Brewing Technique: A Second Chance for Barrels | Craft Beer & Brewing

Brewing Technique: A Second Chance for Barrels

If you have a barrel program, at some point, you’re going to have leaky barrels. At Revolution Brewing in Chicago, Marty Scott, who oversees the barrel program, gathered more than two dozen leaky barrels and found a way to give the beer a second chance.

Marty Scott 2 months ago


Photo by Revolution Brewing Co.

We’ve got more than 1,000 oak barrels in our inventory, each holding one of a handful of base beers. Sometimes, some of the barrels wind up leaking. It’s a micro-biohazard for the rest of the barrels on the stack. And it can breed fruit flies, make a mess, smell bad, and cause general growth of things we don’t want. Because these are in our taproom, it becomes time-consuming to keep cleaning up after them. So rather than spend my time cleaning up after them or considering them a loss, we decided to make some cool one-off beers. It’s a barrel-rescue program that internally we call the Sanctuary Barrel Program.

First, I moved the leaking barrels into the brewery, and we ordered some nice fresh barrels from our supplier and started racking them—soft plumbing the good beer from the leaky barrels to the new ones. But what with absorption, evaporation, and leaking, we didn’t have enough to fill a complete barrel during transfer; we’d have headspace. So we paired base beers that were similar.

We tried to match from the same batch, but sometimes that didn’t work, and sometimes we had to blend different styles of beer. When we had a new full barrel, we documented where the blend came from, the proportions, and all the pertinent information. When all was said and done with the first rescue barrels, we wound up with twenty-five totally unique double bourbon barrel–aged beers.

This is exciting in a lot of ways. We always want to use traditional methods whenever possible, and this is another way that we can express ourselves and our beers without relying on adjuncts.

In this first batch, new barrels one through twenty-four are all Haven Hill bourbon and number twenty-five is an American rye-whiskey barrel. Most of the barrels we transferred from were bourbon barrels, but we had one that was a finishing cask. Most of the beers we transferred were stouts of different kinds, but there was a barleywine, rye-wine, and Scotch ale in there as well.

I did my best to mix up the beer coming from different varietals. There was a little bit of art, a little bit of science, and a little bit of just sitting back and seeing what happens. We’ll release these beers at the brewpub and at special events. It’s just great that we have a place for these beers and that they could be saved. They got to a safe place.


Next year, we’ll order new barrels specifically sourced for the program. We’ll adapt with whatever we’ve learned this time.