Sometime last year, the availability of used bourbon barrels from Sprecher Brewery's beers was brought up at one of our local homebrew club meetings. It was suggested that we put together a recipe and do a group brew to age in the barrel. Then we went on to the next order of business.
A month later, it was mentioned that there were barrels available if anyone was interested in doing a barrel brew still. A few people thought it was a good idea. Then we went on to the next order of business.
A month later. . . you get the idea. Eventually the idea just died.
However, it was in the back of my head and I decided to eventually do something about it. So, I went to people individually who I thought might be interested in brewing a sour beer to put into a barrel. We got a nice group of good brewers together.
We were hoping for a wine barrel, but couldn't find one available in our area. We settled on an easier to obtain bourbon barrel since that's what we could get. That being the case, I suggested we do a strong, dark beer to stand up to the still relatively fresh oak character and any residual bourbon alcohol. Last winter I brewed an Imperial Stout recipe using the Bugfarm3 blend I had gotten via AlB from the babblebelt.com web forum. It is still aging, but is shaping up to be among my best beers. We eventually decided on that recipe, although we scaled the OG down a bit from my 1.105. We've all been shooting for 1.085, although a few people overshot that. No big deal in this case.
Over the last few months of planning we've added a few people, including one or 2 guys I hadn't met before that some of the other guys knew. We also found out that one of the main suppliers of used barrels to micros all over the US is within 2 hours of us here in Wisconsin! He has wine barrels, brandy barrels, and all sorts of good stuff available! Since we'd settled on a recipe already, we stuck with that and went with a brandy barrel. Apparently it is a 23 year old barrel. It shouldn't have much oak character left at this point, but we're really using it more as a vessel to inoculate with bugs for future brews.
My hope is that we'll put a couple long term batches through it, and then start using it solera style, where we draw off a portion of the beer every 6-12 months and replace it with new beer. After awhile it settles into an average age of a couple years or so, depending on the frequency and amount of beer pulled out & replaced.
One of the guys supposedly picked up the barrel yesterday and our fill date is coming up soon! Things are shaping up with this fun project and I'm happy I could get some people together to share ideas, homebrew, and have a good time playing mad scientists!
It is my hope that we can get a wine barrel this spring to house in my basement (or elsewhere if someone really wants to.) That way we could have a couple projects going at once. One with darker beers, and one with farmhouse type stuff and maybe eventually a lambic-inspired beer or sour ale like a Flanders.
Our recipe was based off of the Jolly Pumpkin Dark Dawn clone done on the BN awhile back. We raised our gravity to around 1.085, as mentioned above.
B.O.M.B. Sour Imperial Stout
brewed on: 10/11/10
IBUs: 34 IBUs
mash temp: 152F
7 lb 4 oz Belgian Pils malt
1 lb 10 oz Roasted Barley
1 lb 10 oz US 2-row
1 lb 3 oz German Munich
1 lb Wheat malt
8 oz Crystal 80L
4 oz Black malt
10 oz Turbinado sugar
8 oz Table Sugar
6 oz Honey
.5 oz US Nugget @ 13.7% - 60 minutes
1 oz Fuggle @ 5% - 30 minutes
Split batch -
1) 3rd generation Roselare cake
2) Dirty Dozen bug blend
The rest of the guys brewing for this fermented their batches with the Wyeast Ardennes strain. I'll be adding my 5 gallons shortly thereafter to provide the bugs to inoculate this batch and the barrel.
For sugar, we decided that, rather than getting super picky, we would go with 3 different additions. One would be corn sugar or table sugar, one would be an unrefined sugar, whether it be turbinado, jaggery, piloncillo, etc. The third would be honey. While most of the guys went with table sugar, I think there was a bit of variation in the unrefined sugar used. I know several batches were done with jaggery, but I also saw bags of turbinado and piloncillo around at various brew sessions as well.