Oak barrel vs wood chips

I love stout. And scotch. I have thrown some oak cubes into some batches but think maybe I need to buy a barrel. Any idea if this will be that much better than adding the chips, cubes or sticks of oak?
Worth the investment? Or a waste of time and money?

my knowledge on this comes from wine…barrels are a major investment. Not only are you looking at several hundred to a few thousand dollars just to buy one, after that you are married to it and need to ensure it’s properly taken care of. If it gets too dry, it’s useless. if you use the wrong cleaner or don’t monitor the humidity it’s receiving and it gets too wet, it’s worthless. There’s a pretty good reason why wine makers generally only use barrels one time…

of course, smaller barrels are easier to keep usable, but still require an attentive eye. You can’t just let it sit in the garage while you’re not using it, you have to take care of it even when you have no plans for it.

I use oak cubes for my wine. Glass carboys are easier to clean than oak barrels, and roughly 45 cubes will give you about the same surface area of a 6gal barrel, but only cost a few bucks and can be disposed of when you bottle. Plus, i can buy american oak for one wine and french oak for another one. I can also get light, medium, or dark toasted cubes depending on what flavor i want to add. you’d have to invest in severl barrels to get that type of versatility.

Cubes, chips, or staves give great surface area…powder is the best but it’s just another thing you have to try to keep out of the bottle. If you have a good in-line filter system for bottling, powder would work just fine, otherwise i recommend cubes, chips, or staves.

on an unrelated note…if you have some cheap whiskey you can add some oak to it and shake it for 1min per day for 30 days. Apparently this replicates 10 years worth of aging in oak barrels. anyting past 30 days doesn’t add more equated aging.

hope this all helps!!

You may have just put every barrel maker out of business. Very helpful. I will never buy a barrel. Thanks! Will check out that whiskey tip too. Interesting concept.

I use both. Barrels are a lot of work to keep up with, and are quite the commitment. I love my barrels, but cubes are the way to go if you are looking for the ease of things.

glad you found it helpful. I would love to own a barrel or two(hundred), but realistically it’s just not feasible at the moment. Maybe one day when i win the lottery and have a ton of land and a dedicated, temperature controlled brewing/vinting house…maybe then i’ll step up to using barrels. Until then, cubes are the way to go.

of course, if you just want very small barrels you can get those for a pretty good price. Maybe doing some 1gal test batches, or putting your oaked beers into them just for dispensing in a cool way…

check these guys out if that might be interesting to you…


You may find the below information useful

[quote=“gregscsu”][attachment=0]Oak Flavor Vs Temperature.jpg[/attachment]

Toasting Oak Cubes:

[b]Use the above chart to determine what temperature you want to toast your oak cubes

Toast the oak cubes in the oven at the desired temperature for about 3 hours[/b]

Additional toasted oak information:
Toasting of the oak creates melanoidins:

  • Heat breaks down carbohydrates into sugars in the wood[/*]
  • Heavier toasts create maliards and charring, also confectionary compounds (custard/caramel/butterscotch flavors)[/*]
[b]Does wood character remain stable or deteriorate over time?[/b]
  • It does lessen to some extent, it is slow though[/*]
  • Tannins (good body and mouthfeel) can come from wood[/*]
  • Oak chips last about 2 weeks before tannins start to leach into the beer (body/complexity tannins) too long and it can become astringent (bad tannins (sour puckering)- can add to dryness of finish)[/*]
  • “Doing it right” requires slow dosing of your beer over the course of months[/*]
  • Higher alcohol beers possibly draw out more compounds form the wood.[/*]
[b]Preparing your wood for the beer:[/b]
  • Usually just throw the wood in (no sanitary steps)[/*]
  • Some put wood in water in microwave (steam)[/*]
  • Some boil water, throw chips in, shake a little, let cool, throw juice and wood in fermenter. (Jamil sometimes pressure cooks his wood)[/*]
  • Usually only sanitize for long aging beers (never any chem. (starsan, idophore)[/*]
  • Brett (and other sour critters) can live in wood (takes a long time to become problematic)[/*]
  • You can pasteurize the wood at 170 F for 5 min.[/*]
[b]How much oak to use for a 5 gal batch?[/b] Cubes: (impart flavor much slower) for aging after primary (in keg) use about 1-2 oz for 5 gal 5 months-1 year
  • The more the beer sits on the cube it penetrates deeper causing a variety of flavors[/*]
  • The more oak you apply the shorter amount to time it takes to show itself[/*]
  • The flavor is different depending on amount placed and time left[/*]
  • The flavors that come out first from the oak only become more defined with age[/*]
  • It takes 3-4 weeks to notice flavors are melding (especially with cubes)[/*]
  • Vanilla and caramel are first, then spices and cloves later on[/*]
  • Toasted coconut for lighter toast oak[/*]
  • Oak cubes will dissolve to “little nubs” after 1½-2 years of keeping them in a keg (Jamil did this with an English Barleywine, which became an award winning beer)[/*]
  • Too little oak for too long creates bad tannins[/*]
  • Too much oak does not create complexity of flavors before it becomes overwhelming (varies between different styles of beer)[/*]

This information was compilied from several resources.[/quote]

Hey Greg,
Thanks for posting the info. I have a Kate The Great Imperial Stout in the fermenter that calls for oak chips. It will be my first time using oak.

Barrel aging does more than just add oak flavor. It allows tiny amounts of oxigen to seep into the aging liquid, and allows a small portion of the liquid to evaporate out through poors in the wood. The combination of these two effects can make a substantial change to the flavor and complexity of a wine, which explains why barrel makers will not be going out of business any time soon. That said, these are effects that are not typically considered beneficial for most beers (lambics excepted), they just are not aged long enough for this to happen. So if you just want oak flavor (or oak modified by port or wiskey or whatever), go with chips or cubes.