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Contact time for American oak chips?

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by Jettanbass9, Feb 21, 2013.

  1. Looking to play around with some American oak chips in some low to moderate gravity beers (< 1.060). Any experiences in amounts and contact times?
  2. telejunkie

    telejunkie Savant (305) Vermont Sep 14, 2007

    sorry, can't be too much service here as I have limited experience, but couple questions...you looking to soak in anything prior? toast levels? have you ever considered pre-fermentation like with wine?
    American oak is definitely more in your face than French or Hungarian so you will probably want to tame it with a soaking. Moderation & monitoring are key.
  3. Is never an option? I've used chips and don't care for the flavor, especially the lesser toasted chips. I can never seem to get the lumber flavor out of it no matter how much I boil or soak them. Obviously more of a problem the less it is toasted but not entirely helped with a char.

    The thing about chips is that they will impart flavor fast and if you overdo it you will sit on that beer for a long time waiting for the wood flavor to mellow. So I would go in with a small volume of chips and taste daily. The day you are happy with the flavor pull the chips immediately. If you decide you want more flavor you can always add more chips but once the flavor is there you can't take it back out as easily.
  4. barfdiggs

    barfdiggs Savant (420) California Mar 22, 2011

    Same response here. No matter how many times I've tried chips (Even bourbon barrel chips), despite a series of soaks in bourbon/etc, low dosage rates (0.5-1 oz/5 gallons) and ever shortening beer contact times (24-48 hours), the beer seems to pick up lumber flavor down the line. After initial character starts to fade, I just start getting 2x4 (This is contrary to my experience when doing actual barrel aging, as I find my beers taste very oaky a week or so in, but after a couple months in the barrel, they really start to mellow and pick up a complex flavor profile).
  5. telejunkie

    telejunkie Savant (305) Vermont Sep 14, 2007

  6. Probably not a bad idea although at the homebrew level if you over-oak pre-fermentation you're still stuck waiting forever on the beer but maybe the end result would be better even if it takes a while to get there.

    Makes more sense to buy cubes and other larger format oak. If you have access to oak chunks sold for smoking meats you can toast/char in the oven and create even larger cubes than what they sell at the LHBS.
  7. I have an oktoberfest ale type beer that is in the secondary with 1.5oz of light toast oak chips (I toasted them to medium myself later). After 1.5 weeks it has developed a wonderful bourbon/vanilla like tinge to it that you can detect but it does not overpower. I plan on bottling soon and hopefully I do not run into the lumber flavor that has been described above.
  8. I've used them twice. Here's been my experiences.

    1 oz French Medium Toast in 3 gallons 11.5% Old Ale
    Soaked in Makers mark for 2 weeks
    Added to secondary for 13 days
    Result: Way too oaky initially, we'll see if it mellows out in time but it was surprisingly strong

    Learning from my mistake...

    1 oz American Light Toast in 4 gallons 6% Arrogant Bastard Clone
    Soaked in Makers mark for 24 hours (just to sanitize, not to impart flavor)
    Added to secondary for 3 days
    Could barely, if at all, detect it

    So from my experience I'm thinking about 1oz of the light toast for about a week in secondary would be perfect.
  9. Interesting...the AB Clone is exactly where I am at now with the decision on how long to oak it...Will try your advice on the 1oz for 1 week (roughly where I was thinking already)...Quick question...do you think soaking time in bourbon helps / detracts? When you talk about using 1oz for 1 week, how long do you think you will soak in bourbon?
  10. I have experience with low gravity oaking. I made a Munich Helles one time that was around 4.5% abv and split it between 2 kegs. I took about an ounce of oak chips (they weren't labeled American or French, so that isn't helpful but keep reading) and put them in a hop sock. I put the hop sock in one of the kegs and took a pull from the keg every day until I got the nice, subtle oakiness I was going for (definitely didn't want to overdo it in a helles). It took 3 days. The beer was really good.

    So my takeaway is oak in a keg if you have the chance. It's easy to just taste it daily and pull them when it's just right.
  11. I don't consider myself particularly knowledgeable on the subject, but I would think soaking in bourbon for at least 1 week would soak up some good bourbon flavor, however in my experience the oak flavor has overpowered any good bourbon flavors when soaking chips. I've heard of people just adding a cup of bourbon straight to the secondary to get that good bourbon flavor. But by no means would soaking for a week detract from the flavor (I was just looking to re-create Oaked AB, not necessarilly bourbon oak AB - kinda silly thing to say because bourbon Oak sounds better anyways). Another decision is whether or not to throw the bourbon in that has been sitting on the chips. People say to throw in the chips, liquid and all. But after tasting the oaked bourbon, I decided to drain off the liquid and just add the chips (liquid tasted overly bitter and ply-woody: tannins from the oak I assume).
  12. Sounds like I'm getting the soaking going tonight...and will drain it off as well....makes sense...will let you guys know how i fare although will be a few weeks out at this point...
  13. pweis909

    pweis909 Advocate (695) Wisconsin Aug 13, 2005

    I have used medium toast French 3 times. Twice in meads and once in biere de garde. In the meads, I used a 1 week contact in secondary and in the biere de garde, I used the same time but in primary. Always 1 oz/ 5 gallons, I think. What I got from this short contact is a little bit of dry (astringent) tannic mouth feel, and perhaps some woody flavor that is subtle and possibly fades with time. The mouth feel is sort of interesting in a way that some people may find offputting. If you like tannic wines, you might like tannic beers and meads. I'm okay with but not ecstatic about oaking.
  14. Thanks for all the great responses!

    Here's the run down on the process I will use,

    - .5oz of medium toast American Oak chips (smaller amount to allow longer contact time)
    - transfer off keg in 7-10 days (but taste throughout the week and pull sooner if needed)
    - sanitize with the boil/steam method to help reduce some astringent flavors.

    I have used cubes (French, American and Hungarian) with good success. Cubes impart a great flavor but can take about 4-5 weeks to really get that charred, resiny, vanilla and caramel flavor (in my experience). My thought with lower gravity beers are that they might suffer with the longer contact times that cubes have. Something that I'd like to avoid when hopping heavily or brewing beers that should be drank fresh. I should try aging the same beer on both chips and cubes to get the best possible idea... probably wouldn't be a bad experiment.
  15. MMAJYK

    MMAJYK Savant (455) Georgia Jun 26, 2007

    Dude, where in the hell have you been? Welcome back!!
  16. Thanks brotha! Good to hear from you. I've been brewin but the non brewing activities have taken up quite a bit of my time... You coming up to Philly for NHC?
  17. I usually add heavy toast chips to my breakfast stout and have found that .5 oz for a week usually works nice. I have not gotten the lumber character described above. I usually will thief after 5 days onwards to see how the flavor is. The chips soak in bourbon (I have played with Mezcal and Wine) for a week. I have done light toast but never really got the oak flavor I like. Good luck!
  18. esmithrunner

    esmithrunner Zealot (80) Illinois Sep 13, 2008

    I've had good success with soaking medium toast cubes in chardonnay for about a month. I drained the wine from them and added to secondary for around 3 weeks. It added just the right amount of oaking. This was for a raspberry farmhouse ale and it turned out excellent!

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