Saturday, September 26, 2015

Barrel Aged Old Ale

It's been an especially long time since I've gotten a post up. Sorry about that. In large part this is due to heading out to the Arctic Ocean on an icebreaker for 6 weeks for my real job. I returned from that trip in late August and had a quick few weeks of turn around before I moved back to Germany for 5 or so months of work. I'm excited about the opportunity to make many interesting brewery visits (Brussels is about a 4 hour train ride form Mainz, where I'm working) but not all that happy about leaving my friends and family in Victoria and leaving brewing for another long stretch. Anyway, that brings me back to the nature of the first posts of this blog - I'll try to keep some retro-active recipe and brewday posts coming but they might be mixed in with more posts about brewery visits and other beer research. On the note of retro-active brewday posts, here's a writeup for a beer I brewed almost a year ago and just bottled before moving to Germany.

After pulling the saison from the 30 gallon wine barrel I share with two other brewers, we wanted to fill the barrel with something that could age longer to finish stripping the oak flavor before we fill it with something along the lines of a Flemish red or something lambic-inspired where we wanted long aging without a lot of wood flavor. For this beer we wanted something that could handle aging for a while to make sure that the next beer could handle a year or more in oak. After an excellent evening of tasting a few old ales with and without brett, we decided on a historically inspired old ale with Brett c. I should note that none of us are British beer historians and we didn't spend a lot of time scouring historic old ale recipes. If that's what you're into then Ron Pattinson's blog and books and Amos Browne's blog (check out the From History tab) are great resources. So the historically-inspired part is pretty loose, and it is mostly just the push for brett and barrel aging.

Racking one of paler beers in.
One of the cool things about sharing a barrel with a couple other brewers is that the beer becomes a blend before the barrel is even able to impart any flavors. Of course we are limited with blending possibilities after the barrel since we don't have a lot of barrels, so blending of different barrel aged characters (both barrel- and microbe-derived) isn't an option. But we do all complete primary fermentation before going into the barrel. And the slightly different directions we go with a loosely agreed upon base result in a beer different from what any one of us would have produced individually. And, at least so far, it has resulted in beers better than any single one of the base beers in my opinion. In this case one of us undershot gravity a bit (if memory serves). With that info delivered to the other two of us, the second to brew adjusted his recipe to accommodate that. For my part, my beer came out a fair bit darker than I was expecting, and darker than I would want in the final product. But I think that balanced well as the other two brews were considerably paler and the blending worked out to make a balanced final beer that was about what we were going for from the start.

The beer at bottling.
To prep for this beer we wanted to knock back the cultures present so far in the barrel (we were getting pretty assertive sour character and we didn't want that here) so burned some sulfur inside the barrel. To burn a homebrew-sized chunk of sulfur stick we cut a piece off of a full stick and fashioned a dish to hold it out of a corked beer cage and some foil. It took a bit of shaping to get it to fit through the bung hole and hold the sulfur chunk well but in the end it worked really nicely. We suspended this with a bit of bailing wire. We didn't worry about keeping the barrel wet as we weren't planning to leave it empty for long. When we were ready to fill we rinsed the barrel thoroughly. And when we felt we had rinsed it enough we conducted some quick tastes of the rinse water to make sure we weren't getting any sulfur carryover.

The old ale went into the barrel in October 2014 and came out June 2015. On many occasions since that planning night I've found myself wondering what I'll do with my 10 gallon share of barrel aged old ale. I'm still not really sure, but at least I'm really happy with how it is tasting at this point. I suppose I'll have old ale around for some time...

Brew date: 5-October-2014
Date into barrel: 15-October-2014
Date out of barrel: 28-June-2015
Batch Size: ~15 gallons in carboys
OG: 1.071
IBU: ~53 (Tinseth)

The grist
Doehnel #28 (Pale English-type malt)  67.9%
Doehnel #24 (Pale English-type malt)  26.2%
Carafa II Special (Weyermann)              3.3%
British Crystal 135-160                          2.7%

Quick note - I think this C 135-160 is a cool addition to darker English oriented beers and have been happy with it whenever I use it.

Slovenian Bobek, 5.01% aa. Boiled for 80 minutes for 53 IBU

WLP007 Dry English ale
Brett claussenii (White labs) - added as a slurry from a starter to the barrel.

1 Tab whirlfloc
1.5 tsp yeast nutrients (Wyeast)
Salt additions to add ~100 ppm each of Ca2+, Cl- and SO42- to what is basically distilled water.

Racking out of the barrel.
When we racked this beer into the barrel we also added a rod of toasted oak from Okanagan Barrel Works (a local winemaker had given me an unused chain of toasted oak meant to be added to neutral barrels to get oak flavor from this now-closed cooper). I don't have an exact mass of that rod but it was about 60-70 g. We rinsed it a couple of times with warm water to mellow the flavor a bit. We wanted to be able to pull this rod out easily so we tied it to the bung with unflavored dental floss.

As I said above, I am really happy with how it tasted coming out of the barrel. I was a bit worried with how oaky it was tasting at ~3 months in the barrel but the harsher wood character mellowed with further aging and it didn't seem too oaky when we pulled it out in June.

I bottled my carboys at the end of August/beginning of September. At bottling I re-yeasted with a bit of RC-212, a non-competitive red wine yeast. The dosing was a bit below 1 million cells per mL as I figured there would still be a bit of brett around. I'll check back in when I'm back in December and hopefully it is conditioning well.

May 2016 update: Here's a quick note on how the beer is progressing from the blog's facebook page. I suppose I should make some full tasting notes soon...

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