Adventures in Homebrewing often has 15 gallon FEW Spirits barrels in their Ann Arbor store taunting me, calling to me to buy them. I’ve reluctantly managed to resist the temptation telling myself “one day…”. Well, Adventures sent out a “spring cleaning” sale email a few weeks ago and I opened it to browse just in case something was good as I often do. Only this time something was really good! FEW Spirits barrels were on sale for $99.00 each and after a brief consultation with my wife (how much, where will it live, etc.) I became the proud owner of a 15 gallon FEW Spirits Rye Whiskey barrel.
Before I picked up the barrel I began planning how to strip the flavour out; my main use for it is going to be a single vessel solera instead of the multi-tiered setup I was previously planning. My mind was set on that end goal and I wanted that whiskey flavour gone. Not needing or wanting 15 gallons of whiskey barrel aged beer I emailed my club, the AABG, to see if anyone wanted to run some beer through it, no reason to completely waste the whiskey flavour after all. The response was lukewarm at best. Apparently no one else wanted 15 gallons of a barrel aged beer all to themselves either, though a few did throw their hat in the ring as potentials for a collaboration.
After picking my barrel up at the store I got it home and drilled out the wooden bung; there was a sudden rush of an amazing aroma. My mind was changed faster than I thought possible. I needed to put my own beer in it and harness this amazing aroma (and flavour I’m sure), and I think nearly as quickly as the decision was made to put my own beer in the barrel I knew it was going to be a wee heavy.
Barrel Aged Wee Heavy
I’ve had a few barrel aged wee heavies over the years, and I think most of them have been various years of AleSmith’s beer. It’s a style I think lends itself to barrel aging (or normal aging) very well, with a malt forward and Maillard compound rich flavour profile it stands up to a little oxygen exposure to increase complexity and the high abv mellows nicely as it matures. As I still don’t need 15 gallons of liquor barrel aged beer I went back to my club, this time with a concrete plan, and sought volunteers. It didn’t take long to get enough volunteers for the first batch and I think I might have three more for a second run as well. I put this recipe together, called it a wee heavy, and put it on the brewing schedule.
Two of the three beers have been brewed at this point, so we’re just awaiting the third. I hope to have this in the barrel before I head to HomeBrew Con in June.
The End Goal: Solera Barrel
The ultimate use for it, once it is no longer strongly imparting a whiskey flavour to the beers in it, is to turn it into a single vessel solera. I already have 5 gallons of what I intended to be the start of my multi-tiered solera waiting patiently in my basement (and it tastes great), so one more batch of my Belgian Dubbel would allow me to fill the barrel. From there I’d remove 5-7 gallons once a year or so to age with fruit (blackcurrant oud bruin?) or package straight, then refill with freshly fermented dubbel.
To get there I want to run at least two clean beers through the barrel to strip the flavour, three if I can manage to find enough people to do it. After that I’d give it a good hot soak or two and then do the first solera fill. If possible I’d like to have it filled with my dubbel by autumn.