September 26, 2016

Modifying a Barrel

I want to be able to do some smaller batch fruitings.  You can fruit right inside a barrel (which I have done), but you have to get all the fruit in through that tiny bung hole, hope the beer/fruit doesn't foam out the top, and then figure out how to get all that fruit out.  It's a pain.

I've seen some friends who have converted a barrel to stand vertically with the top off and act as a primary fermentation vessel.  Most recognized would be Casey Brewing and Ale Apothecary.  My goal here is to take that concept and use it for the secondary fruiting process.

Here is the parts list for the bottom drain:
Parts for the barrel drain
1.5" Male NPT to 1.5" TC
1.5" TC 90° Elbow

Place your barrel on end.  The head facing up at this time will be the head that will be the bottom in the end.  Pick the head that is flat and uniform.

Mark location for barrel drain

Place your parts on the barrel head and dry fit them to find the location of your drain.  Mark it with a pen.  Make sure you find a wide stave so your hole is entirely in one stave and not in-between two.

Drill 1 3/4" hole for barrel drain

Drill the hole with a 1 3/4" hole saw.  This is your drain.  I did consider putting the drain in the center of the head and adding a 12" TC extension.  I decided against it because it's an extra seal and gasket that can leak.  In water testing this, the edge location is best for getting that last 1% to drain out by simply tipping the barrel. 

Screw 1.5" male NPT into barrel

Insert your tap.  This is the hardest part.  1 3/4" hole is probably 1/16" too small, so that piece goes in hard.  I found by cutting a 45° on the top 1/8" edge of the hole, that the threads were able to rest partially inside.  No matter what, it's a beast.  But that's good, it won't leak!

Remove top 3 hoops from the barrel

Next, flip the barrel over.  Your drain is at the bottom now and you need to remove the top head.  You may want to mark the head's orientation by putting an arrow on it where the bung lines up.  With the top 3 hoops removed, you'll be able to pull the head out.  Drive the hoops back into place.

Inside of the barrel with innerstaves

This is what the inside of my barrel looked like.  Innerstaves.  I removed all the innerstaves and the wires holding them in place. Spray out the inside of the barrel and scrub/scrap away all the bulk organic material from previous fermentations.

Tip the barrel up and install the elbow and shut off valve.  Continue cleaning the inside of the barrel and draining.  I'd recommend filling the barrel completely with water to make sure your staves are in line and hoops are tight.

Final modified barrel

And voila!  There it is.  I took one of the innerstaves and made a little handle for the lid.  On the bottom side of the lid I screwed another innerstave across all the head staves to keep them in place and one solid piece.

This is what others have done for primary fermentation vessels.  For me to use it as a secondary fruiting vessel, I want to go one more step.  

Fruit sieve for barrels

I worked with my welder to fabricate this last piece.  It's a fruit sieve made out of stainless steel screen material.  This piece will rest at the bottom of the barrel during fruiting.  When I go to drain the barrel, this will keep the fruit from clogging the drain line.  It's 20" in diameter, which fits perfectly inside a wine barrel.  The side is made out of the same perforated material as the top and is 2" tall.

My plan is to do a small batch of raspberry beer in here first, which is typically a 3 month fruiting process for us.  During the initial high fermentation stage that the introduction of raspberries creates, I'll be resting the lid on top of the barrel to prevent bugs/debris from falling in.  The large opening will allow me to punch down the fruit periodically.  After the initial sugars are consumed and CO2 production tapers off, my plan is to lay a sheet of plastic over the top of the barrel and use an extra hoop to seal the plastic around the side.

January 3, 2016

The Start of a New Season

Things are moving along quickly at the Geuzeria this time of year.  We've started laying down the barrel track for this year's barrels and will be scheduling brew days here shortly.

We also will be releasing this year's batch of Door Kriek on January 29th, and tickets go on sale this Thursday at noon.  Given how things went last release, we reduced the bottle limit to 3 instead of 6, though I imagine it will go just as fast.

There are also a couple articles I wanted to share with you all (though if you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you've likely already seen these).  The first comes from Imbibe Magazine who publishes their Imbibe 75 list each year and we're honored to be amongst their selection for 2016.

The second comes from Paste Magazine and is available online.  It's a Q&A and answers some of the common questions I get asked.

So, Cheers to 2016! We're excited to see what it brings.

