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Bourbon Soaked Oak Chips

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by amantini, Jan 24, 2013.

  1. amantini

    amantini Aficionado (115) Georgia Jul 7, 2009

    I've got an imperial stout in the primary fermenter right now. I also have some oak chips soaking in bourbon that I am going to add for the secondary fermentation. Does it matter if these chips are still wet when I put them in the secondary fermenter?

    Are there any advantages or disadvantages to putting them in wet? Or does it just depend on how much bourbon I want to include in the finished product?
  2. jpeck13

    jpeck13 Aficionado (150) California Apr 28, 2011

    amantini likes this.
  3. amantini likes this.
  4. Be warned, oak chips/cubes can really overpower the beer. For an Imperial Stout, I used perhaps 2 oz of oak cubes soaked in bourbon, added to 4 gallons for two weeks and the oak was too much. Heading into about a year and a half in the bottle, it's mellowed but still is very oaky. And no, nothing wrong with throwing them in "wet."
    rrryanc and amantini like this.
  5. I have formulated a recipe for a Bourbon Barrel Porter based upon a kit beer from Northern Brewer (of the same name). In that kit’s instructions they state:

    18. Secondary fermentation. Allow the beer to condition in the secondary fermenter for 2 – 3 weeks before proceeding with the next step. Timing now is somewhat flexible.
    19. Add the oak cubes. Soak 2 oz of US Medium Plus Oak Cubes in 16 oz of bourbon for 24 – 48 hours. Then add the oak cubes and bourbon to the secondary fermenter and wait an additional 1 – 2 weeks before bottling.”

    It is my intention (as I type this) to follow the above procedures but I am very interested in hearing what BAs who are experienced in this matter have to say.

    One question: is it really necessary to conduct a secondary for such a short timeframe? Couldn’t you just do everything in the primary (a total of 4-6 weeks in the primary)?

    Cheers!
  6. Going to the NB Retail store in Milwaukee this weekend to grab supplies and 3 kits. Thats one kit I am getting.

    Cannot wait.
  7. Please report back your experience in brewing the Bourbon Barrel Porter. I am very interested in knowing the 'amount' of flavor that 1-2 weeks of oak/bourbon contact time provides.

    Cheers!
  8. amantini

    amantini Aficionado (115) Georgia Jul 7, 2009

    Thanks for the really informative responses! I have 16 oz. of small chips soaking, and they have been soaked since the 21st. The stout I have fermenting is very roasty with small amounts of coffee, molasses, and brown sugar. I don't want to overpower any of those flavors, but really blend them all together. So, I am thinking that it may be best to add in my chips for only a couple days after it has been in the secondary.

    [EDIT] Based on some recommendations, I may just throw in the chips to the primary. Seems like others have had good experiences with this. Thanks!
  9. As I stated, my experience with oak chips is less is better. For my batch, 2 oz was too much oak. Either that, or 2 weeks sitting on the beer was too long. Also, I don't see why you couldn't do this all in primary. No need to really "clear" a porter in a secondary. I've dry hopped in primary with great results.
  10. “For my batch, 2 oz. was too much oak. Either that, or 2 weeks sitting on the beer was too long.”

    I have yet to homebrew but the ‘variables’ as I see it are:

    · Amount of oak (e.g., 2 ounces)
    · Contact time (e.g., 2 weeks)
    · Form of oak: cubes vs. chips
    · Type of Oak: American oak vs. non-American oak; medium toast, heavy toast

    Maybe there are more variables that I should add to the above list?

    What type of oak did you use for your beer?

    Cheers!
  11. French oak, medium toast. I agree with you though, Jack. Those all could contribute to varying degrees of oak flavor imparted in the beer.

  12. Below is a description from the Northern Brewer website:

    “Oak Cubes - French medium toast
    SKU: U062

    1 Review(s) | Add Your Review

    .AKA oak beans. Medium toast French oak cubes bring aromatic sweetness, full mouthfeel, and notes of fresh fruit, cinnamon, and allspice. Look for undertones of creme brulee and milk chocolate.”

    From the MadFermentationist blog:

    “American oak is stronger than Hungarian which is stronger than French.”

    So, it seems that French Oak is a ‘milder’ oak. But you got too much oak in your beer.

    This oak process seems to be a tricky business!:confused:

    Cheers!
  13. amantini

    amantini Aficionado (115) Georgia Jul 7, 2009

    A tricky business indeed...

    One more question - do I need to sanitize the wood chips, or are they OK just sitting in bourbon before they enter the beer?
  14. I would think that a process like: “Soak 2 oz. of US Medium Plus Oak Cubes in 16 oz. of bourbon for 24 – 48 hours.” would be sufficient sanitation.

