Bourbon in Homebrew

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by OddNotion, Apr 2, 2012.

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  1. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    I am looking to brew a beer later on this year which will be ready for the winter months and decided that I wanted to take a crack at adding some bourbon to an imperial porter. I am looking for some advice as to what type of bourbon you all have used in your beers and how you think they came out. I do drink bourbon semi regularly and have a few bottles at my apartment but am certainly not opposed to buying another bottle and have access to a decent variety.

    My current selection of bottle on hand includes:
    Buffalo Trace
    Elijah Craig 12 Year
    Maker's Mark
    Wild Turkey

    Buffalo Trace is my favorite (and the front runner for the addition) but I really want to know how you think different bourbons integrated with your previous homebrews. I have tried mixing these into commercial beers in the past but all with mixed results and it really varies based on the beer that I am drinking at the time, I find this method to work alright but it is a little haphazard which is why I turn to my fellow homebrewers for advice. The most desirable traits that I am seeking from the bourbon is the vanilla/mellow oak taste, however I am not going to be incorporating oak chips into this brew, I know it sounds wierd that I want oak flavor but no oak chips, but there is a difference to me between the oak flavor in bourbon and the oak flavor directly from oak chips.
  2. Hogie

    Hogie Initiate (0) Mar 19, 2008 Michigan

    Honestly, it really doesn't matter too much which one you use, since it will be somewhat muted by the beer. I have used Wild Turkey 101 & Makers Mark and not sure I would be able to tell the difference in the beers. Also, you wont get too much oak flavor without using cubes/chips. I typically buy french oak, med char and soak them in about 10oz of bourbon for a week or so. Then I pour the whole thing into secondary. The bourbon will look black because it has extracted stuff from the oak. Lots of flavor. Yum.
  3. Donerik

    Donerik Initiate (0) Dec 22, 2008 Michigan

    I disagree with the above post, when tasting bourbon to pick out specific flavors I often dilute it with water. Diluting it with russian imperial stout is different but the same.

    Use what you like, never use anything you wouldn't drink. When I've been at things like FoBAB and I can side by side some of the 50/50 eclipses I can definitly taste different flavors which I attribute to the bourbon's and the barrels.

    that said and since this is home brew. Give it a try! let us know.
  4. jbuddle

    jbuddle Initiate (0) Feb 24, 2010 New York

    I've used EC12 in a RIS and scotch ale and Makers in a vanilla porter (the infamous DCon recipe) with little difference between the two, in all honesty. I doubt you'll get much oakiness from bourbon alone so maybe just toss an ounce of cubes in (not chips) and pull it after a month? Ive had success with that method although longer times are better in my opinion. I also usually start with 8 ounces of bourbon for 5 gallons and adjust up from there. Unfortunately, I still have yet to get that complex 'barrel' effect with just bourbon and cubes. Sigh...
    VTBrewHound likes this.
  5. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    I was in the same line of thinking where the bourbon probably makes a difference, only because if you look at the ingredients in homebrew, how often do you see people say to use the best quality of this ingredient or dont skimp on that, why would it be any different when adding bourbon (or any other spirit)? I am looking at it the same way where I wont put in any bourbon that I do not enjoy which is why I left off two of the bottles that I have on hand, because honestly I dont want to ruin a good beer with a bad/undesirable bourbon.

    I always love the slight hint of oak that some -bal aged beers give but I feel that it can easily be overdone (like my last oak aged RIS), if the exact barrel effect wont be replicated then I am hesitant to add the oak as I strongly prefer the bourbon flavor over the oak flavor. One of my favorite traits of Buffalo Trace bourbon is how well the vanilla and oak flavors come out from it and how they linger on my tongue, which is why I am leaning towards using this.
  6. kenatbeerswap

    kenatbeerswap Initiate (0) Dec 9, 2010 Pennsylvania

    I'm getting ready to bottle my second batch of Lick my Bourbon Barrel Porter and used Woodford Reserve both times. If feel don't cheap out on the bourbon if your going to take the time to make a batch of homebrew. I used medium toast oak sprials and will swear by them, you get a lot of oak flavor. I used 2oz sprial and put it in a pint glass and filled it with the Woodford covered it with foil and let it sit for a couple of weeks. I then brewed the brown porter and left it ferment for around a week and transfered it to secondary and added the sprial. The first time I made it I left the sprial in the beer for two weeks then bottled it. I also added the bourbon that the sprial sat in to the beer when I bottled it. That was too much bourbon flavor for people that don't really like bourbon. I tasted the beer after one month it was like you were licking an oak tree when you drank it and you could hardly taste the bourbon. I let the beer sit for six months and that mellowed it to just the right level of oak amd bourbon.

    This time I tasted it after a week with the sprial and it has plently of oak taste to it, but I haven't had time to bottle it yet so it looks like I may need to let the beer sit in bottles for a few months to mellow. I am also not going to add the whole 375ml bottle of bourbon into the beer. I'm thinking around 5oz to 8oz.