August 5, 2015

Open House and Great Taste Pre-Party

Funk Factory Geuzeria
Madison, WI 53715

We have the Geuzeria cleaned up and have invited some friends to bring beer for an amazing Great Taste Pre-Party.  O'so Brewing Company and Penrose Brewing will be there, and our friends at Yazoo/Embrace the Funk have sent a couple treats including our collaboration beer "OSO U FUNK TOO?".  Oh yea, and our friends at Underground Food Collective will be there with food!

April 1, 2015

Pyramid Technique to Stacking Barrels

Picture: barrels stacked at Cantillon.
I knew I wanted to stack my barrels in the fashion I saw on images of Belgian breweries.  I've had this image of Tilquin's barrel cellar on my computer for the last couple years.  There are a few factors that went into my decision to pyramid stack; my space is relatively small, I want to store as many barrels as possible, and the barrels don't get touched for 2-3 year spans so moving them around isn't a huge concern.  The benefits, as I saw it, of the pyramid stack is that you can fit more barrels into the same space, and you don't have to buy metal barrel racks.  The drawback is that, once in place, there is no moving them.

The concept is pretty straight forward, but there are small details you can glean my looking at the images other brewers have posted (and some details you just have to learn by doing).  First, you don't put the barrels on the ground, but on top of wood beams which are elevated off the ground themselves.  The message there, if a barrel is going to sit in one place for the next 2-3 years, it better not be in a puddle of water!

Barrel Track

The first step is laying out the track.  I used some reclaimed 4x4 timbers and propped them up on cement blocks.  I think you could use 2x4 boards just the same, but I preferred the additional strength of a 4x4.  As you can see from the pictures above, Tilquin uses large cinder blocks to lift up their timbers, where Cantillon uses much shorter blocks.  I opted for a shallower, patio paver block.  It is high enough to allow water to drain freely beneath it, and that is all that really matters.  You want the blocks to be spaced out enough to allow water to escape, but not too much space that the barrel weight will bend the wood beams.

Wedges cut for stacking barrels

Barrels get placed in line along the track.  The next part is stacking the barrels.  To do this I needed to cut wedges.  Each barrel requires 4 wedges, so there was a lot of cutting to do.  As you see in the picture above, there are two types of wedges.  The wedge on the left is a straight cut and a 25° cut. This is used on the bottom row atop the 4x4 timber track and lock those barrels in place (image).  The wedge on the right is two opposing 10° cuts and go on top of one row of barrels to lock in place the barrel resting above it (image).

The details of actually stacking the barrels is one of those you just have to learn as you go.  I thought it would be pretty simple and easy, but unless you have perfectly identical barrels (I would recommend purchasing barrels from the same cooperage/winery), they aren't going to stack perfectly simple.  It took a bit of figuring, but eventually we got the hang of stacking, centering, and leveling one barrel at a time.

Pyramid stacked barrels at the Geuzeria.

December 5, 2014

Lambic Brew Day, Coolship Party, and Bottle Release!

On January 23th, 2015 we will be brewing a traditional lambic with O’so Brewing. The Coolship Party party kicks off in the evening when we open up the brewery to the public. Our coolship (a large open vessel used to draw wild yeast and bacteria into the beer) will be filled with the lambic wort brewed that day. Everyone's invited to see and experience this unique coolship process!

To celebrate, we will release 3 limited-quantity lambic-style beers for purchase. This year, fans will be able to reserve bottles online through Brown Paper Ticket starting at Noon, Dec 10th.

Facebook Event Page

O’so Tap House
3028 Village Park,
Plover, WI

The Fox and the Grapes – 5.5% ABV – Lambic-style beer with Foch Grapes

Artwork done by Molly Wallner Morton. This is our second label in the Fermentation is Art series, where we collaborate with local artists. Molly will be in attendance at the party, with signed and numbered prints of the original artwork for sale. The artwork is available first come, first served

Framrood – 5.5% ABV – Lambic-style beer with Red Raspberries

Door Kriek – 5.5% ABV – Lambic-style beer with Door County Tart Cherries

September 8, 2014

The New Barrel Warehouse

It's exciting to announce we have signed a lease on a barrel warehouse in Madison.  It is currently an old run down building that hasn't been used in 30+ years, but it will be completely renovated this fall and ready for us to officially move in on December 1st.  I'm a big believer in showing you guys the ugly side of things as well as the pretty side, so here are a few images of its current condition.