    As a follow up (based upon past discussions in this thread), I would be concerned that “16 oz. of small chips” is too much oak for your beer. I suppose you could ‘compensate’ with a shorter contact time? I just don’t know.

    Cheers!
  15. Soaking in bourbon is sufficient sanitation. I would reconsider 16 oz of oak, in my experience. YMMV.
    GreenKrusty101 likes this.
  16. amantini

    amantini Aficionado (115) Georgia Jul 7, 2009

    Thanks for the input. I'm trying this for the first time and didn't really know how much to add. I'm using a medium American oak, so I don't think it will be overpowering to throw them in the primary for 5-7 days.

    Thanks! I appreciate all the responses.
  17. SeaOfShells

    SeaOfShells Savant (350) California Feb 22, 2011


    Wow, this is extremely helpful. I was going to throw in a full pound of bourbon soaked cubes into a 1.100 imperial stout I brewed. Maybe I'll dial it down a little bit. LOL.

    Although, it is a coffee, vanilla, chocolate, oatmeal stout. Maybe the oak at this point will be overkill?
  18. Your base beer sounds good. It could be overkill. You might want to consider grabbing a 1 or 2 gallon glass jug if you really want to do some bourbon/oak aging (that way you don't do it to the entire batch). A buddy of mine recently did oak soaked bourbon chips as well. He used more than I did, maybe 5 oz?, and the oak was enormously present as well. All my experience with oaking stuff is you really do NOT need much.
  19. kmatlack

    kmatlack Savant (340) California Mar 29, 2010

    Bourbon soaked oak wouldn't be overkill I don't think, but 16 oz of bourbon soaked oak cubes would be STRONG even in a beer that big.

    I'd start with 2-3 oz then check it after a week. You can always add more, but you can't take it away. Not to mention you'd need to let a beer with a 1.100 OG sit for a little bit to mellow out and make sure the yeast eats up all your fermentables.

    Cheers!
  20. SeaOfShells

    SeaOfShells Savant (350) California Feb 22, 2011

    Yeah, I plan on doing a 4 week primary before adding the vanilla and coffee in secondary. I think I'll start out with 3 oz of oak, and go from there. I definitely don't want it to be overpowered. Maybe I'll rack a gallon or so into a growler and add an oz. of oak.
  21. MacNCheese

    MacNCheese Initiate (0) California Dec 10, 2011

    This is entirely subjective, I know guys who hate bourbon but love the Eclipse beers which to mean, a bourbon lover, is pure bourbon beer.

    Untoasted oak chips will add a very very strong vanilla component. I've yet to find a mix of cubes to mimic the deep barrel flavor you get from a barrel.

    My adivce: use a mix, maybe a 1/2oz white oak chips, 2oz heavy char/toast cubes, 2oz medium char cubes. All soaked in bourbon (2 weeks) then throw everything in (bourbon + oak) into your beer. If it's too strong, make another batch of RIS and then dilute, easiest if you keg.

    If you prefer a much lighter oaking to your beer, cut that in half. But in reality, this is something you achieve to your taste via trial and error.
  22. Oak chips are designed to produce oak flavor quickly. They are all surface so the flavor leaches out fast. It is really, really easy to overdo it. 1-2oz per five gallons is usually enough within a few days. I wouldn't go more than a week but I would taste it after a couple days and each day after to see when it hits a happy place for you.

    You can add the bourbon for more oak flavor or keep it aside and use it to "oak" another beer. If you taste the bourbon itself it's probably overbearingly woody in flavor because there's way too much wood to bourbon and the alcohol has extracted a lot of the harsh character from the chips. If you let that bourbon sit for a few months the harshness will mellow and you can use it in a future beer. I wouldn't use it in a beer until it had mellowed a bit first.
  23. Add 1 oz of oak and sample weekly...if it's a big beer RIS or BW...probably be fine for quite awhile. I've had a BW on 1 oz French Oak for 4 months and it is fine...lighter beer, more chips, or American Oak...might be a different story.

    If you want to approximate a large barrel...use just a little in the way of chips and age longer.
  24. I heard from a couple of people that just add the bourbon and throw out the oak chips. I tried one of the beers and did not detect any harshness but it might have been because is was a small amount (16 oz in 10 gal). I've been planning out a RIS with an oak/bourbon component too. I'm also curious if anyone bothered to use a decent bourbon (i.e. knob creek) or just using a cheaper one (jim beam).
  25. Depends on your initial liquor-oak ratio. If you are just adding enough liquor to cover the chips then you have tremendous oaking of very little alcohol. If you use a lot of liquor and little oak, you won't see as much harshness, particularly if you only leave the oak in there for a few days.

