Do brewers re-use barrels multiple times?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Stugotzo, Feb 15, 2014.

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  1. Stugotzo

    Stugotzo Initiate (0) Jun 13, 2012 Florida

    If the barrels give off some flavor and/or alcohol to the beer that it put in there, I would imagine the effect would fade. I guess the question is, how soon does that effect fade? Does it fade after one use, or can they be used dozens, or even hundreds of times, and they still give off the flavor of the barrel (from its original contents)?

    Yes, I know... "it depends". :wink:
    TonyJ815 likes this.
  2. Kyrojack

    Kyrojack Disciple (347) Oct 9, 2012 Indiana

    General rule of thumb is, one time to "barrel age" a beer. Then up to 3 times to "sour" a beer. The first use of the barrel soaks up most of the flavors associated with said barrel.
  3. nc41

    nc41 Poo-Bah (2,578) Sep 25, 2008 North Carolina
    Society Trader

    Yes they do reuse barrels. It's my understanding King Henry was done is used Rare barrels. Lindley Park is done in used Event Horizion barrels. I think not sure than BA Peoples Porter is done in used BASC barrels this year Buffalo Trace. These are just off the top of my head, some barrels when fresh are too hot so they are reused and blended to soften the Bourbon. I'm guessing maybe 3X max on barrel usage, but this defiantly a guess.
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  4. dennis3951

    dennis3951 Meyvn (1,011) Mar 6, 2008 New Jersey

    Pappy Van Winkle barrels are good forever.
  5. rightcoast7

    rightcoast7 Disciple (357) Apr 2, 2011 Maine

    Bourbon County BW was aged in old BCBS barrels, so yeah, it happens. I don't think this is the norm though, but interested to hear from others who may know.
  6. ThickNStout

    ThickNStout Poo-Bah (2,645) Mar 8, 2011 Georgia
    Society Trader

    It's my understanding that the barrel is only "supposed" to be used once. There are several examples of second use barrels producing great beer- BCBW, Williamsburg Cafe Royale, etc. But there are diminishing returns- much like making copies of copies, with every use the flavors will fade a little bit more.
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  7. mtskier

    mtskier Initiate (0) Feb 23, 2013 Illinois

    The example I was going to cite. Says 3rd use barrels right on the label.
    stevegoz and 1000lbgrizzly like this.
  8. JrGtr

    JrGtr Devotee (438) Apr 13, 2006 Massachusetts

    So the barrel was used once for bourbon, once for BCBS, and once for BCBBW? Wonder what's next for them, besides the fireplace. (that would smell great, wouldn;t it?)
    sjjn likes this.
  9. Pahn

    Pahn Meyvn (1,473) Dec 2, 2009 New York

    unfortunately this is more proof of how advanced GI is with barrel aging relative to the rest of the craft brewing landscape.

    i want to root for the ones not bought by AB, but GI's barrel aging knowledge is greater than all, even better than firestone walker, 50/50, hill farmstead, [name your favorite other BA beer maker]. add that they're such champions at making big stouts and english barleywines (BCBW tastes like j.w. lees blended with 100% BBA bruery cuir, it's phenomenal).
    JackHorzempa and paulys55 like this.
  10. Smithrob9999

    Smithrob9999 Initiate (0) Aug 3, 2011 Texas

    Couldn't agree more, I'm wait for someone who can match GI. To me no one even comes close. I don't even think Parabola is on the same level as BCBS
    gtermi likes this.
  11. LancetherealLeader

    LancetherealLeader Disciple (379) Jul 12, 2013 South Carolina

    COAST did this with their Blackbeerd Stout. In 2012, they released their aged batch in 'first-use' Blanton barrels and then reused them for the 2013 release. I did a vertical with both at my New Year's Day party last month, which was sampled by myself and several friends. We all agreed that they tasted like 2 different beers. The first was heavy on the bourbon, while the second was a lot smoother and had more 'oak' flavor. They were both really good, but the unanimous favorite was the 2012.
  12. Harnkus

    Harnkus Initiate (0) Oct 31, 2013 New York

    Get over barrels people. Seriously
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  13. Stugotzo

    Stugotzo Initiate (0) Jun 13, 2012 Florida

    I'm just trying to understand the science (and art, perhaps) behind it.

