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Practicality of a Solera / Wine Barrel

I have a winemaker here in WNY that is willing to give me a wine barrel (I believe either cab sauv, cab franc, or merlot) that I would use as a solera for wild ales. I think (hope) 32 gallons.

I just wanted to see if anyone has or has entertained the idea of having one of these. We have a baby on the way, so my place might be out, but I am lobbying for the guy I brew with to keep it @ his place (he likely is not having kids), and has plenty of room in his basement.

Some of the issues I see right of the bat:
-the cradle: it probably makes sense to build one or have one welded that will be slightly elevated so we can easily rack to kegs/other vessels for blending
-sheer volume: part of the idea would be to have a steady supply of sours over the years, but I can’t imagine ever drinking or giving away this much beer

Thanks!

most wooden wine barrels are either Bordeaux type (59 gallons), or Cognac type (79 gallons)

You an buy a 5-10gal wine barrel with a couple hundred bucks. Add a little wine to the beer when you use it. I have an 11gal solera style sour barrel, 5gal per year is a lot of Flanders red! I used the barrel for a Zinfandel first. Its been going four years now.

[quote=“Pietro”]I have a winemaker here in WNY that is willing to give me a wine barrel (I believe either cab sauv, cab franc, or merlot) that I would use as a solera for wild ales. I think (hope) 32 gallons.

I just wanted to see if anyone has or has entertained the idea of having one of these. We have a baby on the way, so my place might be out, but I am lobbying for the guy I brew with to keep it @ his place (he likely is not having kids), and has plenty of room in his basement.

Some of the issues I see right of the bat:
-the cradle: it probably makes sense to build one or have one welded that will be slightly elevated so we can easily rack to kegs/other vessels for blending
-sheer volume: part of the idea would be to have a steady supply of sours over the years, but I can’t imagine ever drinking or giving away this much beer

Thanks![/quote]

done quite a few…
yes have it on a rack, few bucks in 2x4 and 2x6 and its done, Nice to have it on casters

smaller the barrel might get vinegary quicker keep an eye on it

over time you will have to empty it ans start from scratch

Mine is four years old now and no problems with acetobacter/vinegar. I think this is a combination of filling it up initially, and after that the pellicle helps protect it from the air. Certainly the Belgians age their lambics in cask for at least a couple of years.

Some yes, but they also clean and empty barrels much more frequenlty, some steam, some clena with near boiling water, cantillon uses chains etc…Pellicle is because of oxygen, oxygen comes in the barrels from all over not just the top.

An 11g barrel at 5 years and its not vinegar? I assume you are taking a lot out on empties and fills.
Tastes also greatly differ on what is vinegar and what is not. I have had a ton of flanders that people give me that are vinegar bombs and they think it is great.

Ok just found out this thing is actually 60 gallons, and its likely coming to my house whether I want it or not.

Is this the least bit practical/possible, or should I saw this thing in half or use it as a base for a table?

I have also heard of people polyurethaning the outside to help against o2 absorption, but something about me does not want anything to do with polyurethane near something I am DRINKING…

[quote=“Pietro”]Ok just found out this thing is actually 60 gallons, and its likely coming to my house whether I want it or not.

Is this the least bit practical/possible, or should I saw this thing in half or use it as a base for a table?

I have also heard of people polyurethaning the outside to help against o2 absorption, but something about me does not want anything to do with polyurethane near something I am DRINKING…[/quote]

all the barrels I have done are 59g wine barrels.
I have done it with as many as a dozen people to just a few people.

You do not need to wax the barrel or anything 59g lets in way less oxygen than a 5g barrel

ok thanks gb, one last question (that is a bold-faced lie):

do you have to fill it with 60 gallons and account for angel’s share, or can you have some headspace? Do you use it as a primary, and just continually add fresh wort when you pull some off?

Any resources would be appreciated. I have read Wild Brews, but didn’t really catch much on the best way to approach this.

[quote=“Pietro”]ok thanks gb, one last question (that is a bold-faced lie):

do you have to fill it with 60 gallons and account for angel’s share, or can you have some headspace? Do you use it as a primary, and just continually add fresh wort when you pull some off?

Any resources would be appreciated. I have read Wild Brews, but didn’t really catch much on the best way to approach this.[/quote]

fill it full and have another carboy sitting around at all times to top off with 5-10g is usually good for top off.

Then you have to decide on taste on how much to remove and how much to add back etc… blending…

You can ferment in carboy and then add back so you do not have a ton of yeast building up on the barrel.

do you ferment “clean” in the carboys or use your bugs in the carboys (or both)?

I always add bugs right to the primary for my sours…YMMV

For barrel project I am in it has been a mix of clean and sour ferments before going into barrel…

If you beer is getting really sour in the barrel you are going to want to ferment clean and pull more out, its all by taste and blending in a solera.