    This is just my two cents.
  7. Pahn

    Pahn Meyvn (1,449) Dec 2, 2009 New York
    Beer Trader

    my advice is to start experimenting with different bourbons in different commercial brews. i think type of bourbon definitely makes a (huge) difference, but the best way to really see how each one works with beer is experimentation. anecdotes can help, but direct tasting is more reliable.
  8. tngolfer

    tngolfer Initiate (75) Feb 16, 2012 Tennessee

    Try splitting your beer into two batches and add a different bourbon to each. That way you will have a baseline to compare against.
  9. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    I would normally do just that but I have been kegging my beers recently and dont plan to bottle again too soon as I live in an apartment and the bottles just take up too much space. On another note, my 3 gallon secondaries are currently in use for the long haul with some lambics. I think I will just wind up going with whatever bourbon I am into at the time.
  10. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    It is always tough because I feel that the base brew makes a huge difference in the equation, some beers that I really enjoy I love adding bourbon to (Ten Fidy) but others just fall flat on their face (Plead the 5th). I guess I was just kind of wondering if there were any bourbons that have a similar issue where they taste great on their own but lose too much of what makes them good when added to a beer, or OTOH they keep their best properties and meld nicely with the beer. This will be my first time adding bourbon to homebrew so I have no prior experience to draw from.
  11. GreenKrusty101

    GreenKrusty101 Defender (679) Dec 4, 2008 Nevada

    I think I agree...we all like to think the name brand stuff is better, but by the time it's diluted down, any good decent bourbon will do.
  12. spry

    spry Initiate (0) Oct 8, 2009 Michigan

    I vote for Buffalo Trace. I've used it in homebrew with great results. Adding bourbon at bottling/kegging is a little different then adding it straight into a glass of beer, there's more time for the flavors to integrate. Just be careful not to overdo it.
  13. Pahn

    Pahn Meyvn (1,449) Dec 2, 2009 New York
    Beer Trader

    i mean maybe trying to find the blandest (or most "neutral") version of the style you're going to brew, and trying it with different bourbons. see what aspects of the bourbon get brought out by those flavors. e.g. some beers bring out the spiciness of woodford reserve, while others would have you believe it's an oaky vanilla bomb.

    all trial and error shots in the dark anyway. good luck.
  14. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    I was thinking somewhere in the vacinity if 375ml to 400ml for a 5 gallon batch. Is that in the range you are thinking of?
  15. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    I agree, its all trial and error with homebrewing. Thanks for the advice! I hope I get the flavors to meld in the fashion I am hoping. If not, then a subsequent batch is the only way to change that.
  16. HopNuggets

    HopNuggets Disciple (306) Oct 8, 2009 Connecticut

    As for amount of bourbon to add to a homebrew. I brewed a partial mash batch of pumpkin ale with 45oz canned pumpkin mashed with 3# Rahr 6-Row and the Specialty Grains and 1 tsp. of Pumpkin Pie Spice at K/O. I bottle a hair over 1 gallon with 1.25oz of Maker's Mark and there was a good hint of bourbon that didn't punch you in the face but left you guessing what that ingredient was. Based on this I would add anywhere between 5-7 ounces for the 5 gallon batch. That is far from 375ml (12.7oz) to 400ml (13.5oz), which will probably be considered a boozy mess as some people describe their overpoweringly strong beers that feel like you are taking a shot when you're drinking them.

    This is all about trial and error as the amount you add will depend on your taste and how the beer lets it show through.
  17. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    12.7oz should wind up being about 1/5 of an oz per 12 oz beer, that doesnt seem like it would turn it too boozy based off of what I have poured into commercial examples. I will certainly take your advice into account and add to taste, starting with that 5 to 7 range.
  18. SaintBenedict

    SaintBenedict Initiate (167) Nov 10, 2009 Pennsylvania

    Is it necessary to sanitize cubes or chips by boiling them before use if you plan on soaking them in bourbon for a week or two? Or, does the alcohol take care of that?
  19. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    No reason not to boil them IMO, takes 10 minutes and takes away some of the harsh fresh oak flavors.
  20. spry

    spry Initiate (0) Oct 8, 2009 Michigan

    I've found that the amount of bourbon depends critically on your beer. For example a viscous beer like Ten Fidy can tolerate a little more than a thinner lighter porter. HopNuggets' numbers seem about right. So as people have suggested above just try a few different ratios with your beer and see which one you prefer.
  21. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    For reference, this will be an imperial porter in the range of 8% abv and hopefully a FG above or around 1.020, I realized that I did not provide that information earlier.
  22. Hogie

    Hogie Initiate (0) Mar 19, 2008 Michigan

    No need to boil them if you are soaking in bourbon. I recommend using French oak cubes, med charred as there is no issue with harshness.
  23. Hogie

