Adding Wood Flavor To Your Homebrew

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

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.

Formats

Let us first begin with covering the ways of getting wood flavor into your beer.

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Powder

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.

Shavings

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.

Chips

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.

Cubes

Hungarian wood oak cubesThese 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.

Spirals

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.

Sticks

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 saRivertown Wood Barrelsy 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.

Offensive wood

American Oak

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.

Hungarian Oak

A lesser known option but still delicious none the less. Hungarian Oak provides subtle notes of vanilla, roasted coffee, bittersweet chocolate, and black pepper.

French Oak

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.

Spanish Cedar

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.

Special Mentions

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.

Using Wood

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.a.campbell@gmail.com and as always keep the beer flowing and your knowledge growing.

Horse and Barrel Bourbon Bar

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I have to admit that I was a little skeptical when I heard that there was another bourbon bar opening in Cincinnati. Most bars in the area already have a pretty good selection and I have been really hoping for someone to go in a crazy new direction and open a tiki bar. But when the Horse and Barrel opened on Walnut Street downtown, I immediately heard good things about it from my whiskey friends. Then, when I met one of the owners and much of the staff at the January meeting of the Greater Cincinnati Bourbon Society and learned more about the history behind the bar, I knew it was worth checking out.

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The owners of the Horse and Barrel, who also own Nicholson’s Scottish Pub, have deep ties to Kentucky and used to own a bourbon bar called Horse and Barrel attached to their Lexington deSha’s restaurant before it closed. So this isn’t so much a brand new bourbon bar hopping on the whiskey bandwagon but more of an established bar opening for the first time in Cincinnati. I had such a great time talking to the group at the meeting that Charlie and I went down to check them out last Sunday at the opening party.

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The presentation and selection of the bourbon was all very well done. Unfortunately after being open for only a few weeks most of the rare bottles they had started with were already sold out, but they still had a great mix of old favorites and lesser known whiskeys. The cocktails were mixed perfectly and they had a nice selection of classic and creative cocktails on the menu. I thought the beer selection was also great compared to most whiskey bars I have been to. The food was outstanding, and something that many bars downtown are missing. I am craving some more of the blue cheese dip with fried bread even as I write this. And I do think that having the Horse and Barrel, a bar known for its bourbon, attached to Nicholson’s, a bar known for its scotch, is a great combination for one-stop whiskey drinking in Cincinnati.

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It is still hard to compete with bourbon bars in Kentucky based on selection but until Ohio changes its liquor laws it is nice to have a good bourbon bar downtown, especially for people who are visiting the area and want to try some local flavor without venturing over the river. Now if someone can just get on opening that tiki bar for me I will be really happy.

 

 

 

Few Spirits Gin Review

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I have written in the past about the boom in craft distilling and how heartbreaking it can be when the cute little distillery with the beautiful bottle that you just paid $50 for turns out to be putting out less than impressive product. So it was with excitement but also a little cynicism that I opened my box of samples from Few Spirits in Evanston, IL. The samples included three different gins, a bourbon, and a rye whiskey.  My first thought on seeing the whiskeys was to wonder where they were sourcing from. When I read the informational materials and learned that Few ferments, distills, and bottles all of its products from scratch in their distillery I had to reevaluate my expectations. Turns out that the Few Spirits blew those expectations out of the water. Charlie and I tried the three gins included in the sampler, Few American Gin, Barrel Gin, and Standard Issue Gin on Episode 137 of The Charlie Tonic Hour and I can tell you that it was one of the most enthusiastic drink segments of the show’s history. Here are the details of the three gins.

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Few American Gin: First the basics. It’s made with a bourbon mash of 70% corn, 20% wheat, and 10% malted barley and flavored with 11 botanicals including juniper, bitter orange, lemon peel and fresh vanilla and weighs in at a modest 80 proof. The nose is sweet, heavy on the corn but I can smell mint and vanilla as well. It is smooth with a gentle burn on the finish. The juniper isn’t overpowering but it is not as citrus heavy as other American-style gins I have tried. There is almost a hoppy quality to the flavor but it is nicely balanced by the sweeter notes. The vanilla is surprisingly easy to pick out. When I watered it down I felt that the flavors got too diluted but I think this would make a lovely gin and tonic. Retails for $39.99.

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Few Barrel Gin: The info materials state that the Barrel Gin is made with a more neutral base spirit which I am interpreting as having fewer botanicals than their American or Standard Issue gin. Then they age the gin in a mix of new American Oak and used bourbon and rye barrels. The Barrel Gin is 93 proof. Barrel aged gins have been popping up all over the place lately. I can see how some people might think that they are a bit gimmicky I have to admit that I kind of love them. They just taste like nothing else out there. Few Barrel Gin has a lot more body and spice than other bourbon barrel gins I have tried. I think using a blend of different barrels was a very good choice. The predominant flavors are mint and a sweet cinnamon with notes of vanilla. The only problem with barrel gins that I have found is that they really don’t work in cocktails for me. Few recommends making a “Ginhattan” with it but I am skeptical. So far I have stuck with sipping it. Retails for $49.99.

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Few Standard-Issue Gin: This gin is 114 proof. I mention that first because the high-proof is a big part of what defines this style of gin, which is often referred to as navy strength gin. The story behind this is that when British sailors received their daily ration of gin it had to have enough alcohol so that the gunpowder could still ignite if the gin was accidentally spilled on it. Along with the higher alcohol content a navy gin would have been drier than American gins. To balance this dryness Few added a hefty dose of fennel to balance it out. The result is a gin that will put hairs on your chest but is also surprisingly reminiscent of those candies you get at an Indian restaurant. Surprisingly smooth for the proof, the juniper flavors come on strong and there is a bitterness you can feel on the tongue rather than taste, but the finish leaves a strong impression of licorice. With water the burn was greatly diminished and the softer flavors came out more. I think this would be a great cocktail gin, perhaps with a gimlet. Retails for $39.99.

Right now Few Spirits are not available in stores in Ohio and Kentucky but you can order them online. Next time I am in Chicago I will make a point of visiting the distiller and picking up a few bottles.

Beer Review: Great Divide Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti

In the beginning of my adventure into stouts I had one of Great Divide’s Oak Aged Yeti bottles and didn’t think too highly of it. With all the other imperial stouts coming out recently I decided to pick up the Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti and give it my thoughts. First off here is Great Divide’s sales pitch:

CHOCOLATE OAK AGED YETI IMPERIAL STOUT is another revered incarnation of our legendary imperial stout. We toned down the hops a bit to allow cocoa nibs to contribute some pleasing bitterness, while vanilla notes from the oak combine with the cocoa to create an aroma and flavor akin to a gourmet chocolate bar. A dash of cayenne keeps things lively, adding just a bit of heat to the finish. Another great Yeti? Hell yes.

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