I can save you the email - I did it a few weeks ago. See my answer. Commented Apr 22, 2010 at 23:20

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