Aug 302013

A couple of months back my friend Tom’s father picked up a couple of 5 gallon bourbon casks.  I managed to swipe one of them and take it home while no one was looking.

My accomplice

My accomplice

The thing smelled so good that I couldn’t help pulling the cork out and sticking my nose inside nearly every time I walked by.  I had some Cascade IPA in secondary that was begging to have something different done with it so I decided to go for it.

Fill'er up!

Fill’er up!

This was a relatively freshly emptied cask.  It was emptied by the distiller only a few months before and had been kept corked so it wasn’t dried out and was clean inside.

I’ve read various methods of sanitizing and cleaning oak but I hate the idea of purging the woody goodness.  In my albeit inexperienced opinion, the whole point is to infect your beer with the bugs that live in the oak.  As long as the wood has been used recently I don’t really want to use any harsh chemicals to clean it up.

At the end of the day, if I happen to be wrong, it’s just beer and I can make more.  So naturally, I’m all in.

Again, the cask hadn’t been empty for very long and was from a known source.  If you stumble on one in a back alley somewhere and you insist on using it you probably want to clean it out with some kind of barrel cleaning solvent.  They’re out there.  Check with your local home brew store.

In this case, I did want to give the cask a rinse and I didn’t want to introduce anything new into it so I mixed up some Star San just to make sure the water was clean.  I poured it in, swished it around, and dumped it out.  After that, I racked the IPA into the cask, placed an air lock, and let it sit for about four weeks.

What came out tastes beautiful.  The beer has taken on a wonderful oak/bourbon character.  I’ve since put the beer back in glass because I don’t have an empty keg yet.  It will be interesting to see how it changes and if it will sour at all.  I can’t wait to drink it.

Sleep tight!

Sleep tight!

Once emptied, I boiled some water and used it to rinse the cask out.  There was some yeast residue inside that I wanted to get rid of.  Since then I’ve filled it with some nineteen month old vanilla bourbon mead.  It’s coming along nicely.


Something my friend Tom suggested trying is to store the cask with a fifth of bourbon in it between uses.  This will succeed in keeping the wood wet so that it won’t shrink.  We’re hoping it also may “recharge” it with bourbon flavor.  At the very least we should get some excellent tasting bourbon out of it.

What kind of experience have you had with aging your beer with wood?

 Posted by at 5:41 am
Aug 232013

Late last fall I took a stab at a Belgian Tripel.  I’ve been brewing for ten years but had never made one and at the request of a friend decided to go for it.  I wanted to give it plenty of time to “funk up” so I let it sit in secondary until June.  When I kegged it I noticed that it seemed darker than it had originally.  I thought that was strange.

I poured a glass.  It looks like this…

Purple Nurple

It’s a little less pronounced in the picture but the beer has a noticeably purple tinge to it.  It’s especially noticeable in the head.

It’s purple.  Why is it purple?  I’ve never made a purple beer before.  I don’t know how I’d make another.

If you were blindfolded and tried some you’d think that you were drinking a delicious Belgian beer.  It has no hop aroma, is a little spicey, and has a beautiful banana taste to it.

I’ve passed some around to some other homebrewers and the only thing they’ve been able to come up with is that the color change is the result of iodophor sanitizer coming in contact with unconverted starches.  I see two problems with this.

  1. The beer dried out to 1.006.  If I had starches that didn’t convert in the mash I would have expected a higher final gravity given that the O.G was 1.070.
  2. I haven’t used iodine as a sanitizer in a couple of years.  Nothing but Star San has touched this beer.

The beer is purple.  It tastes great and has given me a fun story to tell though, so I’ll take it.

What unexpected turns have your beers taken over the years?  Were they pleasant surprises?

2012-11-11 17.11.42
 Posted by at 5:51 am