Soaking oak chips in bourbon

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by shelt11, Mar 18, 2015.

  1. shelt11

    shelt11 Initiate (0) Feb 9, 2015 Ohio

    Instead of just adding oak chips to my secondary before transferring, I soaked the chips in about 6 ounces of Maker's for 5 days. Anyone else tried this or something similar? I'm interested to hear differences in the amount of whiskey used, how long to soak chips, length of time in secondary, changes in ABV, etc. This is the first time I've done this... Thanks!
  2. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,534) May 30, 2005 Michigan

    When I want to mimic the flavor of bourbon barrel aging I have crammed a pint glass with oak chips that were sold as Jack Daniels BBQ smoking chips, then I filled the void in the glass with some more Jack. I let this sit for 4-6 weeks before dumping the liquid into my bottling bucket. I comes no where near the real thing, but I've tasted a couple of commercial beers that were 'bourbon & oak aged' which I'm guessing was pretty much the method that I described above instead of the beer seeing the inside of a used bourbon barrel.

    The first couple of times that I did this, I'll guess that I had 7-8 ounces of liquid. But that never gave me a strong enough bourbon characteristic in my beer, so I added an extra few ounces of bourbon into the bottling bucket along with the oak-soaked bourbon the last couple of times. Also, I think I probably got a bit more oak flavor than what I really wanted, so less than 4 weeks is probably a better time period for the soaking. (Each time that I've done this it was with a Baltic Porter or a Scotch Ale. Each was good but not great. :slight_frown:)

    P.S. If you do a search of this forum you'll find pervious threads like this that may help you.
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  3. HerbMeowing

    HerbMeowing Disciple (300) Nov 10, 2010 Virginia

  4. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,534) May 30, 2005 Michigan

  5. Rob1110

    Rob1110 Initiate (0) Jul 7, 2012 Massachusetts

    My advice when working with chips - boil them first. This is not to sterilize them but to extract the harsh tannins that will quickly ruin a beer or spirit. Remember, your surface exposure is through the roof with chips. I do 2-3 boils for 3-5 minutes each. This will help you lose some of the really harsh tannins that will make the beer taste tight, over-oaked and bitter. After your boils, then add the chips to your spirit (Bourbon, Brandy, etc) for at least 2 weeks. To speed this up, put them in the fridge for a day, then take them out and allow them to sit on the counter for a day. Do this a few times in the two weeks and the wood will "breathe," pulling the spirit into the wood and pushing it back out.

    Good luck!
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  6. HerbMeowing

    HerbMeowing Disciple (300) Nov 10, 2010 Virginia

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  7. shelt11

    shelt11 Initiate (0) Feb 9, 2015 Ohio

    I let them soak in the whiskey in the fridge the entire time...I'll have to change my technique next time. Thanks
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  8. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,534) May 30, 2005 Michigan

    I haven't seen that 'in and out of the fridge' recommendation before. Thanks for posting.
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  9. shelt11

    shelt11 Initiate (0) Feb 9, 2015 Ohio

    I might try this, because I would prefer more bourbon taste than too little. Thanks, Mothergoose
  10. Buck89

    Buck89 Poo-Bah (2,970) Feb 7, 2015 Tennessee
    Society Trader

    Tonight, I just added some bourbon soaked oak cubes to a porter in secondary. After reading the threads I soaked in cheap bourbon for 2 days, pitched the juice and then soaked for 2 weeks in 16 oz of Makers for 5 gals. Hopefully the tannins were extracted that way. Planning on leaving them for a few weeks before bottling and I'll let you know how it goes.
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  11. Liberatiscioli

    Liberatiscioli Initiate (0) Oct 3, 2013 Pennsylvania

    After reading th forums I decided to put 4oz. Medium toast French oak cubes in a beaker filled about 300ml with eagle rare
    and buffalo trace.
    After a month of sitting I took a shot and wanted to hurl. Way too much oak and tannic flavor. Liquid was about the darkest brown you can get before black. So I dumped the liquid refilled with fresh bourbon 500ml. Let sit another 3 weeks. After 3 weeks color was a nice bourbony brown with not too much color change and a lot more bourbon flavor with oak hues(my desired smell look and taste)

    I just dumped the entire 500ml liquid and oak cubes on top of 5 gallons a breakfast stout clone on Sunday. Hoping to let it sit for 2 months or longer.

