Barrel Time!

>> Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Fresh out of the shipping box
As I've indicated in a couple of my posts, I've been involved in a few barrel projects with my club. Our projects have involved full-size 55-ish gallon barrels, and while it's been a blast, I don't have enough room to store a 55 gallon barrel at my house...nor can I turn out a 55 gallon batch by myself. Well, I recently came across a sale on 10 gallon whiskey barrels from Farmhouse Brewing Supply. I decided to go ahead and pull the trigger on one.

The barrel came to Farmhouse from Old Sugar Distillery and had been used to age their sorghum whiskey, Queen Jennie. The plan is to use this barrel for a couple clean beers, then start doing some sour experiments in it as the barrel character heads toward neutral.

First up for this project was building a cradle for the barrel. Nothing too fancy here, it's just some 2x8 stock and other scrap I had in my garage. Joints were glued and screwed. Later on I'll make a dolly that the cradle will be mounted to, but I didn't have time to do that this past weekend.

With the cradle built, next I decided to wax the barrel. Depending on who you ask, this step may or may not be necessary. Smaller barrels like mine have thinner staves compared to full-size barrels. Also, the surface-to-volume ratio is higher than larger barrels. This raises two primary concerns. 

The first concern is oxidation, and this is where waxing comes into play. Because of the thinner staves and surface area, the amount of oxygen transfer is higher than a full-size barrel. Given enough time, this could result in oxidized beer. The theory is by waxing a portion of the barrel you're able to reduce the permeability of the barrel to that of a 55 gallon barrel. In the case of 10 gallon barrels, the recommendation is 75% of the staves waxed leaving the remainder of the staves and the heads un-waxed. 

The second concern is extraction rate. Because of the high surface-to-volume ratio, flavors tend to extract much faster in a smaller barrel. Long story short, it shouldn't take as long to extract oak and whiskey character from this barrel compared to a full-size barrel. The first beer in this barrel is going to be a Russian Imperial Stout and I'll probably start pulling samples after a month or so to see how things are coming along.

Fresh coat of wax before heat gun clean-up
The waxing process was pretty simple...but it was messy. If you don't want to catch grief from your significant other, do it in the garage and be sure to lay out some newspaper.

I picked up some paraffin wax from Walmart, melted it in an old tomato can immersed in simmering water, then used an old paint brush to paint it on the barrel. I used painters tape to mask off the staves that I didn't want waxed. For mine, I left the bottom 1/4 un-waxed. This process leaves a fairly thick coat of wax on the barrel, so I plan to go back over it with a heat gun to remove excess wax.

One word of caution, barrels like this contain explosive fumes from the residual distilled spirits. Use common sense. Unless you want to be picking splinters out of your spleen, I'd avoid any open flames around an empty barrel.

That's about it.  Stay tuned for updates as we run different beers through this barrel.

Update 9/9/2015
I had some time tonight so I took the heat gun to the barrel. It did a great job of removing excess wax from both the staves and the bands. Here's the barrel ready for some beer!
Post heat gun