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.
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.
Over the 4th of July, I smoked about 3 lbs of Pils malt on an old potbelly stove. It smoked with mesquite chips for a few hours in two batches, then was left to condition for ~7 weeks in an open paper grocery bag.
I first brewed a smoked porter with home-smoked malt in 2011. I used alder chips then, in an homage to Alaskan Brewing Co.’s Smoked Porter. It turned out well and the bottle I opened yesterday as I brewed the 2015 version has aged nicely. The biggest flaw is that the smoke flavor is too phenolic. I tried to avoid chlorinated water throughout the process but may not have succeeded.
My in-laws have an old potbelly stove sitting around. Some research indicates it was made around 1900. I smoked about 3 lbs of Pils malt on this stove on the 4th of July, and decided I’d see if it could crank out enough heat to brew a 5 gallon batch of beer.
The answer: almost.
It heated about 4.5 gallons of mash water fairly well, heating it 86.7 degrees in an hour. The slope leveled off a little as it reached strike temperature:
This performance of 390 degree-gallons per hour (when heating water starting at room temperature) is not too much worse than this same pot when I’m heating with a 1500W, 120V electric element – that setup yields about 480 degree-gallons per hour. Continue reading Homebrewing on a Potbelly Stove→