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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