    Hogie Initiate (0) Mar 19, 2008 Michigan

    There is a huge difference in adding a splash of water to bourbon to open up the flavors, and adding bourbon to five gallons of an imperial porter with all of its strong flavors. Unless you are a "super taster", it is highly unlikely that in a blind side by side tasting, you would be able to pick out the subtle differences of the various bourbons. I did not say, by the way, to use the cheapest bourbon either. Any bourbon that you would enjoy drinking will work just fine. The same goes for the oak. If the OP is going for the flavors associated with aging beer in a bourbon barrel, then simply adding bourbon will not do the trick and I stand by my recommendation to use med charred French oak cubes. My BB porter has done very well in competitions.
  24. HopNuggets

    HopNuggets Disciple (306) Oct 8, 2009 Connecticut

    With your BB Porter how long did you soak your oak cubes in bourbon?
    Did you only add the oak to the secondary or did you add the oak and the bourbon that the oak was soaking in to secondary?

    I have American Medium Plus Oak Cubes that have been in Makers Mark since November and I will be brewing an Imperial Stout in a month or so and aging it on the oak cubes for about 3-4 months in secondary to try to get the bourbon barrel effect on the Impy Stout. I was told by an accredited brewer to only use the oak cubes and not the liquid as the liquid would have extracted the nasty tannins from the oak.
  25. Hogie

    Hogie Initiate (0) Mar 19, 2008 Michigan

    I disagree with your friend. I add the cubes and the liquid. To me, the bourbon has extracted all the yummy stuff from the cubes. It definitely got better with age in the bottle however. I soak them for about 2-3 weeks. Put them in the bourbon on brew day, and add when transferring to secondary.
  26. dublthink

    dublthink Initiate (0) Feb 22, 2012

    I took two french oak spirals and soaked them in Crown for 1 month then threw them into the secondary w/ an additional 2.5 cups of Crown let it sit for a month or 2... The beer was a RIS.

    for additional flavor I added 4 TBS of vanilla extract and 1 cup of Kahlua
  27. Pahn

    Pahn Meyvn (1,449) Dec 2, 2009 New York
    Beer Trader

    i think this is like many "unless you were a supertaster" blind tasting hypotheticals. it's definitely true that non-supertasters are not going to be identifying which bourbon is which, but it's not necessarily true that they wouldn't pick up on some subtle-to-big differences. also, they'd probably form a preference.

    mild trifling though; i agree with the french oak suggestion and also that "good bourbon in at right ratio = good addition" is about as specific as you need to get, but it's worth some trial and error with different brands too (shrug).


    edit: p.s. however, strongly disagree with using the oak-soaking bourbon. it has harsh tannins and will probably turn the beer to shit in any substantial quantity. <- from experience. burned myself with the naive assumption that the bourbon would be better for being with the fresh oak. it wasn't.
  28. barfdiggs

    barfdiggs Initiate (0) Mar 22, 2011 California

    I'm apparently in the vast minority here, but adding bourbon to your homebrew or commercial beer just makes the beer taste artificial to me and doesn't taste the same as aging in a barrel, using spirit soaked chips/cubes or oaking the beer. I can't remember the references off the top of my head, but several BJCP judges, brewing books and articles online have stated similar feelings about this, and state that at least for them, the taste difference is pretty obvious.

    My own personal preference is to buy some bourbon barrel or whisky barrel chips, soak in fresh bourbon to sanitize (Buffalo Trace, Makers both work very well), toss the tannin filled bourbon down the drain, add the freshly soaked chips to your beer and age in the beer to taste. I've done a couple this way and they've been well received in competitions and have a fuller, less thin taste compared to just adding bourbon.

    If you really don't want to go the chip route, but want some very mild bourbon flavor with a little more upfront vanilla, add a vanilla bean to the bourbon destined for your beer, soak the bean for a week or so, discard the bean and add the bourbon to your beer to taste. This will ensure that you do get a little more vanilla flavor.
    Aaron_Ramson likes this.
  29. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    Where do you find the bourbon barrel chips?
  30. barfdiggs

    barfdiggs Initiate (0) Mar 22, 2011 California

    Bevmo or barbeque stores almost always have Jack Daniels Barrel Chips. North Woods Smoke is where I picked up my bourbon, Jack Daniels and Cherrywood chips.
  31. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    Come to think of it I feel like I have seen the JD chips, possibly at a Walmart of something. I was always a little weary about them, not sure why. Maybe one day I will pick some up.
  32. barfdiggs

    barfdiggs Initiate (0) Mar 22, 2011 California

    Yeah, the Jack ones scared me at first, but 1) I smelled them and they smelt great, and 2) they ended up working well in some big stouts and porters I brewed, despite my lack of love for regular Jack. The Jack chips have a smaller surface area than the other bourbon/whiskey chips I've used, so they disperse flavor into the beer a little more slowly than the very finely broken down barrel chips.

    Best of luck with your brew!
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