I recently brewed a double red ale (Northern Brewer Megaladon!) and then racked it into a 5 gallon used bourbon barrel for secondary. I tasted it after just 5 days and feel like I can taste typical oaky, vanilla, and bourbon flavors (although subtle).
The issue is that I’m extremely susceptible to suggestions when it comes to flavors, so am wondering if I just think it’s there. Obviously you can’t taste it, but does 5 days seem a bit short to you? Keep mind that it’s a tiny barrel, so may get those flavors faster.
What do you think?
Oaking is complicated. How much flavor you get, and how fast depends on a lot of factors. Surface contact area to volume is one of those, but probably the most important is how old the oak is. If the barrel is new, you can easily over oak in just days. The longer you have the barrel, the slower (and milder) the oak flavor you will get from it.
Oak flavor will mellow and fade a bit once it is in the beer, but not by that much. If you think your beer is at the right level now, get it out of the barrel before it is over oaked.
I wouldn’t move it out of the barrel unless you have another beer to go into it.
You will get some extraction after 5 days but the extraction will diminish over time (other variables as described above are considerations).
Brew something soon and when that’s ready, move the beer.
My philosophy is that barrel-aged beers need to be thought of as a continuous program, not a series of isolated beers to be dealt with independently.
Wahoo makes some good points. You don’t want to risk ruining an expensive barrel (which can happen if left dry) to save one batch of beer.
I have two barrels, and I fill it with a solution of water + potassium metabisulfite + citric acid when they are not filled. I realize that I’m losing some bourbon and oak flavor when they are not filled, but I wanted to prevent bugs and drying out. I just can’t drink enough beer to keep up with a continuous barrel program!
Maybe once the strong flavors have died off I can leave some beers in there for longer. They were quite fresh as far as I can tell (just bought them online and smelled very strongly of bourbon). I imagine after a couple beers and accounting for the storage solution, in the future I’ll be able to leave beers in there for longer.
That’s a great recommendation.