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Barrel Aging for Homebrewers

Here are 6 tips to help you get started barrel aging your own homebrew.

Neil Fisher Dec 6, 2016 - 11 min read

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Barrel aging opens up a wide range of flavors to patient homebrewers. From how to source barrels to aging on fruit, award-winning homebrewer Neil Fisher offers these helpful tips to get you started barrel aging your beer.

1. First, You Need a Barrel

Demand from commercial brewers has driven up prices on standard 63-gallon wine and 53-gallon spirits barrels, but smaller boutique distillers frequently use 10–15-gallon barrels that are unsuitable for the volume of commercial brewing yet are the perfect scale for many homebrewers. Neil Fisher, from Greeley, Colorado, approached several local micro-distilleries and found one willing to sell him recently emptied whiskey barrels for a reasonable price. The key when approaching these micro-distilleries is time—to get the best flavor from the barrel, it’s ideal to fill it with beer within a day or two of when the distiller emptied it. The more spirits that remain in the barrel, the better—they’ll keep the barrel sanitary. In the event that you can’t fill the barrel immediately, Fisher recommends keeping the barrel “wet” by using handles of off-the-shelf whiskey, rather than employing more dramatic methods such as sanitizers, hot water, or steam (roll the barrel at small intervals over time to keep the interior evenly coated with spirits).

Homebrew clubs are another great avenue for procuring barrels—many clubs have built relationships with local distillers and commercial brewers and receive offers when barrels are available (Odell Brewing offered Fisher’s club his Woodford Reserve bourbon barrel, and Crabtree Brewing has donated several barrels as well). For those who would rather dabble than commit, many clubs collaborate on club beers to generate enough volume to fill a 53-gallon barrel. The Fort Collins club, Liquid Poets Society, has brewed several such beers, with members filling a barrel at nearby New Belgium Brewing, but it would be just as easy to procure the more common 53-gallon barrels and fill them in a club member’s basement. Barrel brokers often give discounts based on order volume, so (as a club) it can be effective to approach a local brewery and add to their barrel orders rather than approaching a broker as an individual.

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