Barrels 101 – Prepping your barrel
This is the second post in a series I’ve committed to writing, focused solely on using spent liquor/wine barrels in home brewing. Just in case you missed it, here’s the first post.
So at this stage I have a couple barrels which are being stored with plain water and the chemical mixture I discussed previously. Several weeks ago, I brewed a Belgian Chocolate Stout which has just recently finished fermenting and I think will do well with some barrel aging. Which brings me to my first important point:
What do I mean? Specifically, you need to do everything I’m going to discuss in this installment at least a week before you’re ready to move your beer into the barrel. If you don’t plan ahead, you might find yourself moving beer into the barrel prematurely and picking up more booziness than you were counting on. It will age out, eventually, but you could cost yourself some serious time if you jump the gun. Ok, enough with the preamble. Here we go.
I decided that, in addition to the rum barrel aging, I wanted to introduce some macerated fruit into the equation. Dark Belgian beers have a lot of fruity undertones, and I wanted to accentuate that. I chose to add in some cherries to see how they complemented the beer. If you want to skip any fruit addition, just skip ahead.
Step 1: I’m using dried cherries (simply because they were all I could find at the time), but you can use fresh if you can find them. In either case, you’ll want to disinfect them. To do this, I’m just going to boil them up for a few minutes. However, before I do that, I want to chop these up a little bit to extract more flavor.
Step 2: Add the cherries to a sauce pan with just enough water to cover them. Let these simmer for about 10 minutes.
Step 3: While your cherries are simmering away, grab one of your barrels and empty it of the water/chemical mixture.
Step 4: Whip up a small container of whatever you use to sanitize your equipment. You’ll want to sanitize everything that will come into contact with the opening in the barrel from here on out. And yes, the opening in the barrel is called…..its bunghole.
Go ahead, laugh- get it all out.
Ok, are we good?
Alrighty. Take a paper towel, soak it in your cleaner, and wipe down the area surrounding the bunghole (hehe). Who knows what kind of nasties are living on the surface of your barrel. If you’re going for some sort of secondary, wild, fermentation.. then you could probably skip the sanitation. But, I’m not.. so I shall continue to be anal about sanitizing the bunghole.
Step 5: So, you’ve drained and sanitized the surface of your barrel. By now, your cherries should be ready (about 10 minutes of simmering). They should look something like this:
Step 6: Sanitize a spoon with your cleaner. Begin spooning in the cherries. Don’t forget any leftover liquid as well. Get all that goodness in there.
Step 7: I want to add back some of the rum essence into this barrel. It has spent a few weeks with nothing but water in it. There is still some rum character (I could smell it in the water that I dumped out in step 3. However, I want a tad more. I also want the cherries to macerate and absorb some of this same rum character. Long story short, I’m adding 3 cups of rum into the barrel.
Step 8: Plug up your barrel.
Step 9: A few times a day, give your barrel a little roll to soak the inside of the barrel evenly. Do this until you’re ready to use it.
That’s it! I plan on letting these cherries macerate for a week or so. Stay tuned for the next step, transferring your beer into your prepped barrel.