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Oak Aging Everything - BrewChatter LIVE August 24th, 2020

Join us as we talk all about Oak Aging, and see our show notes below!
Oak Aging LIVE Show Notes
  • Welcome Everyone
  • What is Everyone Drinking?!
    • We are double fisting some Frey Ranch Rye Whiskey, courtesy of Joe and Christina and a Peanut Butter Whiskey Stout courtesy of our friends Mike, Cade and Mika at Complex Homebrewing!
  • Brief Overview of Topic
    • Types of Oak and the Difference Between them
    • Putting the product in the barrel vs putting the barrel in the product
    • Differences between the chars (medium, light, etc)
    • Tips and Tricks for oak aging
    • Science-y stuff
  • Store Updates
    • New Molasses Blog is up!
    • BrewRentals is rocking and rolling - instructions on how to rent the equipment that you need
      • Instructional Videos coming soon!
  • New Products
    • Fruit Wine Kits
    • New DME - Pale, Dark
    • 1 Gallon Wine Kits!

  • OAK AGING EVERYTHING
    • Oak adds an extra...something to any fermentation, and is appropriate for just about everything!  Let’s start with types of oak, and how it comes.
  • Types of Oak (What’s it made of? - duh, oak trees)
    • There are 3 types of oak widely used for cooperage worldwide
      • American Oak - Quercus Alba
        • Can be cut and shaped with a saw
        • Tight and dense wood grain
        • Big and forward character (like Americans!)
        • Used for bourbon and wine primarily, as well as beer
      • French Oak - Quercus petraea or Sessile Oak 
        • Can only be shaped by splitting if it is to remain watertight - part of the reason that French Oak barrels are significantly more expensive
        • Lower tannin additions to product with stronger aromatics 
        • Perfect for aging wine and beer, as well as spirits
        • Tight grain, but not as dense as American Oak, which makes it more subtle than American Oak
      • French Oak - Quercus robur or Pedunculate Oak
        • Can only be shaped by splitting if it is to remain watertight - part of the reason that French Oak barrels are significantly more expensive
        • Better suited to aging spirits due to lower aromatic potential, although many wineries prefer the fuller body and stronger tannin character of robur
        • Tight wood grain and less dense than American Oak
      • Hungarian Oak - Quercus petraea and occasionally Quercus robur
        • Same varieties that are grown in other parts of Europe, but with a more distinct regional character that comes out in anything aged in them
        • Blends the forward characteristics of American Oak with the more subtle characteristics of French Oak
        • Not quite as expensive as French Oak, but still needs to be split instead of sawed when barrel creation happens
        • Gives a unique character and is equally good for beer, wine, cider, mead and distillates
      • How Are Barrels Made?  The Seasoning and The Char
        • Seasoning
          • All barrel staves must be seasoned, in open air, for 2 to 4 years.  This can be done artificially in a kiln in a month, but does not allow the oak, rather the compounds in the oak, to be broken down and recombine properly
          • The longer oak staves are seasoned, the more of the volatile tannin compounds are broken down
        • The Char
          • Most oak, unless being used for chardonnay, is charred in either a #1,2,3, or 4 char, more commonly known as light, medium, medium plus and heavy
          • These designations can be endlessly played upon, and wineries and distilleries ordering cooperage can literally have any char that they want
          • The lower the char level, the more sweetness and tannins are retained
            • Light oak tends to lean towards sweet, light caramel and can build the body of anything that you put in it due to the higher tannin levels
            • Medium oak is more caramel, as this is the level where more hemicellulose is broken down, and lends itself towards more caramel-toffee notes 
            • Medium plus will still give you caramel notes, only lighter, and this heat regimen breaks down more of the lignins, which hold the vanillin compounds
            • Heavy oak breaks down more of the hemicellulose and lignins, and while you still get hints of vanilla and caramel, the more forward flavors are light smoke, deep earth and an almost truffle characteristic
          • Frey uses a #5 Char in their bourbon, which is somewhat like a ‘heavy plus’
          • Carbon Filtration from the Char
            • The more you char the barrel, the more carbon is formed, which means the cleaner your spirit or product will be coming out the other end - assuming that’s what you want.  
            • Carbon (or charcoal) will pull impurities and higher alcohols like ketones and acetone into it.  This is why oak aged products, even if they started medoicre, can become incredible with time on or in oak
      • Putting Your Product in the Barrel vs. Putting the Barrel in Your Product
        • As homebrewers, we don’t all have access to barrels in the 5 gallon to 59 gallon range.  More often than not, we have to put the barrel into our product instead of the other way around
        • Oak comes in many different forms
          • Chips
            • Maximum surface area, super fast extraction
            • A less complete barrel aged alternative becuase there is so much surface area
            • Very hard to work with if you’re trying to make a super consistent product because the surface are varies so drastically
          • Cubes
            • A wonderful compromise of fast extraction and consistent surface area
            • Easy to recreate specific barrel character product to product
            • Conveniently come in Hungarian Oak, which is the best of both American and French, even though it’s the same variety as French Oak
          • Spirals
            • Probably the best and most efficient way to oak age anything on the homebrew scale
            • Take longer, but have a more complete extraction of the compounds in the oak
            • Consistent surface area means repeatability, so you always have a great idea of what to expect from them
            • Come in #1 - #4 Char (light, med, med-plus, heavey) in both French and American Oak.  A great tool to be able to tell the difference between the two varieties
        • ALL OAK PRODUCTS HAVE ALREADY BEEN CHARRED!
