As I said a few weeks ago in my homebrew water treatment introduction, you have to know your source water profile before you can begin to make adjustments. I decided to submit my water and get a water profile report from Ward Labs who appear to be the go-to company for this type of thing.
What started with a free book for renewing my American Homebrew Association membership has turned into a two-month long quest to learn about homebrew water treatment.
What follows is my best attempt to share what I have learned. I will say now, some of this may be wrong, but it’s the best I can understand now and I’m relatively confident that it is correct. If I misstate something please leave a comment and I’ll get it corrected.
Get you chuckles out of the way as I’m gonna say wood a lot in this one… heh, wood. Now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s get down to business!
Wood aging beer has occurred for thousands of years, from casks to massive oak vats, as long as beer has flown so has wood encased it. There are nearly as many ways to get these flavors into a beer as there are woods to choose from. Within this article, I will cover the types of wood I’ve both heard of and used, plus a few new ones.
Let us first begin with covering the ways of getting wood flavor into your beer.
I’m not going to sugar coat things here folks. Powder is a cheap, fast and dirty way to get wood flavor into your brew. I’m not saying it’s sawdust… but it’s sawdust. If you don’t have time to let a batch sit and absorb the flavor then, by all means, go for it.
Not quite as down and dirty as it’s powdered counterpart. They don’t offer a terribly large amount of character but in a pinch, they will do the trick. They do offer a quick infusing of character, though.
An old standard, most homebrewers have soaked these in some spirit or potent potable at one time or another. Ideal for a beginner trying to add wood character to a beer. These lack the complexity you get from cubes, spirals, or an actual barrel while still offer a nice wood note.
These lil’ guys are essentially staves from a barrel cut into little bite-sized pieces for easier use. They will have both toasted and untoasted sides. It’s through these that you can get the flavors of the raw wood and the toasted wood.
A newer tool, at least in my brewing arsenal. Spirals make adding wood to beer super easy; there’s no weighing, you just plunk in one spiral per three gallons for a good character. The extraction is also pretty quick at six weeks compared to months from other options.
No, I’m not telling you to go and grab a tree branch and throw it in your fermenter. Sticks look like little planks of wood that you can throw into your fermenter and let the magic take place. I’m not sure my opinion of these as they just seem to allow the flavor to get into the beer quickly. Some manufacturers say that they cannot over flavor the beer. I have yet to test sticks, but I am doubtful.
An Actual MFin’ Barrel
The OG of getting wood into your beer is getting your beer into wood! I’ve
done most of the previously mentioned methods as well as the actual barrel, and I must say that the barrel is a huge pain in the ass, and the flavors therein can be imitated pretty easily. While it does look cool and feel awesome to have one. You aren’t any less of a brewer if you’re not stacking barrels 3 high.
Types of Wood
There are many trees on this planet, some tasty, some not, and some that will kill you. So I urge you to please do your research so you don’t get murdered by Mother Nature. Though, you probably deserve it. I know I do.
A staple in American bourbon production, American Oak shows up all over the place in homebrew stores. From vintner to brewer it finds its home in many a carboy. From light to heavy toast its flavors mutate quite nicely. With lighter toastings, American Oak manifests notes of vanilla, cream soda, and coconut. Whereas darker toasts will provide caramel, leather, and light tobacco notes.
A lesser known option but still delicious none the less. Hungarian Oak provides subtle notes of vanilla, roasted coffee, bittersweet chocolate, and black pepper.
One of my personal favorites when making wine or doing sour ales. French oak is a genuine delight imparting flavors of cinnamon, allspice, custard, Crème Brule, milk chocolate, and roasted coffee. It also gives a nice amount of aromatics plus sweetness on the mouth feel.
Another lesser used wood, Spanish Cedar is actually a type of Mahogany. I love using this stuff in beer that tends to be sweeter in its finish as the cedar dries out the beer pretty well. Spanish Cedar imparts flavors of grapefruit, sandalwood, white pepper, and hints of clove… as well as cedar.
Cherry, Hard Maple, Hickory, Red Oak, Sassafras, Soft Maple, White Ash, and Yellow Birch. I’ve not played with these, but I just found a place, Black Swan Barrels, that carries “honeycombs” made out of them as an alternative to barrel aging.
Amount and Time
I don’t think I’ve found any perfect amount for adding wood to a beer/wine; I find each type takes to different beers in different ways. I usually follow the old cooking motto: you can always add more, but you can’t take any out. With most wood, though, it will fall out in time, but I must say its character gets into things much faster than it gets out.
When to Wood
The best brewers don’t make a beer to add wood too; they add it to a beer that calls for it. Use your judgment when it comes to deciding to add wood to something. Don’t just do it because the recipe says to. At times, simplicity is your strongest ally.
