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Thoughts on using oak

I recently brewed a Imperial Stout, and was looking for some thoughts/ advice on oaking this badboy. It’s pretty hefty at 11.6%, and I’m going to sit on it until at least febuary of next year, but wanted to know when and how much oak I should use. This seems like a fairly subjective topic, I’m sure there is no right answer, but if you’ve done a similar style and tried oak, please chime in with what ya used, how long you kept it on oak for and what you thought about it!

It isn’t overly subjective there is a good bit of science that is used in maturing other alcoholic beverages in/on wood.

I think oak is awesome in bigger roastier beers, particularly RIS’s, primarily because one of the lignins in oak is broken down into vannillin. Typically, staves are better than spirals are better than cubes are better than chips. Spirals are pretty easy to find and really easy to work with. We had great results doing a 5 gallon batch of RIS aged on a spiral that was soaked in bourbon for 2 weeks, and another 5 gallons aged on ‘naked’ med. toast french oak.

How much and how long depends on how much you want to geek out.

As far as volume, I attended a talk @ NHC 2 years ago where the speaker indicated that it should actually be based on SURFACE area as opposed to weight or volume. Again, on the homebrew scale, a spiral is good for 5 gallons.

As far as how long, 6 weeks minimum seems to be the magic number, particularly if you use spirals or staves. The lignins in wood are actually broken down and hydrolzyed into various yummy compounds at that point, due to the acidity of beer. Once you go past that point, I haven’t heard of ‘over-oaking’ (we actually aged the ‘naked’ oak RIS for 3 months after a conditioning period of 6 months on the RIS).

Some craft bourbon producers are also using ever so slight agitation to facilitate additional contact. I’ve heard this go as far as putting a speaker/subwoofer next to casks and continuously playing bass-heavy music.

Long way of saying I personally think it would be awesome to oak your RIS.

I have a few bottles left of a RIS that sat in a bourbon barrel for several months. It has a 50+ gallon barrel that my club used with our project. Pietro is correct, it’s all about surface area. I’d recommend starting at 6 weeks to 2 months and then begin sampling when you feel it has picked up enough notes. BTW, make sure to sanitize everything thoroughly in the process. Our current project, a wee heavy has gotten sour due to improper cleaning of the barrel. Tastes kind of like a duchess now.

about a year ago my club did a 55 gallon RIS barrel project, that beer is still in the barrel, but this beer is my attempt to recreate the barrel element without actually using a barrel. My shop has the honeycomb oak (various flavors - haven’t gotten to that point yet though) which I was going to soak in JD and possible a vanilla bean or two for a few weeks, then put the honeycomb into the carboy.
I did an oaked porter a few years ago and added the JD with the wood into the carboy. That had a very strong booze flavor that I didn’t love, I’m hoping the wood soaks up the booze/ bean and doesn’t end up overpowering the beer itself. I think the oak was in that porter for 6 weeks and I remember that being too much, that being said this RIS is a much bigger beer and should (hopefully) stand up better.

If you are using a store-bought oak product such as a honeycomb or spiral, I would say you’re ok not sanitizing it. Your beer is 11.6% ABV and likely an acidic pH, I’m not sure, but I would say it is safe from the majority of unwanted organisms. Wine barrels are another story, as they likely have high populations of stuff living within the wood that can survive and replicate in anaerobic, acidic, alcoholic environments.

If you do feel compelled to do so, I don’t suppose it can hurt, so I would drop it in boiling water for 5 minutes or so (cut the heat after you drop the wood in…said the actress to the bishop). To your prior experience, I would stay away from chemical sanitizers including starsan. I have heard that the boiling water trick can dissipate some of the tannin-like flavors from wood, but again, per my post, most of those will break down over your ‘wooding’ process anyway. It will kill the majority of microbe population though.

BTW I agree with you on replicating barrel aging without the practical nightmare of using an actual barrel. I asked a friend as a goof for a wine barrel from his winery, and it showed up. Its now a base for a deck happy hour table at our house. Haven’t done blind triangle tastings, but the products that are out now are great for homebrewing scale. I just picked up 2 cedar spirals for an upcoming IPA.

You should get plenty of vanilla from the oak itself, but I may consider adding the wood and the bean to a bourbon bath for a few weeks, that way you can add the wood, then the vanilla-bourbon later to taste.

EDIT: Ah. “JD”. Jack Daniels. Disregard the stuff above about sanitizing the oak. I read “JD” and thought “LD Carlson”. We’re on the same page, oak on.

A friend’s dad just gave me a 5 gallon oak barrel. It was sealed and dry (needed to be rehydrated, it was REALLY dry) I was going to use that for the RIS, but I don’t know anything about the barrel, I was told it has “whiskey” in it, but when I asked what kind and when, all I got were blank stares.

I rehydrated it, and I’m going to put some shine or something else a little more potent in it for a few months first, I don’t want to pollute my RIS with some mystery funk.
I’ll stick with the honycomb on the beer,

Staves, spirals, and cubes put out better flavors than chips. Different toast levels put out different flavors. I use chips the most mainly because I get good flavors from it and mainly the ease of use. I always keep a few different jars of cubes around on different spirits, Bourbon, whiskey, wine etc…
As for surface area that does not really dictate anything, you need to go by taste to the level you want. Chips have the most surface area and leach the flavors out quickly and are harsher and one dimensional IMO.
Smaller barrels 5g,7g etc. have more surface area that 59g barrels and can only be kept in new ones for a short period of time, more time as the oak dissipates.

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