Wednesday, December 10, 2014

60 gallon barrel and saison brew day

The grooves on the insides of the staves
Getting caught up on posts of past brews seems to be a never-ending battle. This is a bit of a long post, which is fitting for a long brew day and the long aging to come on this beer. Hopefully you find the run down of our process (both brew day process and thought process leading up to it) helpful if you are planning a big brew to fill a barrel. I'm definitely a proponent of planning brews well, especially when doing something well beyond what I normally do (or have done before) like this. And if you aren't thinking of that sort of thing, hopefully the challenges of brewing such a quantity of beer on normal homebrew systems makes for an entertaining read.


Through the work of my friend Jeffery I've recently started aging beers in a second used wine barrel. The first barrel is a 30 gallon Hungarian oak barrel that previously held red wine at a U-brew shop for a year or two before we acquired it (and in comparison to this new barrel, it looks amazingly small). This new barrel is grooved American oak and held wine at Glenterra Vineyards for about 10 years, so the oak character ought to be pretty neutral. Glenterra uses wild fermentation for their wines so we might find some interesting microbes already in the barrel. And either way it ideologically fits well with the sorts of mixed microbe fermentation we are looking for from this barrel. Generally John at Glenterra keeps his barrels around when they are neutral (he isn't looking for lots of newer oak barrel flavor, which I appreciate) so we were a bit lucky to get this barrel. The one catch, and the reason we got it, was that two of the staves were cracked on the outside at the top of the barrel so John didn't want to continue using the barrel. But since the barrel was free we were happy to give it a shot.

The empty barrel with a wax-sealed crack
If you read anything or talk to anyone about barrel selection, cracked barrels are an immediate pass. But that is assuming that you are selecting from a number of barrels and you can find one for the same cost that isn't cracked. When, on the other hand, your options are one free barrel with a couple cracked staves or no barrel, the conditions are a bit different. We figured that if it passed water tests then it should be alright, and if the first batch of beer through tells us otherwise then it wasn't a huge loss. And we could feel the inside of the barrel where the crack was to confirm that the inside wasn't cracked, so it seemed to be an issue constrained to the surface (had the inside also been cracked we would obviously not have used the barrel). The two staves adjacent to the stave with the bung hole are cracked, but the bung hole stave is fine (that likely would have been another deal breaker). To be extra careful we sealed the top of the cracked section with wax, following some of the barrel waxing ideas presented by Funk Factory and Embrace the Funk.

Look how much brew gear we fit in here!
We had three people on board at the start of this barrel: Kyle (who is housing this and the first barrel), Jeffery (who found this barrel through his common interest in what John is doing at Glenterra) and myself (I guess in this context I look like a bit of a free loader). With only three of us to start we decided to take a solera approach. If you are unfamiliar with this, the idea is that on every pull from the barrel we only partially empty it rather than fully emptying it. And we will then replace this volume with new beer. The idea of each of us coming up with 20 gallons of wort for fills every time the beer in the barrel was ready was pretty daunting (and 20 gallons of the same barrel beer at every empty was a bit more than we needed as well). Something 5-10 gallons each at each pull from the barrel is a bit more reasonable.

Had to keep 70 gallons worth of yeast safe
Though this approach will help us down the line, that still left the first fill as a bit of a challenge. We figured that with our combined equipment we could, in one giant brew day, come up with enough wort to fill the barrel. And so the plan for a ~70 gallon brew day was born...

The Big Brew

In case you are thinking of doing something like this in the future, I'll lay out our approach. We were going to run 3 consecutive brews with mashing of brews 2 and 3 taking place during the boil of batches 1 and 2 respectively. Going into it we assessed the kettle situation (1x20 gallon, 1x15 gallon, 1x13.5 gallon, 1x10 gallon, 2x9 gallon and 1x7.5 gallon). We had one kettle with a false bottom large enough to comfortably mash enough grain for each batch (the 20 gallon). We then assigned pots to either boiling wort (28 gallons total pre-boil volume, plus boil over space) or heating strike water/sparge water (13 gallons for stike water and 18.8 for sparge). It worked out nicely that we could use a 13.5 gallon kettle, a 10 gallon kettle, and a 9 gallon kettle for the boiling. With each of these pretty close to full we could manage our boil. We didn't worry too much about getting equal gravity in each pot and simply blended runnings by feel while we were collecting to try to equalize things. As the brews went on we got better at this. We did measure gravity and volume on each of the boils, and by this we were able to estimate our OG produced from each batch.

That left us with a 15 gallon, a 9 gallon, and a 7.5 gallon pot. The 15 gallon could do the strike water well and with the help of the 7.5 gallon we were set for the sparge water. That left us with a 9 gallon to spare, which was very helpful when it came to juggling volumes into each of these pots and limiting how often we had to carry large full pots.

Our mash tun and it's blanket insulation.
Likewise we were going to need to be able to heat each of those pots. We had 3 burners and an electric system (for the 13.5 gallon). Two of those burners were needed to drive our other two boil pots, which left one for heating strike water. In sort of a circular way, this also informed pot choices for the boil and strike water. When it came time for the sparge, where we had 2 pots to heat, we would need another burner. But this wasn't really a problem because by the time we were ready for our sparge we needed to be done with the previous boil so that our boil kettles were ready to be filled once again. So we had an extra burner (2 actually) for heating the second volume of sparge water. And since this was our smaller volume it could heat up much quicker.