As you can see from the outside, it's pretty run down.  The inside is no better.  But, the pretty side to this, is that the building is being completely remodeled.  We (actually my wife) is pretty talented when it comes to building design and remodeling plans.  She laid out the concept, the owners loved it, and this is what the space will become:

The location is one of main draws to this site.  The address is 1604 Gilson St. which is very close to where I live downtown.  On days not requiring hauling wort in a truck, it will be nice to simply bike down to the warehouse.  No, there will not be a tasting room initially, but yes, it is something I plan to do when barrels mature.

This winter I will be buying wort from a number of breweries, and you can be sure O'so Brewing will be one. My goal in sourcing wort from multiple breweries is to try to build a wider spectrum of lambic barrels to blend with.  The recipe will be the same across any brewery that I source wort from, but differences such as water source, brew systems, local microbes, temperature, etc should lead to having some distinctions between the resulting barrels and how they develop.  This will only help create complexity and depth to the final product.

Additionally its fun to do.  There are some brewers/breweries who are very interested making lambic, but don't want to have wild bugs in their brewery and don't have a coolship nor barrel space.  It's kind of a way to collaborate with the very talented brewers out there.

Its amazing how far this project has come and I want to thank all of you for your support.  When the space is up and running, I hope you will all come visit.

March 27, 2014

Checking in on the recently filled lambic barrels

Last weekend I went up to check on the barrels from our brew day a couple months ago.  Given that this was the first time using a coolship, I was a little anxious to see how they were doing.

Taking a step back, I realize I haven't written anything about the brew day itself.  It was a full weekend and somehow everything went off without a hitch.  There is a great write up here summarizing the weekend better than I could.  The brewers at O'so have got the process down and are very efficient at doing what they do. Compared to previous years (which I have notes posted), there is very to add regarding the brewing.  Post-brew however, the wort went from the boil kettle to the coolship that had been temporarily installed outside under a large tent to rest overnight.
Lambic coolship filling
Coolship filling with lambic wort.  (photo credit)
From literature on the process, I was hoping the wort would be ~70°F the next morning.  We got in around 8:30 am and checked it with a digital thermometer which read 70°F exactly.  I was ecstatic to say the least. The inoculated wort was then pumped into a large tank to ensure everything was homogeneous, and then pumped into barrels.  Some of the barrels filled were straight from the winery and some of the barrels filled were previously emptied lambic barrels.  They were all thoroughly cleaned out with 200°F water prior to filling.

So, back to being up there and checking in on the barrels.  I was able to taste from barrels that had previously held our lambic, but the barrels that were our first use were tucked away such that we couldn't get to them without a forklift.  There was an event going on at the brewery, so I'll wait for another day to check in on those.  I am curious to see if there will be a distinction between the two sets of barrels.

I am a firm believer that, while a coolship imparts a new generation of microflora into the wort, much of the fermentation process is guided by the yeast/bacteria already in the barrel.  Cleaning the barrel, even at the high temperatures we do, will never sanitize the barrels completely and yeast/bacteria residing deeper in the wood will survive.  Through generations of culling barrels, a brewery is able to build a "house flavor".  You will find others who argue the relative impact of the coolship on the fermentation process is greater than that of the barrel.  Its an interesting argument if you really like nerding out about this stuff, and having these two sets of barrels is my way of testing things out.

It was interesting to taste the barrels that were accessible.  At this age there is little you can tell about how the beer will turn out, but I am able to see if its "on track".  First, I am making sure it did in fact ferment instead of spoil.  Given this was the first time spontaneously fermenting via coolship, that concern was lingering in the back of my mind.  But everything checked out.  It actually tasted almost exactly as the previous year's barrels did at this point.  It has a light tartness and an ever so slight brett character. The only difference I noticed from prior batches was there was a sweet lime flavor.  Is this an impact of local microflora?  In addition to these flavors, there is this phenolic flavor which we've noticed in previous batches as well. Its just an odd stage our lambic goes through. The reason I mention this is so home brewers who may be reading this know that these early off flavors are not a reason to dump your beer.  Honestly, there is no reason to even taste your lambic in the first 9 months.  I just do it for fun and because I can pull out of a sample port below the pellicle line.
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