    Seemed like without boiling the cubes the dump then second round of soaking made the taste of the liquid less tannic and a good way to go. Hate to waste my delicious bourbon though!It's all a big experiment but hope this helps a bit(and hope my stout turns out well!)
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  12. Rob1110

    Rob1110 Initiate (0) Jul 7, 2012 Massachusetts

    A "pre-soak" in Bourbon will do the same trick but as you already mentioned, why waste good Bourbon? Yes, alcohol is a great solvent and will definitely extract those nasty tannins in time but you'll completely ruin your Bourbon or spirit. Water is much cheaper and much less tasty. Either way will work though.
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  13. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,534) May 30, 2005 Michigan

    Using the cheap bourbon and discarding it in favor of a second, shorter soaking with good bourbon is probably the best way to go.
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  14. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,249) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    FWIW, that is what I do. A presoak with Jim Beam and a second soak with Makers Mark. That 'works' for me.

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  15. Mike_Aguirre

    Mike_Aguirre Initiate (0) Jan 20, 2015 Mexico

    How much oak chips you recommend to add? For example if I´m making a personal (test) 1 gallon batch, how much oak I need to get nice flavour?
  16. Davl22

    Davl22 Aspirant (260) Sep 27, 2011 New Hampshire

    That's a really good idea. I've heard that's how BCS gets its intense flavor. It goes a full summer and winter in the barrels. The temperature changes and the woods contracts etc.
  17. shelt11

    shelt11 Initiate (0) Feb 9, 2015 Ohio

    I added 2.5 oz of oak ships for a 5 gallon batch. I guess you could do a fifth of that, but I think it's more about the length of time you allow your beer to sit on the chips that will bring out more or less of an oak taste...
  18. stealth

    stealth Zealot (543) Dec 16, 2011 Minnesota

    I've had great results doing a quick boil of the oak, then soaking in cheap vodka for a few days, before adding a pint or so of MM for a few months. That bourbon/oak tincture is always delicious.
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  19. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (279) Jan 13, 2016 Ontario (Canada)

    Why separate boils? Why not boil it continuously for 6-15 minutes?
  20. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,534) May 30, 2005 Michigan

    I'm going to guess that if you discard the water after the first boil, the harsh tannins go down the drain with the water, and a little more fresh water each time probably encourages more tannins to be leeched from the oak.
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  21. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (279) Jan 13, 2016 Ontario (Canada)

    Thanks Mothergoose - that's what I expected, but I wonder if the same could be accomplished with more water and longer boiling time?
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  22. DunkelFester

    DunkelFester Initiate (194) Aug 24, 2004 Pennsylvania

    I have bottle of Makers Mark that's had oak cubes soaking in it for 5 years.

    I should probably brew another batch of bourbon breakfast stout soon...
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  23. GreenKrusty101

    GreenKrusty101 Crusader (749) Dec 4, 2008 Nevada

    I prefer my oak tanins unadulterated...taste often and remove promptly when desired level of adjunctification is achieved. :slight_smile:
  24. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (279) Jan 13, 2016 Ontario (Canada)

    I would probably add the oak directly, if I wasn't also looking for a bourbon taste (making an Innis & Gunn clone). I know you can pre-soak with bourbon, but that seems like a waste when you have to toss the pre-soaked bourbon out. So, I'm exploring the concept of pre-soaking with boiled water to remove the initial tannins, followed by soaking in bourbon for a week or so, then tossing both in the secondary for a couple of weeks. However, boiling it three separate times seems like unnecessary extra work, when it can possibly be accomplished by a single, longer boil with more water.
  25. frothy_80

    frothy_80 Aspirant (229) May 19, 2013 Missouri

    I've used 0.3oz of oak cubes in one gallon of RIS and got a fair amount of vanilla character from the oak. I let the wort sit on the cubes for 28 days.
  26. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (279) Jan 13, 2016 Ontario (Canada)

