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Wondering if/how to use a small oak barrel

I was visiting a distillery in VA last week and they had these great looking small oak barrels that they were selling to put their whiskey in. Of course I was thinking of putting beer into it but have no idea if this can be done and if so how to go about it. Would it ferment in the barrel or would I just fill it with beer that has already finished bottle conditioning? My goal is just to mellow it a bit. My local pub often has cask beers on tap and they always have a great mellow flavor that I’d love to achieve. Anyone have any thoughts/suggestions?

How big is the barrel? Was it used to store whiskey previously or is it just a novelty barrel?

I’m guessing this is one of those “age your own whiskey kit” barrels that hold like one bottle of liquor? I would think you could use those just like any other barrel since they expect the buyer to age their whiskey in it for however long they choose.

They are new, lightly charred oak barrels that they sell for aging their whiskey complete with a fill hole and a small spigot. They come in 2, 3 and 5 liter sizes. I was originally thinking of the 3 liter size but 2 liter would be just about right to hold a six pack, I wasn’t looking to put an entire 5 gallon batch of beer in it, just a small batch to “try out”.

I would assume that I would not want to ferment in one of these as I don’t know what I’d do with any blow off and cleaning would be a nightmare. I was thinking that this would either be used for secondary or just pouring some “finished” beer into to let it sit and mellow for a while.

Those are really small–you can certainly use them to oak age your beer but after just a couple weeks you risk over-oaking or over oxidizing the beer due to the high surface area to volume ratio. The other thing you can do it is to use it as a serving cask.

It’s not ideal for either usage. But, it can be done.

I have a 10L barrel that I sour beer in, and even that is too small to be really effective. After about 6 months, nearly half of the beer evaporates. I’m about to retire it.

The other problem with these barrels is they are new-- which is to say, the oak hasn’t been stripped of it’s character by wine or spirits. In the brewing world, 99% of barrel aging happens with re-used barrels. Virgin oak is just too harsh for beer for the most part. You can try to minimize this by putting cheap whiskey or wine in the barrel for a month or two and then draining and rinsing.

Bottom line, in my opinion, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. I was recently given a 5L barrel just like this and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to use it.

On the other hand, the 5 gallon and larger barrels that are available via homebrew channels-- used bourbon, rye, and rum barrels-- these can make EXCELLENT beer.

Well darn, that’s really good info if a bit disappointing. It does sound like it would be much more trouble than it’s worth. I guess the only way this would work out is if I filled it with liquor and sent it of to college with my kid so it could “age”. LOL

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