In December 2014, a friend of a friend acquired a 53 gallon barrel that had previously held Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve whiskey for 9 years. It made its way from Kentucky to Ann Arbor and now lives in my basement.
Since then we’ve rotated beers through it. In order of fill date:
Tart of Darkness Stout (here we introduced Brett C., actually a strain of Brett Anomalous)
Belgian Golden Strong
We empty + refill every six months or so. The brewers are a rotating cast, with people dropping in and out. We typically aim to bring 11 shares of 5 gallons each, filling the barrel to the top and leaving some extra to top up the angel’s share.
This barrel has produced consistently good beers, and at this point the sour character is locked in. Beers from this barrel have won silver and gold medals in the American Wild Ale category at the 2016 & 2017 Michigan Beer Cup. Brewers often perform a tertiary fermentation on fruit – tart cherries are a favorite, this being Michigan – and sometimes blend with young or clean beers to cut sourness to taste.
I re-researched this every fall when it came time to backsweeten the previous year’s cider, so I wrote this guide to future me.
If you add sugar to hard cider and don’t want that addition to restart fermentation (which would increase alcohol and leave the cider even drier), you’ll need to stabilize it. The most common method in home cidermaking is to add both potassium sorbate and potassium sulfite. This guidance from BYO magazine on backsweetening provides background on the approach.
For each gallon of cider, use 1/2 tsp of potassium sorbate and 1/2 tsp of 10% sulfite solution (an extra step, but worth making – the solution is easier to work with than dry potassium sulfite).
How much potassium sorbate?
Winemakers talk more about sorbic acid, the relevant chemical; potassium sorbate is 74% sorbic acid. There are legal limits of 0.2 g/L (Europe) and 0.3 g/L (America); the sensory level for perceiving this chemical’s flavor is reported at 0.135 g/L.
Adjusting these from sorbic acid -> potassium sorbate (what a homebrewer weighs) gives legal limits of 0.26 g/L and 0.4 g/L, respectively, with a taste threshold of 0.18 g/L.
This was simple: the second runnings from Batch 72. The goal was two-fold:
Have a light, approachable beer on tap for guests who drink “regular” beer
A freebie: extra beer for little effort
Brewed March 24th, OG was ~1.036. We threw in a partial ounce of random hops for bittering and used S-O4 dry yeast for low attenuation.
By April 7th the FG was 1.013 and I kegged it. Roughly 3.0% ABV.
I served the beer from my cellar, at around 60 degrees, undercarbonated. It was a little thin, though great for blending with other beers on tap. For instance, blending it about 9:1 with my overly-sweet Belgian Dark Strong (~12%) on tap made for a highly drinkable session beer, leaving it slightly below 4% abv.
Like all of my second runnings beers, this keg blew way before the main batch – in this case, before the Imperial Stout was even packaged.
Having my brother in town as a helper, we decided to brew a partigyle beer: 11 gallons of Imperial Stout and a 2nd-runnings Mild. I used the same recipe I came up with for the first beer in the Knob Creek barrel. That beer was outstanding after blending with 10 other people’s beer and barrel-aging; as I recall, mine was pretty good going into the barrel, too.
There’s a closet in my basement that hovers near 50 degrees in the winter. So before spring arrives, I wanted to take advantage of my natural “temperature control” and brew a lager. I don’t brew many lagers, but the provocative Brulosophy experiments on lager yeast fermentation temperature gave me peace of mind that if a warm spell comes through and the room gets a little warmer, it’ll be fine.
This was a convenience recipe in other regards. I used dry yeast to avoid needing a massive starter and I used up half a bag of leftover pils malt. And I ran off 5 gallons of wort before adding flame-out hops, to ferment with an ale yeast and use to top up the 53 gallon barrel at my house that is mostly full of funky dark saison. It’s nice to get rid of the headspace in the barrel, and we wager no one will notice 10% of hoppy Belgian ale blended in.
This is one of my favorite parts of using a plate chiller: being able to split batches by running off and chilling part of the brew, then adding and boiling as needed for the remaining share.
I’ve made country wine with Concord grapes, and wine from a kit that cost $2/bottle but tasted like $8/bottle. But I’d rather drink beer than wine I can get for $8/bottle. So I thought I’d try a kit that costs $6/bottle and see if it makes wine I actually want to drink.
In late 2016 I purchased the Winexpert Eclipse Lodi Ranch 11 Cabernet Sauvignon kit. Not sure what year that makes the grapes. I’m not going to write much about ingredients or process since I followed the kit directions, unless otherwise noted.
2017-02-04: “Brewed” this with my 2 y/o son. Despite the helper, kept good sanitation. OG was around 1.093, though perhaps more sugars dissolved in from the grape skins.
Fermentation temperature bounced around from the minimum (72F) up to the mid-80s, as I crudely warmed it through a Michigan basement in winter.
I stirred the grape skin bag back down into the must, near-daily, for the first week.
2017-02-13 – 9 days: racked to a glass carboy. Gravity is about .992! Wine yeasts don’t play.
This is the 5th beer we’ve put in the 53 gallon Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve oak barrel that lives in my basement. We decided to brew a dark saison, and came up with a recipe very closely based on this one by Michael Tonsmeire, his 6th, though others in the barrel used different yeasts from what’s listed here.
A friend came into a 53 gallon Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve 9 year whiskey barrel that now lives in my basement and houses homebrew. We’ve done a Russian Imperial Stout, a Scotch Ale, and an Oud Bruin. The fresh barrel contributed a massive oak character, but over 3 batches and 1.5 years, the oak faded. When the barrel naturally went sour during the Scotch Ale, we switched to intentionally soured beers and added 8 sachets of the Flemish Ale F4 blend from Blackman Yeast.
Next up is a sour stout, very low on hops (<10 IBUs), inspired by The Bruery’s Tart of Darkness. The low IBUs are friendlier to souring microbes and also avoid the clashing of bitterness and acidity.
The 2nd beer in the Knob Creek barrel collaboration.
I brewed two 5-gallon shares of this beer, in collaboration with a fellow barrel members. Others used different recipes. We brewed in summer 2015, then aged the beer in the barrel for about 6 months, pulling it January 2016. It went naturally sour in the barrel, making the sour aspect of this lambic-esque in that it spontaneously soured from organisms present in the surrounding environment.
I aged my ~4.5 gallons on 1.5lbs of wild black raspberries for another 4 months in a secondary carboy. It took a while to carb up, the result of have aged for over a year. I’ll add yeast at bottling for future barrel-aged sours. But carbed up eventually, and it’s good.
Summer 2016: this beer placed 2nd in the American Wild Ale category at the 2016 Michigan Beer Cup.
March 2017: funny that I originally worried about whether this would carbonate; it has continued to ferment in the bottle and now gushes upon opening if not very cold. Not coincidentally, it’s developing a more prominent Brett funk. If I had a 4th slot for this year’s Nat’l Homebrew Competition, I might enter it – which also means it’s not one of my top 3 beers right now. But it’s still quite nice.