    Alhtough I've never oaked any beer to date (planning to in the next week), I've now done a significant amount of research on wood aging beer. In terms of sterilization, soaking oak chips/cubes in spirits like Bourbon seems to do little to kill all the microbes. You would optimally need a spirit in the 70% alcohol range (140 proof), and there's no guarantee that it would penetrate all through the cubes (chips would likely be OK). Jamil Zainasheff agrees and sees little purpose in soaking your chips/cubes in spirits. If you want, say, Bourbon flavour in your beer, he says to just add it separately to the beer, and adjust the amount by taste. Only afterwards do you add the chips/cubes and age while regularly tasting the beer.

    Jamil says that sterilizing oak in strong beers is likely not necessary because the alcohol content will likely prevent any living organisms from becoming active. However, he suggests that sterilizing oak in lighter beers is probably a good idea. So the question really comes down to: how should the chips/cubes be sterilized, since normal strength spirits are not effective? Jamil pressure cooks his chips/cubes in a small Mason jar with a dash of water to generate steam. He also says that you can boil a half cup or full cup of water, pour it over the oak in a heat-proof container, and let it steep for 15-20 minutes. Once cool, it's ready to go. I question whether either of these two methods actually penetrates to the core of the oak cubes.

    I have seen other methods which suggest sterilizing the chips/cubes by placing them in an oven for a period of time. This seems to be a much more effective method, in my opinion. You spread the chips/cubes on a cookie sheet and leave them in the oven at about 200 F for about 15 minutes or so. This pasteurizes them because the temperature is in excess of 138 F (the minimum temperature for Pasteurization). The heat would also be able to penetrate through the entire oak cubes during that time. Any temperature higher than about 200 F seems to be unnecessary, and would only begin to approach the temperatures used to roast the oak chips/cubes in the first place, to bring them to medium roast (for medium toast, they are usually roasted at about 350-375 F).

    The remaining question is, what about the excess tannins? Jamil says that tannins are actually good for the beer taste, as long as they are not excessive. Boiling oak seems to bring out the tannins rapidly, but while they are in the beer, the flavours and tannins come out slowly, and can be monitored by frequent sampling.

    So what I will likely do is:

    1. Wait until my beer has completely fermented and is in the keg;
    2. Add enough bourbon to flavour the beer to taste (I'll start with about 4-6 ounces);
    3. Pasteurize the chips/cubes in the oven at 200 F for about 15-20 minutes;
    4. Add the Pasteurized chips/cubes to a hop bag or stainless steel hop filter and hang it from the inside lid of my keg;
    5. Place the keg in my keezer and bring the temperature down to serving temperature;
    6. Pressurize the keg;
    7. Taste a sample of the beer every week or so;
    8. Remove the oak when the beer tastes a little more oaked than I would like; and
    9. Continue to age the beer as the oak becomes more mellow and continues to contribute more vanilla and caramel flavours.

    I look forward to any further suggestions, improvements or corrections to this approach.
    #26 OldBrewer, Jan 14, 2016
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2016
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  27. Brew_Betty

    Brew_Betty Disciple (394) Jan 5, 2015 Wisconsin

    Stavin oak cubes are steam sterilized before packaging.

    I boil them for 10 minutes to reduce the tannins. There are plenty of tannins left after the boil.
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  28. OldBrewer

    OldBrewer Aspirant (279) Jan 13, 2016 Ontario (Canada)

    Unfortunately, the brewing supply stores in this area buy the oak in bulk and repackage them - thus they are no longer sterilized.