    Get over yourself. Seriously.
  14. ThreeFishes

    ThreeFishes Initiate (0) Jan 8, 2013 Florida

    I use barrels multiple times before delagating them to sour duty. Subsequent uses just take longer than first use, and give up less flavor of the spirit originally aged in them. I usually get three uses before I switch over to sour beer.
  15. mushrooms

    mushrooms Initiate (0) Dec 24, 2013 Uzbekistan

    This is not true. Maybe this is true in the sense that maybe most American beer makers only use barrels this many times for sour beers (I have no idea), but as long as the microflora resident in the barrel haven't begun to take on characteristics that you dislike, and as long as the barrel's still intact, there's no particular reason you can't reuse a barrel for sours many, many, MANY times. My understanding is that there are barrels at Cantillon and other classic lambic producers that have been there for decades.

    If you want the beer to have barrel character, that's one thing, and yes, it will fade rapidly with each batch, but if you're just looking at the barrel as an incubator for microorganisms, there's no reason I know of you can't use a barrel indefinitely.
    Loganyoung, CASK1 and Stugotzo like this.
  16. Irrenarzt

    Irrenarzt Disciple (318) Mar 1, 2009 New Mexico

    Barrels rule. All the best beer (at least to my palate) has had some interaction with a barrel.
  17. mtskier

    mtskier Initiate (0) Feb 23, 2013 Illinois

    Correct. Thats why they are 3rd use. 2nd for beer, but 3rd overall.
  18. Highbrow

    Highbrow Devotee (450) Jan 7, 2011 California

    re-char & re-use.
  19. tbaker397

    tbaker397 Initiate (0) Nov 9, 2013 West Virginia

    A local nano just got some Jack barrels to do some things with. He plans on doing at least 2 really heavy beers to leech out the whiskey, and depending how the 2nd is, then may go to sours. But he did say he will at least have to do 2 batches in a barrel so leach out as much of the whiskey flavor as possible.
  20. TomTown

    TomTown Aspirant (275) Feb 7, 2011 Texas

    I'm kinda curious as to the barrel treatment for Love Child No. 3. Likely a second or third use barrel.

    In my opinion it was the most masterful combining of bourbon and sour red flavors I've ever had.

    EDIT: Haha, just did some "research" and found this: Oak barrels were used to age the majority of beer used for Love Child No. 3—with beer aged from 16 months to nearly six years. Another portion of the beer spent 11 months in stainless tanks, souring on Lactobacillus. While very tart, the sourness is short-lived and the beer finishes dry with a trace of oak.

    Interesting way to get oak and bourbon character in your sour beer without souring your barrels necessarily.
  21. growlerphil

    growlerphil Initiate (60) Oct 26, 2011 Virginia

    If I understand correctly, the brewery in my area, Alewerks, typically gets a 2nd and 3rd use out of its bourbon barrels. I think Alewerks usually gets its barrels from A. Smith Bowman Distilling, where they were filled with bourbon (the barrel's first use). Alewerks then uses the barrel (2nd use) for its Bourbon Barrel Porter, an imperial strength porter that picks up a ton of bourbon and oak character. Once the porter is removed, the brewery will use (3rd use) the barrel for their Cafe Royale (an imperial milk stout brewed with coffee). The bourbon and oak characters are a bit less prominent in this beer than the Bourbon Barrel Porter, but they are still noticeable and add a wonderful complexity. I don't think they typically use the barrels a third time, though rumor has it the brewer keeps a few on hand for some small batch sour experiments. I know Blue Mountain Brewing also reuses some of their barrels. With each successive use, the bourbon and oaky character will diminish, as the barrel becomes more "neutral" in flavor. Since barrels are oxygen permeable (as temperatures change liquid moves in and out of the oak walls, gets exposed to oxygen and some evaporates and is lost, i.e. "The Angel's Share"), with each use the chances of wild yeast and/or bacteria getting introduced in the barrel increases, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your perspective.
  22. kleo

    kleo Initiate (0) Apr 27, 2009 Massachusetts

    From what I was told, they use the barrels until some tool in leiderhosen shows up with an accordion and encourages the rolling of said barrels followed by some fun.
  23. Highbrow

