Wood Chip Experiment #1

The Idea

Ah! Aging in stuff in wood. It just sounds cool, right? Well, that’s why I gave it a go. Since aging beer in a barrel requires the capital expenditure of a barrel, I decided to find a less expensive option: enter wood chips.

For this experiment, wood chips will be added to the secondary. In my brewing adventures so far, I’ve been skipping racking to secondary – out of concern for risk for increased contamination opportunities as well as general sloth. However, this fancy beer will require a fancy process.

One ounces of apple wood chips (by weight) are soaked in six ounces of bourbon (by volume) as early as brew day.

Apple wood chips soaking in bourbon.
Apple wood chips soaking in bourbon.

Gravity

I set a new record for original gravity: 1.136. This drink is going to be boozey! If my calcuations are correct, I may expect an ABV of roughly 13% – not including the contribution of the bourbon – which would bring it up to about 15%:

Liquid Volume ABV Alcohol
Beer 66 13.0% 8.58
Bourbon 6 45.6% 2.736
Total 72 15.7% 11.316

 

The high OG was despite increasing my efficiency to 75% with this recipe – as I used 65% as a reference point when┬árunning the calculations previously. Part of the reason for the high OG was that the wort boiled down to a considerable amount.

Original gravity is at a record: 1.136!
Original gravity is at a record: 1.136!

I’m still playing with the amount of water I use for the wort. For this round, I used 1.4 gallons – which boiled down to may be to two-thirds of a gallon. Normally this would be problematic, but since I need lots of room in the fermentation vessel for the wort to do it’s thing, it’s not a terrible idea. Perhaps, 1.4 gallons is good best practice for high alcohol ABV projects. However, the other thing to consider is increasing your efficiency calculations. According to BrewersFriend, my efficiency would be 100% to reach this OG.

Lots of space in the primary carboy.
Lots of space in the primary carboy.

Racking Day: 2/24/16

The final gravity, measured when moving the brew to a secondary fermenter, clocked in at 1.032 – making for an ABV of roughly 13.5%. Woah. I racked to secondary about a week later than customary: three weeks instead of the conventional two.

Jpeg

However, I normally don’t rack to secondary at all – for fear of additional chance of contamination. I did this time, racked to secondary, for a couple reasons. Firstly, I wanted to measure the attenuation – the progress of fermentation. From what I had heard from other home brewers, making a high ABV beer required different techniques than brewing a low gravity beer. I used the customary technique for a low gravity beer, so I was weary that I didn’t achieve successful and/or complete fermentation. This was not the case. In my first experiment, brewing a high gravity beer is no different than brewing a low gravity beer!

Jpeg

Secondly, I need to add the wood chips. As mentioned, the wood chips were soaked in bourbon for several weeks. I transferred only the wood chips – and not bourbon – into the secondary carboy. In went the beer with the wood chips. Some of the wood chips didn’t make it into the barrel. I’ll make an estimate between 1/2 of an ounce and one ounce. I painstakingly used sanitized tongs to move the wood chips from the bourbon bath to the secondary fermenter. That’s got to a be better way to do this.

The Results

This beer is amazing beyond words. I think this beer would go for $20 a bomber in the retail world. The bourbon notes are fantastic – and are actually a familiar and good compliment to the high ABV. This is the best beer I’ve ever brewed. In fact it’s so good, that I’m going to brew it again right meow. Well, maybe I’ll make a City of the Dead clone instead.

The Recipe