That covered most of our bases A couple other things we were going to need to worry about were carboy space, yeast, and fermentation temp control. The first part was simple enough to plan. Basically it required 70 gallons of total wort divided by ~5 gallons in each carboy = ~14*6 gallon carboys, plus or minus a carboy or two depending on how full we make each one. It turns out that this required just about all of the empty carboys we collectively had, but we made it work. I suppose I should note that we wanted almost 70 gallons pre-fermentation to allow for us to completely fill a 60 gallon barrel while leaving the trub behind, and maybe giving ourselves a bit extra to top up as needed or compare the barrel aged version to the non-barrel version. We learned the hard way about planning for extra wort when filling a barrel during the first couple fills of our 30 gallon barrel, in which all of the beer prepared either just barely filled or didn't quite fill the barrel. Extra beer is definitely better when going into a barrel filling!

Jeffery, master of gravity systems, prepares our chilling setup.
Preparing yeast for 70 gallons isn't fundamentally different from 5 gallons, just a longer lead time and some large flasks on stir plates. I generally use the Mr Malty yeast calculator, but the brewer's friend calculator has a built in function for stepping up starters, which requires fewer transfers and may be easier depending on your setup. For temp control, we had a fermentation chamber that could fit 3-4 carboys, 2 tubs for hot water baths that could fit two carboys each, 3 aquarium heaters to heat the water baths and a heating pad or two. This obviously didn't quite add up to what we needed. Luckily we were able to utilize an unused bathtub in an extra bathroom. This gave us a hot water bath that could hold 3-4 carboys, getting us much closer to our goal.

Our four tier gravity system for cooling.
So yes, I have now 'brewed beer in a bathtub', as the old stereotype of awful homebrew goes (but it was in carboys too). In the end we only had one carboy left out of a water bath or fermentation chamber, and we were able to control that one with a heating pad and by basically making the entire bathroom a warm fermentation chamber. We knew it was just going to be for a week until we could get them into the barrel so this temporary solution worked fine. If this sort of big brew is something you are planning on doing, where you suddenly need to temp control ~60-70 gallons of beer, perhaps you can get away with a  solution like this and temp control a whole small room in your house for a short time.

I should note that I did miss discussing the step of chilling this much, but based on how we brew the chilling demands weren't substantially different from an average individual brew. I was recently reminded of my first batch of homebrew years ago. I didn't have any friends that brewed and I learned everything I knew at that point (which was almost nothing) from a book or two. The brew day went well enough until the end of the boil, when it suddenly occurred to me and my brew partner that we were going to need to cool down this ~20 L of boiling liquid to room temp. And without contaminating it. And from what I had read at that point I believed it had to be done as quickly as possible. Needless to say it was a bit of a disaster. Well you only make that sort of mistake once. For this big brew this was fortunately not an issue. We all individually had our own chilling capability so we had that well covered. Out of simplicity we ended up running the wort from one of our boil kettles into another to avoid needing 3 chillers, to avoid needing to transfer a plate chiller, and to help prevent the transfer of hop material into our carboys.

Finishing up the brew by firelight
In the end we got 13x 6 gallon carboys, all full a bit past the 5 gallon level. I think that about covers the brew day. On to the recipe.

Brew Day: 16 November 2014
Batch size: 23 gallons in carboys
Target OG: 1.050
Target IBU: 20

68.1 % Weyermann Pils Malt
20.1 % Flaked Wheat
7.9 % Vienna Malt (Best and Weyermann)
3.9 % Acidulated Malt (Weyermann)

295g of a mix of noble type hops at roughly 4% aa targeting ~20 IBU.

The barrel and our 13 carboys of wort
Yeast: Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison and Wyeast 3726 Farmhouse Ale (a 62% 3724 - 38% 3726 blend)
The barrel was also inoculated with ECY34 Dirty Dozen Brett Blend and Wyeast 5223 Lactobacillis brevis. We opted out of adding funkier stuff (anything with Pediococcus) because we didn't want to let things like ropyness constrain when we could make our first pull of the beer, though we plan to add other microbes down the line.

Gypsum and CaCl2 were added to reach final concentrations of roughly 90 ppm Ca, 150 ppm SO4 and 50 ppm Cl-.
Each kettle got 1/2 tab of whirlfloc per batch.
Each kettle got about 1.5g Wyeast yeast nutrient per 19 L/5 gallons.

The yeast was pitched at about 68 F (20 C) and the carboys rose or were raised to ~80 F (26.7 C) by the third day. They were held at this temp until the 5th day, when the heat was turned off and they fell down to ambient (~59 F / 15 C). On the 6th day the carboys were racked into the barrel. They were still active and pretty cloudy, but whatever trub had settled out was left behind. 12 carboys were racked in (filling the barrel a bit more than our plan and therefore not leaving much headspace for the continued fermentation), leaving one full 6 gallon carboy out of the barrel. One of the empty carboys was used to collect any barrel blowoff.
Racking week old beer into the barrel
Our (very) full 60 gallon barrel and its carboy for blowoff.
I'll fill more in as we go with notes of the barrel aging to come.

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