    Highbrow Devotee (450) Jan 7, 2011 California

    and i believe A. Smith Bowmam usually get's its originating whiskey from Buffalo Trace.
  24. nc41

    nc41 Poo-Bah (2,578) Sep 25, 2008 North Carolina
    Society Trader

    It would ignite the oak and vanilla tones, wonder then if it could then be primed with bourbon to rejuvenate it?
  25. johnyb

    johnyb Crusader (727) Aug 11, 2012 Florida

    Thank you for this....... made my day
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  26. 1000lbgrizzly

    1000lbgrizzly Meyvn (1,109) Jul 16, 2013 Illinois

    Jim Cibak and Josh Deth of Revolution Brewing (both formerly of Goose Island, Cibak also of Three Floyds and Firestone Walker, among others) came out with a 'deep woods' series of beers this past fall. Tried one of them (Deth's Tar, an Imperial Stout) and I'm afraid the experience turned me off to buying one of their $18-$22 bombers again. They wayyy overdid the barreling, just about all I smelled and tasted was oak. So, even having seen how GI does their barreling, these two respectable and knowledgeable brewmasters couldn't come close to recreating GI genius. To be fair, to my knowledge it was their first time experimenting with barrels on their own and they're just getting the hang of it, I hope they are able to refine their methods.

    Also, Pahn, have you tried any Russian River barrel projects? I admittedly haven't but I hear they're incredible. Maybe they could stand up to GI's creations? Roadtrip??
    Pahn likes this.
  27. dortenzio1991

    dortenzio1991 Initiate (106) Aug 12, 2011 Connecticut

    Slightly off topic, but has any brewery ever used "new" oak before?
  28. AndyCarter

    AndyCarter Initiate (114) Feb 23, 2012 California

    Bruery Bois variants used new american and new french oak, along with reused bourbon/brandy/rye.
  29. jRocco2021

    jRocco2021 Disciple (311) Mar 13, 2010 Wisconsin

    Founders and BLiS together took a bourbon barrel aged maple syrup in it, then CBS, and then BLiS took back those barrels and aged pepper mash for their hot sauce in it. Like tobasco does with bourbon barrels except totally insane.

    Goose Island is pretty innovative when I comes to aging beer in barrels but people have been reusing barrels since they have been aging things in barrels its not new. who knows what happens to them after whatever uses we may be aware of.
  30. 1000lbgrizzly

    1000lbgrizzly Meyvn (1,109) Jul 16, 2013 Illinois

    From the Russian River Website (Bold added):
    Just like many local wineries that rotate a percentage of fresh wine barrels into their barrel program, we do the same thing at RRBC. For any given beer where we use a specific type of wine barrel for a specific type of beer (Temptation = Chardonnay barrels, Supplication = Pinot Noir barrels, Consecration = Cabernet Sauvignon barrels) we rotate in approximately 20% new barrels (that is new to us) that we pick-up from local wineries every spring. Another 20% of the lot of barrels are usually on their last leg which have just a small amount of oak & wine flavor left in them, and the remaining 60% have been in use for a couple of years at RRBC and will still have two or three years of use left. For the most part, we keep barrels in use for about five years before we rotate them into yet another barrel aged beer, Beatification.
    Full link:
  31. Jshari223

    Jshari223 Aspirant (203) Nov 13, 2013 Georgia

    If I'm not mistaken all of Odell's Woodcut series barrels are made and charred just for them, and didn't house any spirits previously.
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  32. Jshari223

    Jshari223 Aspirant (203) Nov 13, 2013 Georgia

    The barrel aging method I always wondered about is New Holland Dragons Milk. It is aged in Bourbon Barrels, But they also make spirits, and have a beer barrel aged bourbon. So, is it just the same barrels used over and over again? 1-2 times for beer, and 1-2 times for bourbon depending on blending it correctly?
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  33. Radome

