June 24, 2012

O'so Collaboration

Over the weekend I went up to start the preparation work for what will become a collaborative O'so/Funk Factory lambic project.

O'so Brewing Company
(click picture to visit the O'so website)

I arrived Friday evening to 14, French Oak, used wine barrels delivered and waiting for me.

14 French Oak used wine barrels

While I had the barrels on end, I decided to quick apply a stencil I made up for them.  Its a simplified version of the FF logo, and creates 4 spaces to record the fill date.  With that done, it was time to line up the barrels and fill them with water.

Oak barrels being filled with water to soak overnight

Soaking the barrel overnight was done for two reasons.  First, it will swell the barrel ensuring there are no leaks when it comes time to fill it with lambic wort.  Secondly, it will extract some of the wine flavor from the barrel.  In brewing lambic, you want as neutral of a barrel as possible.  When I arrived to the very last barrel and filled it up, I noticed it wasn't holding water.  On the barrel head opposite to me, it was gushing out water along the bottom croze.  I left the hose valve 1/3 of the way open, and it was losing water faster than the hose filled it.  Unfortunately, I think that barrel will need to be replaced even though it did swell up overnight.  I just don't have any confidence in a barrel that struggles that much to hold water that it will limit O2 permeation sufficiently.

The next morning I had to empty the barrels.  Moving around a 60 gallon filled barrel is no easy task, and in fact took me most the morning to empty all 14 barrels.  It wasn't until nearly noon that I started steaming the barrels.

Steam cleaning the barrels

This is the same steamer I used before.  Behind the barrel in the picture being steamed are 4 that I had already completed.  You can see the bung is in and seals the barrel.  As the steam cools down, it creates a vacuum that will extract more wine from the wood.  Once I finished with all the barrels, I gave them a final hot water rinse and sealed them again.  The air inside was hot from the water, so they will be vacuum sealed until the day we go to fill them with wort.

June 21, 2012

Sikaru Update

My barrel of "Sikaru" that I added dates to on Day 22 has a problem; acetobacter.  Acetobacter creates acetic acid, which in small amounts can be acceptable in lambic, but when oxygen is plentiful, the acetobacter will create too much.  This is exactly what has happened.

About 4 months ago you may remember that I waxed this barrel fearing it was getting too much oxygen.  I only waxed the top half where the head space is thinking the rest of the barrel should be fine.  Well, I was wrong.  This isn't to say you can't age a beer in a 5 gallon barrel.  My problem is that I got this barrel (for free) when I bought the 60 gallon barrel from a local winery.  He had kept the 5 gallon barrel on a display shelf for a couple years, so it was in very poor condition.  It wouldn't even hold water.  It took me a week to swell the barrel to a state that it could hold water.  Before filling, I steam cleaned the barrel thoroughly.  I assumed it was fine at that point, but I now believe the staves, while water tight, were not tight enough to slow O2 permeability sufficiently and there remained too much acetobacter in the wood even after the steaming process.  If you are going to use a barrel (of any size) make sure it has been properly maintained.  Also, if you are using a 5 or 10 gallon barrel, I would still recommend waxing the outsides to cut O2 permeation to a level comparable with the large 60 gallon barrels.

Last month I started a discussion on RateBeer talking about American Lambics vs. Belgian Lambics.  In my opinion, a higher acetic acid flavor profile is the norm from American Lambic producers.  It creates a more intensely sour flavored beer.  With the relatively young lambic drinkers in America, there is a mind set that the more sour a beer is means the better the beer is.  American brewers know this and some even keep a "sour barrel" handy that they blend into the final batch to increase the sour profile.  However, Belgian Lambics do not have much of any acetic acid flavor in their lambics.  I don't know if they go as far as to call it an off flavor, but I personally do.  I don't care for it in my lambics.

At this point, this barrel is useless to me.  With a healthy supply of O2, acetobacter will continue to convert alcohol into acetic acid.  Allowed to continue, I will have vinegar.  Maybe I'll make a mustard with it?

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