Sooner or later you will have to pull everything out and wash it out, but who know how long that may be I have seen it go as little as 2 or 3 years before you notcied some off flavors and some go longer and be fine

I’m coming up on a year in a 5 gallon Balcones Bourbon barrel - perfect size. I’m about to brew my next batch (first was a ten - moved to glass for half and wood barrel for half after fermentation slowed initially on a Roselaere blend). I’m blending with another Flanders after primary starts slowing on it and adding a can of cherry wine base to the whole mix. No vinegar on this one…but I will be mindful to draw off a few beers every so often and bottle them up.

I can’t wait to periodically blend this stuff over the next few years.

:cheers:

Microoxygenation is a much lower exposure than conventional oxygenation. I dont find the acetic character to be prominent and most brew judges whove tried these sours have enjoyed them. Stan Heironymous is a fan of my sours, Jeff Sparrow has tasted them too. Not saying they are the best just that I know what Im doing. Ive been pleasantly surprised at how long this solera has gone.

Does Cantillon use 59gal barrels? Seems like some photos I’ve seen looked like smaller barrels. In any case they clean barrels but I would think the beer sits in a single barrel for a year or two. Then when they blend they will steam the barrel before reuse. I understand your point that they don’t run barrels solvers style, but they are going for consistency. I’m experimenting, and just reporting one data point.

I think one thing that helps my process is that I pound in the bung and let it go, I don’t open it every month.the amount of air coming from an open bung is going swamp out any micro oxygenation coming through inch plus thick oak.

I see no real reason to brew with bugs after the initial batch. There’s plenty of bugs in the barrel, that’s the whole reason for using a barrel they love the environment of the wood.

This on the bugs ^^^

I will keep using the barrel for a few more batches, then clean it out. After that, no need for bugs to be added, right?

[quote=“ynotbrusum”]I’m coming up on a year in a 5 gallon Balcones Bourbon barrel - perfect size. I’m about to brew my next batch (first was a ten - moved to glass for half and wood barrel for half after fermentation slowed initially on a Roselaere blend). I’m blending with another Flanders after primary starts slowing on it and adding a can of cherry wine base to the whole mix. No vinegar on this one…but I will be mindful to draw off a few beers every so often and bottle them up.

I can’t wait to periodically blend this stuff over the next few years.

:cheers: [/quote]

How are you going to be blending with one barrel?

[quote=“tom sawyer”]Microoxygenation is a much lower exposure than conventional oxygenation. I dont find the acetic character to be prominent and most brew judges whove tried these sours have enjoyed them. Stan Heironymous is a fan of my sours, Jeff Sparrow has tasted them too. Not saying they are the best just that I know what Im doing. Ive been pleasantly surprised at how long this solera has gone.

Does Cantillon use 59gal barrels? Seems like some photos I’ve seen looked like smaller barrels. In any case they clean barrels but I would think the beer sits in a single barrel for a year or two. Then when they blend they will steam the barrel before reuse. I understand your point that they don’t run barrels solvers style, but they are going for consistency. I’m experimenting, and just reporting one data point.[/quote]

Yes they do, and yes they have some pushing 3 years or more with a very well developed house strain over the years. You have to rember they have hundreds and hundres of barrels to blend form, new barrels, select barrel with a strong flora based in them etc…
THey use some midevil chain cleaner with steam or hot water.

I was just surprised an 11g barrel had no notes of vinegar at almost 5 years…THats a small barrell that lets in a lot more oxygen. Not saying it can’t be done

[quote=“grainbelt”]

How are you going to be blending with one barrel?[/quote]

One way to do it is to pull beer out of the barrel and store it in carboys. I have done that with a balcones barrel-- right now I have 3 versions of the same beer, one of which was in the barrel for a while and is quite oaky (now in a carboy), the other version is in the barrel now, and the third version has yet to go in the barrel. A lot of times with these small barrels, you’ll want to blend with unoaked beer, because at first you can get an overpowering oak character, until you take a lot of that out of the wood.

[quote=“Wahoo”][quote=“grainbelt”]

How are you going to be blending with one barrel?[/quote]

One way to do it is to pull beer out of the barrel and store it in carboys. I have done that with a balcones barrel-- right now I have 3 versions of the same beer, one of which was in the barrel for a while and is quite oaky (now in a carboy), the other version is in the barrel now, and the third version has yet to go in the barrel. A lot of times with these small barrels, you’ll want to blend with unoaked beer, because at first you can get an overpowering oak character, until you take a lot of that out of the wood.[/quote]

Yes I know, I was thinking other blending between other barrels since they vary so differently with the same recipe same barrel.

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