I remember clearly my first interest in using wood as a favoring agent in beer. I was watching a Beer TV episode where Surley brewing was the brewer being toured. This was one of the older shows where there was a lot of joking, interviews, good info filmed for masses when I saw it. Several fermenting tanks with signage indicating beer being aged on either oak, ash or cherry. Now most of us have sampled barrel aged stouts. Usually bourbon barrels which are white oak with some amount of bourbon are filled with a stout to be aged for some time before being bottled and sold. I do enjoy this style of beer but what about just the wood? My brother always would comment on how he could taste the oak and the flavors it would lend to a beer, wine or whiskey. I never gave it much thought, shit I just liked brewing beers and drinking them with the usual hops, grain, yeast and water but seeing that Surley episode kicked me into overdrive.
Age beers on a variety of woods that lend flavors and mouthfeel benefiting the beer.
I have a large wood lot with the usual northeast variety of trees growing so, I cut down and processed white oak, hard maple and cherry wood for brewing. The wood would be split in half inch thick by 4 or 5 inch long sticks without the bark air dryed, then toasted to the desired level, which depending what you want can vary greatly.
White oak was the easiest wood to find info on. The majority of brewing sites spoke to medium or heavy toast so without looking into it further I toasted/burned about 1 lb of my white oak sticks. This was a big mistake because the toasting of wood needs to be controlled. Temperature, time and frequent monitoring is necessary to ensure a uniform product. Otherwise one gets a mish mash of sticks with zero uniformity. Oak I toast now goes into the oven at 200 F and slowly raised up to around 350-375 for a nice medium toast. The process takes around 2-2.5 hours with frequent turning of the cookie sheet holding the wood to ensure even toasting. If I want heavy toast I slowly raise the temp to 450-475, constantly monitoring the wood for the heavy toast/charing of the sticks.
Searching for info on hard maple in beer yielded no results worth mentioning, so I toasted them like the medium oak. The aroma was similar to being in a sugar house where maple syrup is made, fuckin awsum.
Cherry wood was toasted to 275-300 for about 1.5 hours so a very light toast. Actually closer to no toast, just kilning. Cherry is a delicate wood and I was/am unsure what toasting would do to the wood/beer so I opted to just kiln it with little or no toast.
God hates a coward
On occasion, I have what is called the Drunkin Brewer Series of home brews. These beers can be great or crap depending on who’s there and how many times we go to the cellar for refills. Well, on this occasion my good friend glenny was going down for more beer when he noticed the carboy full of IRS. “lets bottle it” he declared, but I informed him that it was the first beer for wood experiments. Glenny was excited and after examining the bag of oak stick, yep the mish mash bag, he thought it should all go in. After I told him I wanted to use 2 oz, “god hates a coward” he spat back at me so after negotiating we put in a half pound. I let it soak for 3 weeks and then bottled. Possibly it was the worst beer I ever bottled. Tannic, harsh and burnt like a old barn is what it tasted like. Even after a year, still just awfull. So, after further research this is what has transpired.
All recipes are 5-5.5 gallons
First real test beer was an another IRS with the following grist
15 lbs marris otter
2 lbs munich L10
1 LB L 60 british crystal
1 lb Simpsons chocolate
1 lb black patent
1 lb Simpsons roasted barley
1 lb flaked barley
Mash 154 F
Boil 60 min
Fugglings (my mix of goldings and fuggles home grown)
3 oz 60 min
2 oz 15 min
Starting Gravity 1.090
Final gravity 1.020
Nottingham yeast cake after a standard Irish stout
Split batch into 2 carboys to prevent beer loss due to hyper ferment
Primary 3 weeks
Secondary 1.5 month
2 oz medium toast boiled for 5 minutes to sterilize/remove some tannins
Beer oaked for 2 weeks
Very little oak flavors, almost a waste of time due to very little oak and time oak was on beer.
Good beer, no noticeable oak flavors
Same recipe but this time 2 oz medium toast and 2 oz heavy toast/slightly charred white oak. Boiled for 5 minutes
Beer oaked for 4 weeks.
Now that’s more like it, some vanilla and smoky char coming through at 8 weeks in the bottle. At 6 months the oak has mellowed and the beer is super easy drinking. No harsh tannins or other off flavors. I find the slight charing of the oak gives a boost to the roasted malts as well as more flavor/mouth feel after the sip of beer has been swallowed. The char seems to coat the mouth in a pleasant way but not too much.
8 lb best ale malt
9 lb marris otter
1 lb caramunich L60
1 lb munich L10
1 lb simpsons chocolate
1 lb black patent
.5 lb simpsons roasted barley
1 lb carapills
2 oz Northern brewer 60 minites
2 oz fugglings 15 minutes
Nottingham yeast cake after making chocolate stout/light
Starting gravity 1.087
Final gravity 1.021
Split batch into 2 fermenters for primary ferment 3 weeks.
Racked into 1 secondary for 1 month.
This time 2.5 oz medium oak, 1.5 oz heavy toast oak and 4 oz hard maple light/med toast all boiled for 5 minutes.
Wood placed into beer for 30 days.
A lot to say about this one. First sampling was at 3 weeks, too early,the malt and wood flavors are muddled. 2 months, the beer has a woody taste along with the oak notes and maple tastes there is clearly the taste of wood, like you chewed on a dry stick. 3 months the wood taste is fading. Definatly the maple is very strong almost over powering the oak but not so much the oak. 4.5 months wood taste is still there but fading as is the strong maple flavor. Oak is more present mostly the char, very little vanilla. 5.5 months the excessive woodiness is gone. At this time I’d say this is a very balanced beer with a silky/creamy feel. Oak and maple blending nicly with the grist.
12 lbs best ale malt
1 lb munich 10 L
.5 lb L20
1 oz Columbus 60 min
1 oz chinook at 15 5 FO
1 oz cascade at 15 5 FO
1 oz nugget at 45 min
1 oz galaxy at FO
1 oz centennial at FO
London Ale III yeast cake after some other apa
Starting gravity 1.057
Final gravity 1.012
In Primary for 8 days.
Boiled 3 oz of cherry wood for 5 minutes really loving the cherry scent in the air. Almost used the boiled water as well as the wood. Yeah, that good. Added wood to primary for 1 week then bottled. Sampled at 3 weeks. Sweet cherry taste mixing with the hops almost to strong but good. At 2 months the sweetness has subsided and the cherry mixes with the hops very nicely. No off flavors and I think I will add 2 oz next time, which is next week the next batch.
16 lbs Best Ale malt
1 lb victory
1 lb L40
1 oz Columbus at 60 min
1 oz nugget at 60 minutes
1 oz nugget at 45 minutes
1 oz chinook at 30, 15 FO
1 oz cascade at 15, 5
1 oz centennial at 5, FO
1 oz citra at 5
Dry hop 1 oz simco galaxy and Columbus 7 days
Starting gravity 1.078
Final gravity 1.010
2 packets Nottingham yeast
Primary for 7 days racked to secondary adding 3 oz boiled cherry wood and dry hops for 5 days.
Sampled at 2 weeks Cherry really plays well with this brew. Sweetness is there but less sweet and more cherry flavor. Hops dance around with the cherry. Citrus notes really pop as does a little dankness.
So for now, that concludes my recorded wood experiments. I will be continuing with more maple, oak, cherry, hard maple as well as poplar
And apple wood. Anybody else playing with wood????