    I've used maker's mark in beer before and some cheaper stuff. At a low level you aren't going to really tell the difference unless you're using some real foul stuff. If you are really boozing it up where the bourbon flavor is more noticeable I'd spend the money to make sure it's something you want to taste. You might be ok with the flavor of JB. In that case, maybe a more expensive bourbon isn't necessary even at a higher volume used. If you're going to use a small or moderate amount but want to drop some cash on a good bourbon I'd rather find something with a unique flavor to add something more than the typical bourbon flavor. Depends on the beer it's going in as well...
  26. I've done it a multitude of ways...but a small amount (1 oz or less) of chips, sanitized with just enough spirits of your choosing to cover the wood...left for 2 weeks (if you want the liquor flavor) or 2 hours if you don't, seems to work for me. Like I said earlier...I dryhopped them in a keg for 4 months with no problem...but, they were cold and in a big beer. YMMV.
  27. There was a variable I didn’t consider:” If you are just adding enough liquor to cover the chips then you have tremendous oaking of very little alcohol. If you use a lot of liquor and little oak, you won't see as much harshness”

    What was the ratio of bourbon to cubes that you utilized in your beer?

    Cheers!
  28. I probably used about 4-5 oz of bourbon. Enough to cover the cubes in a small glass container.
    Eriktheipaman likes this.

  29. Maybe that was the problem? Maybe if you used 16 ounces you would obtain less harshness?

    Cheers
  30. ipas-for-life

    ipas-for-life Savant (400) Virginia Feb 28, 2012

    I
  31. “I soaked the cubes for 1 week in 12oz of makers mark and then added everything to the secondary for 2 weeks.”

    Have you considered just having a contact time of 1 week for the oak cubes vs. 2 weeks?

    I suppose an alternative consideration could be 1 oz. of oak cubes vs. 2 oz. of oak cubes?

    Cheers!
  32. dbc5

    dbc5 Savant (455) Ohio Jun 18, 2009

    I will throw out a technique I've used with some success. I take about 1.5 ounces of oak cubes and toss them in cheap vodka (just enough to cover them in liquor. I allow the cubes to sit in the vodka for about a week, which tones down the intense lumber flavor and harshness that some have spoke of when using fresh cubes. Then, after a week has passed, I pour out the vodka and add the desired amount of spirit I intend to mix with my beer (typically bourbon). Allow that to sit for a week or two, then add both the bourbon and cubes to the beer.
    Rainblows likes this.
  33. ipas-for-life

    ipas-for-life Savant (400) Virginia Feb 28, 2012

    I think both would be worth trying and dbc5's suggestion sounds good too. So how many gallons do we need? Split into how many batches?
  34. I think I am hearing the message you are sending.

    This whole oaking process is starting to sound too complicated. I am starting to re-think my plans on brewing a Bourbon Barrel Porter; there are just too many variables here.

    Cheers!
  35. ipas-for-life

    ipas-for-life Savant (400) Virginia Feb 28, 2012

    It was more of a joke than anything. When I did my research it seemed people had good and bad experiances with most methods. I did not see many negative responces when people just added the liquid and this goes for any type of ingrediants being soaked. Also one person might not like the oak taste as much compared to the next. One thing I didnt do is test it after a week which I should of. That might be the way to go. Taste until you think it is enough and then bottle or keg.
  36. amantini

    amantini Aficionado (115) Georgia Jul 7, 2009

    I wanted to post an update on the beer I brewed. It turned out really well. I ended up using about 6 ounces of oak that had been soaked two separate times in bourbon. I let the beer sit in the primary fermenter for 2 weeks and then added the chips and bourbon for five days. The beer has a big roasted taste up front with dark chocolate. It mellows out and some sweetness from the bourbon lingers a bit. I'm liking it a lot and hope the flavors continue to blend as it ages in bottles. Thanks again for all the input.
  37. ipas-for-life

    ipas-for-life Savant (400) Virginia Feb 28, 2012

    Thanks for posting this. Glad it turned out well. I appreciate it when people post follow ups. There are so many threads out there that you read and get to the end and have no conclusion.
  38. For what it's worth, I've heard Jamil Zainasheff say a couple times that most bourbons aren't a high enough proof to effectively sanitize. I don't personally know anything about that, but I usually treat him as a reliable source, and I've boiled my oak cubes for 5-10 minutes before soaking them in bourbon in the past. I've also heard that less oak and a longer contact time will pull a more nuanced, complex flavor out of the oak.
  39. amantini

    amantini Aficionado (115) Georgia Jul 7, 2009

    I am definitely happy with the final product and and happy to report back. Maybe I'll try and send out a few photos of a pour once I open a new bottle. Wish I could send out small samples, but five gallons only goes so far.

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