Prep dry Bourbon barrel

Have a 5 gallon bourbon barrel from Journeyman that was used who knows how long ago and is dry. I know to re-hydrate it to get the staves back nice a full and tight fitting, but what else do I need to do. Have read of using a holding solution, but that it is very bad for bourbon barrels as it will strip all of the bourbon flavors that are left (if any are left in my barrel), but there has to be something else that needs to be done to it.

Any advise if mucho gracias as I am currently mashing 21 pounds of grain for a 5 gallon batch of RIS. Gonna be so tasty if this barrel turns out well.


Yup, the first step is to swell it. If it won’t seal, there’s no point in doing anything else. Fill it with the hottest water you can get, and let it set until it stops leaking. It might take a few days, so make sure it isn’t anywhere that some spilled water will cause a problem.

You can put a storage solution in it, but it probably won’t kill anything that the RIS won’t kill. The hot water will strip the bourbon flavor, so once it’s swelled you can pour some bourbon in and let it soak in. You can keep a barrel hydrated for a couple weeks like this, although don’t count on being able to pour any bourbon back out. A full size barrel can easily absorb a gallon of whiskey.

Thanks Pork Chop. My LHBS was trying to get me to do a citric acid and other chemical solution, but didn’t want it to loose to much of the flavors it had. Was thinking of pouring half a 5th back in to get some good booze back in the wood, and will be sure to do that after you mentioned it.

Pre-boil gravity was 1.085, missed by 15 points, getting an extra 30 minutes on the boil before actually hitting start on the timer to make up some lost ground on the OG. Aiming for 1.115.

f you’re using hot water, you don’t need too much. Just 20 seconds of the hose in the bung hole with reasonably hot water (75-90C) and put the bung in TIGHT straight away, it’s the steam that swells the barrels. If you’re using cold water then fill the barrel and leave it overnight to swell.

Other than that, you can try using a block and hammer to (carefully) bang down each of the steel hoops of the barrel. Put the barrel on its head and start at the hoop closest to the centre; work your way around the hoop with the block and hammer to bang it down a couple of millimeters. repeat this process on all the hoops of the barrel including the one on the head. There is a tool for this but you can get away with improvising.

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So I got curious as to how much bourbon aroma was left in the barrel, hadn’t sniffed it in a while, and instead of a nice bourbon smell, just smelled rancid. Taking that as a bad sign. Will the hot water bath, or even the solution kill any of the not wanted bugs in there or is the barrel a goner?

Going to take it into my LHBS and have them give it the ol sniff test also and see if they have any suggestions.

Most everyone would say that if it smells bad don’t use it. I would swell it back up and buy a gallon of bourbon pour it in it shake it all around soaking the inside of it. Keep shaking it every now and then till all I the bourbon is soaked in. A barrel can easily soak up a gallon in the wood. So you will want to repeat with more bourbon till the wood doesn’t soak in any more. Shake shake and soak

If you’re up for an adventure, you could try removing the head and giving it a good manual cleaning. There are some videos online for how to do this. Never done it myself, though.

I agree, though, give it a shot to see if you can bring the barrel back. By used, do you mean it had a batch of beer in it previously? If so, that really is not a good sign, as an empty barrel that has held beer can harbor mold. But what’s there to lose at this point? Maybe leave your RIS in a carboy for a few weeks and run an extract batch through it in the meantime, just to make sure it comes out ok.

Would charring or toasting the barrel before swelling the staves get it ready for use?

@Porkshop…no beer in it yet, just whiskey.

Will give it the ol college try. Swell it, soak it from inside out in bourbon, and see what happens with it.

Good on ya! I bet it’ll work out fine.

Ok, so not going to risk contaminating my RIS in the barrel that I’m not even sure I can bring back from going bad. Going to soak oak cube in some good bourbon and get a little flavor that way.

3-4 ounces of oak cubes should work in a couple of cups or good bourbon?? Soak for a week and then dump in the beer for a week or 2?

I would get some more feedback on the amount of oak. From my experience that sounds like a lot. But it is an RIS so could be ok. I just remember oaking a 6% stout with an ounce of oak and it was a bit too much for my taste. I think your basic idea is very good though. And (my wife will tell you) there’s a large chance I could be totally wrong!! Haha.

Good Luck and Cheers,