          • We hear about a lot of folks ‘pre-charring’ their chips, cubes or spirals to get a more authentic character, but all of these products are ALWAYS charred unless the product specifically states otherwise
          • Double charring is something that you should do if you want to, and for fun, just as long as you know it’s already been done once
          • Charring in the oven is more gimicky than anything
            • A #1 and #2 Char happen at 246° F to 356° F
            • A #3 Char happens at 392° F
            • A #4 Char happens at 446° F
            • Keep in mind that these are SURFACE temps, so the heat is usually much higher, and these chars are based on time and temperature for consistency
      • Tips and Tricks on Oak Aging
        • Beer
          • Sanitize with booze!
            • Use a whiskey or spirit that has flavors that you’d like to be reflected in the finished product
            • Allow 5 to 7 days for a proper ethanol extraction
            • Do not drink the whiskey or spirit after!  Mostly because it’s gross and tannic.  You can add all or half to your beer, depending on the taste, to help balance sweetness and give more boozy characteristics
          • Sanitize with steam
            • If you don’t want to use booze as a sanitizer, try flash steaming your wood
            • You know those old school collander things that mom used to make super gross broccoli in?  Those are perfect
            • Allow that, in a pan of water, to come to a boil with the lid on and build up a head of steam
            • Add in the oak for 1 minute, then remove and place directly into your beer
          • Set your beer up for success
            • If you plan on oak aging, you’ll need to bulk age because you don’t want to be on the yeast for 3 to 9 months (unless it’s sour)
            • Allow 1 - 2 weeks for the initial aging, then taste weekly or bi-weekly after.  You’ll want to let it go just a hair more than where you want it
            • Your Oak Aged beer will evolve even after it has been packaged, partly because of the amazing compounds the oak has added, so don’t waste it.  Anything long term needs to be high gravity to make it worth it
            • Try not to oxidize your beer during frequent tastings.  Purge, purge, purge!!  Every taste, otherwise you’ll have a very expensive malt vinegar
        • Wine
          • Don’t be afraid to adjust your oak based on the base product.  If you have a tannic Cabernet Sauvignon, balance with a medium plus or heavy toast to bring out the earthy, fruit characteristics
          • Don’t use un-charred oak unless you want the cool, fresh leather characteristics that it brings.  
          • Oak age all of your wine.  Don’t be a savage
          • Taste frequently after the first week or 2 to ensure that you’re not over oaking
        • Cider
          • Same tenants as with wine - choose something that will complement the finished product
          • Usually cider has less body and less opportunities for tannins to go into it, so consider something lighter to help build the body and the perception of sweetness to complement the character
          • Oak aging will also help cut down the perception of acidity
          • Taste frequently after the first week or 2 so that you don’t over do it
        • Mead
          • Oak age all of your mead if you can!!  
          • Oak will help build body, help the mead age faster due to providing more compounds for the honey compounds to bind to, and help round out just about any type of mead
          • Because the proteins from the honey will recombine and cut back the ‘hot’ alcohol character as well as helping with a syrupy body, consider mid level char to help balance body, sweetness and mouthfeel.  This is a lot of trial and error (oh darn!) to find out how you like it the best
        • Distillates
          • Age in quarts or gallons
          • Change temperature conditions regularly to help emulate the expansion and contraction of barrels in a barrel house
            • In the freezer for 3 days, then back inside on the heater vent for 3 more - rinse and repeat until the distillate is where you want it
            • Taste often, but also push the limits
              • Distillates go through phases of ‘ready’ with oak character.  Don’t be afraid to push the limits and get over humps of ready in order to get more dissolution of compounds in the distillate and therefore more oak character
              • If it smells like old lady perfume, you’ve gone to far and now you have to re-run it.  Sorry, that sucks….
          • Use different chars, types and styles of oak to find out what you like the best
            • Even though I prefer a more consistent surface area, people are making incredible spirits by breaking those boundaries
            • Experiment to see what you like the best, then run with it
          • Don’t be afraid to blend and double oak
            • Blending oak, although it takes a lot of trial and error, can give you unforseen results and can add a deep complexity to your home distilled spirit that is otherwise hard to get.
            • Try blending jar to jar, especially if you used different types in each, to get your flavor.  Don’t worry, it’s still single malt!
            • Try adding a second phase of oak after removing the first, just to increase oak character, dimension and complexity.  Experiment!!