I hope I’ve managed to cover any questions you may have about the addition of wood to your brewing. If you have any additional questions or would like to submit a topic for me to cover in one of these articles, contact me at Johnathon.firstname.lastname@example.org and as always keep the beer flowing and your knowledge growing.
There are many reasons we all first took that first step down the path to homebrewing, a want for a hobby that would get you drunk, a desire to customize beer to your palate, or perhaps you started to save a few bucks. Regardless of your reason for starting, we are all here. In this article that I will cover ways you can save money and get more out of your homebrewing beyond just beer.
[Ed. Note: This is a guest post from Jhon Campbell a.k.a The Wandering Beerd. Jhon’s a longtime homebrewer who wants to get into blogging so I offered to help him out. For more info on anything here you can email him at email@example.com. If you’d like to write about beer or homebrewing then email me at Tom@QueenCityDrinks.com]
In brewing, I have found that some people put too much focus on what one can’t do and not enough focus placed on what one can do. It is through this blog that I intend to attempt to share my experimentation with all things strange and unusual. With that said let us begin our journey together with one of my recent experiments.
Ed. Note: What follows is a rant by friend & sponsor of the blog Brent Osborn. As always if you’ve got something you want to say then shoot me an email at Tom@QueenCityDrinks.com and I’ll check it out. Personally, I abhor pumpkin beers, plus many other writers have already trodden this path. But, since Brent felt like ranting I was happy to post it!
Fall’s just around the corner.
Fall is a wonderful season: leaves changing color, football games, Reese’s pumpkins, hoodies, fires, and all that good stuff. Yet it’s also a time I dread for one very specific reason: the pumpkin-spice apocalypse. The list of pumpkin-spiced things has grown from run-of-the-mill lattes to include Oreos, gum, and even english muffins. But the worst culprit—the bane of my existence this time of year—is the pumpkin beer. And in case you didn’t notice the endcaps are full of pumpkin beers.
It is hard to find classes to learn about beer, and even harder to find ones with great teachers. Luckily two of our local breweries have started just such classes!
The Bird Haus Beer Series
The Bird Haus bills itself as “Cincinnati’s migrating classroom” where different organizations in the community will host classes on whatever they’re good at. In this case, Rhinegeist is hosting a series of 3 classes: The History of Rhinegeist, All of the Senses, and Study Abroad English Style Ales. I wasn’t aware of the History of Rhinegeist class, but as soon as I learned about All of the Senses I snapped up tickets. An off-flavor class hosted by Rhinegeist head brewer and BJCP National level judge Jim Matt? I’m there!!
Jim led us through the brewing process before pouring us samples of the off-flavors. He used Cougar as the base beer then added different chemicals to it to create a few common off-flavors.
We got to try each off-flavor then discuss and guess what we thought they were. I got half right. Luckily you rarely encounter these issues in homebrew competitions or production breweries. If you are a homebrewer or just curious about how beer can go bad I’d urge you to go to the next class like this. Which, as far as I know, will be next month at MadTree, but more on that soon.
The next Bird Haus/Rhinegeist class is all about the English beer tradition. There are still tickets available for that here. Unfortunately that’s all that’s scheduled for now, but hopefully they’ll line up more classes soon.
Luckily MadTree is kicking off their own Beer Class series!
MadTree Beer Class Series
One day last month I saw this pop-up on MadTree’s Facebook page and immediately snatched up tickets. Head brewer Jeff Hunt led the first class which focused on beer recipe formulation.
We received a great peek into his process for making beers and how the recipe comes together to result in the flavor profile he’s after. The classroom was in MadTree’s front room and homebrewers packed the house. Jeff skipped past the homebrew basics and led us into a discussion that sailed over my head on occasion. We were also treated to a few behind the scene bits about MadTree’s setup.
It wasn’t all just theoretical discussion of how Jeff makes a beer. We sampled 6 MadTree beers and learned why they are what they are, from idea to recipe, to name. Somehow I never knew that Happy Amber’s name came about because of a text auto-correction from Hoppy to Happy.
MadTree just posted the video of the Recipe Formulation class up on YouTube. Go check it out!
I can’t recommend the average beer enthusiast check out this class if they do it again. It was very homebrewer focused and in-depth. Luckily, MadTree has a slate of ideas for other classes lined up! The next class, set for April 22nd, is “Ask us anything”, tickets are already available here for $20 each. Sounds like a good opportunity to pick some of the brewer’s brains about everything from how they got into brewing to their beard care regimen.
May’s class hasn’t been fully nailed down yet though I’m told it’s May 19th and focus on flavor identification. This sounds like what I did at Rhinegeist. If you homebrew, are a beer judge and want a refresher, or are just curious about what can go right and wrong in beer then you’ll want to get tickets to this class.
From the sounds of it MadTree has a few more ideas up their sleeves for various classes. I’m extremely happy that they’re doing this, Rhinegeist has done it, and hopefully more local breweries will catch on with the idea.