    Radome Poo-Bah (2,038) May 24, 2009 Florida

    At the risk of building a watch when you asked what time it was. . .
    I recently bought a used freshly used whiskey barrel for homebrewing purposes from Ranger Creek. They distill whiskey and age beers in barrels, all under one roof, so I think they know what they are talking about. I asked one of the brewers when I picked up the barrel how its effect on the beer would change over time. He told me the first beer batch would pick up major whiskey character, so it had to be a huge beer in its own right in order to stand up to it. The second batch will pick up some whiskey character, but not as much. The third and later batches will get oak and wood character, but nothing from the spirits.
    The spirits in the fresh barrel will also prevent contamination, but the more beer batches that are put in a barrel, the more likely it is that funk will set in and a sour character will take over. Some brewers welcome that and may even add their own cultures to speed the souring of a barrel. The accidental funk in a barrel is very difficult to prevent at the homebrew level. Wine makers sanitize barrels using sulphur, etc. Brewers can research those methods, but I am leery of their use for beer, both for flavor reasons and because beer is typically lower in alcohol than wine and may be vulnerable to different spoiling agents. I intend to just “embrace the funk” with my barrel.
    When you tour Cantillon in Brussels you can see the huge effort they go to in order to sanitize their barrels. They have coopers who disassemble the barrels completely. They steam sanitize the wood, scrape it, re-toast it, and reassemble. Of course, this would be impossible at the homebrew level, unless you somehow learned the ancient art of cooperage. All this sanitizing effort seemed ironic to me at the flagship of sour brewing, so I asked one of the brewers about it. He claimed they do this in order to keep souring agents in the barrels from having an effect on the beer. They want fermentation to come only from wild airborne yeast during the lambic process. Treating the barrels this way ensures they get nothing but wood character from the barrels and all the sourness from the local atmosphere.
    Contrast this with the way the barrels are treated in the solera system of Spain’s sherry makers. Their aged sherries depend on the barrels going untouched for decades. The sherry is moved from barrel to barrel over the years as new batches are added, product is taken out for bottling, and evaporation takes place. When I toured Sandeman in Jerez, I was told their top-of-the-line solera system has been nurtured along in continuous use since 1894. That means that some amount of the sherry in that stack has literally been in those barrels continually for that long. They claimed that a replacement barrel chosen to go into that stack has to be a minimum of 75 years old, having been used for wine and sherry for that entire period. Man, I’d love to make beer in a barrel like that!

    So, as you most accurately said, “It depends.” Sorry for the long post, but the subject fascinates me and I got carried away. :wink:
  34. Stugotzo

    Stugotzo Initiate (0) Jun 13, 2012 Florida

    No need to apologize. I think most of us appreciate(d) the first hand account.
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  35. Pahn

    Pahn Meyvn (1,473) Dec 2, 2009 New York

    i should say, i'm talking about barrel aged stouts and barleywines (or other non-sour beers). sour beers, lots of people can get as much flavor and craziness out of barrels, russian river definitely included.

    i love the (one could say) vulgar, straightforward "vanilla/coconut American oak + some sour beer and/or fruit" of lost abbey's red poppy and cascade's sour beers, but russian river (and lost abbey's other great sours) get all kinds of complexity out of the bugs and oak. russian river sours are usually a bit too sour/acidic for me, but they're definitely extremely complex and the flavors are great.

    edit: my point being, yes, seek them out (:.
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  36. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,771) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    A few years ago I had a chance to have a long conversation with John Laffler who was in charge of the barrel program at Goose Island (at that time). He informed me that when making BCBS they used Heaven Hills Bourbon barrels and they only used them once.

    As others have posted, other breweries may re-use their barrels but Goose Island only uses them once while producing BCBS.

    Sesmu likes this.
  37. 1000lbgrizzly

    1000lbgrizzly Meyvn (1,109) Jul 16, 2013 Illinois

    I've wondered this too. It's like the infinitely efficient machine.
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  38. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,862) May 30, 2005 Michigan

    From what I think I know the Dragon's Milk barrels are then used for the Pilgrims Dole Wheatwine. However, I don't know if all of the Dragon's Milk barrels are used because it seems to me that the Pilgrim's Dole is not brewed in the same quantity as the Dragon's Milk.

    Some (or all) of those barrels in this process are apparently used for the Beer Barrel Bourbon. However, although New Holland does have a small distiller's license, I believe that I've read that they purchase the bourbon for the Beer Barrel Bourbon from a distillery in Indiana. I don't know why they can't distill their own bourbon for this product.
  39. Patric_Lawrence

    Patric_Lawrence Initiate (0) Feb 1, 2014 Colorado

    Depends, on the application. Usually not used for same beer. It can be used for as long as you want without turning it over to the sour program. Some barrels are used to actually have the oak or previous flavors blended out. Oak gives off flavor for about 3 years, but can be used until it falls apart. Proper sanitation is a must in between batches.
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