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.

more wood

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.

Learning About Beer: Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP)

In the world of beer, there are a few organizations that focus on certifying folks on their knowledge of beer. The big two are the Cicerone Certification Program (just called Cicerone) and the Beer Judge Certification Program (abbreviated BJCP). The primary difference between the two is in their focus. Cicerones focus on restaurants and serving craft beer while BJCP focuses on judging homebrew competitions. BJCP is also an all-volunteer organization while Cicerone is a private for-profit company.

I’m proud to say that I was recently certified as a Recognized level Beer Judge. I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you about it while my certified Cicerone friend Lindsey from Love Beer, Love Food will have a guest post for us on that soon.

BJCP

Continue reading “Learning About Beer: Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP)”

Bloggers First Home Brew

What follows should not be viewed as a how-to on homebrewing as we likely did things wrong, this is just my experience as a first-time homebrewer.

While hanging around the neighborhood fire pit, I discovered a neighbor who is interested in brewing beer and one who tried once before but gave up. With the 3 of us working together splitting costs and results I’d end up with about 18 bottles, a much more enticing number for me.

One last hurdle was that living in Monroe means a 45-minute drive to a homebrew store. That changed when Osborn Brewing opened only 10 minutes away. Brent, the owner, heard of our plans and invited us up to brew along with him last month.

Brew day

Steeping the grain

With the day at hand, we packed up the rig plus a couple of beers and headed to the store. With everything setup at the store, we began brewing… which is to say waiting, lots of waiting. Waiting for the grain to steep, waiting for the sweet wort to boil, waiting for the hopped wort to cool, and now waiting for the yeast to do its magic and turn that wort into a pale ale.

Overall not a bad way to spend the afternoon. You get up to do a bit of activity: check the temp every once in a while, drink a couple of beers, add some bittering hops, chew the fat, add some flavoring hops and keep on waiting.

Bottling day

After six days of waiting [which we later found out is way too short], the yeast appeared to stop doing its thing, and it was time to transfer our creation into bottles.

The entire bottling operation was easily the most amount of continuous effort we had exerted thus far in the process as there was no waiting around today. We had one guy pulling bottles off the tree, I was filling the bottles, and another person was picking them up to cap them. Then more waiting this time for 21 days. We only made it 14 days before impatience won and we cracked one open.

We ended up taking pale ale ingredients with brown ale instructions and made a not horrible hoppy session beer brown ale. Nice aroma and smooth caramel flavor with a decently bitter background. Some sweetness comes out stronger as it warms a bit though there was a bit of vinegar kind of off flavor. We may not have made what we intended, but we did make drinkable beer on our first time ou and as I finish this post our second brew is fermenting.

Beer gifts for the dads and grads

Father’s day is only two weeks away and college graduates are hopefully venturing off to work. It’s time for us, the dedicated craft beer consumer, to steer the recent grads away from their college days of buying the cheapest can they can. It’s time to usher them into the beautiful bountiful world of craft beer!

For those whose dads may have never escaped those college days of cheap beer, or may already be on the path towards great beer then we can help them enjoy those beers even more! Both of these thoughts work just as well for anyone, like myself, celebrating a summer birthday!

Spiegelau Glasses

If you’ve got a dad or grad who is drinking beer straight from the bottle or from a generic pint glass then this should be the top present to get them, and at $40 it’s not too pricey, especially considering what is included! The set includes the ever versatile (and my most used) tulip glass, a lager glass, a pilsner glass, and a weizen glass. I notice the biggest differences when using the tulip and weizen vs. a shaker.

The set runs $40 on Amazon if that’s too much or you don’t see the pilsner or lager glass being used then I strongly recommend at least getting a set of 2 tulip glasses which runs $25 on Amazon. These stemmed tulips are my default go to glass and the difference they make in flavor and especially aroma is mind blowingly profound.

Like the tulip glass above these IPA glasses make a noticeable impact on my enjoyment of the brews I put in. Not as versatile as the tulip since these only highlight aspects of IPAs, pale ales, and double/imperial IPAs. You can get plain ones on Amazon 2 for $20 or get the Dogfish Head logo or Sierra Nevada logo for $9 a piece at their respective sites. As a remind Dogfish Head & Sierra Nevada were part of the whole process to create these glasses, you can see my post on that here.

Books

If you or whoever you’re shopping for is headed to a beach vacation, or just a long plane ride for work, then a book is always a safe bet and the following are some great beer books.

First up is Mike Morgan’s Over-the-Rhine: When Beer was King ($15 for a dead tree/$10 for kindle). This is full of great stories about Cincinnati history, people, and oh yeah BEER! Check out my full review of the book here.

Next in the Cincinnati history department is a new book about the life of Christian Moerlein: The Man and his Brewery ($20). I haven’t checked this out yet but am looking forward to reading it and will post my thoughts when I do.

Switching tracks from Cincinnati beer to beer in general are the two following books.

Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink ($12 dead tree/$9 kindle) – It covers the history of beer, ingredients, styles, glasses, pairings and much more. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it helped me expand my knowledge of styles and what to expect from them. This is great for beginner craft beer lovers or the advanced folks who want to up their knowledge. My full review is here.

The Oxford Companion to Beer ($40 for dead tree/$12 for kindle) – I use this as a reference on almost every post I write. Not really for the beginner getting into beer but definitely good for your family/friendly advanced imbiber or home brewer. Now I’m mostly an ebook guy, hence referring to all these paper versions as “dead tree” editions. In this case I would NOT want an electronic version (though searching it could be easier…). It’s nice to have the heft and feel of a real encyclopedia like this.

Audacity of hops ($15 book/$10 kindle) – I’m currently in the process of reading this, about half way through and digging it. You probably want to be somewhat of a history junkie since there isn’t loads of indepth beer information in here, at least so far. It’s packed with great stories of what caused John Doe to found brewery ABC and how hard/easy it was, etc…

Magazines

Beer Advocate ($15/year) – Lots of people know about the beeradvocate.com site and check it out for quick reviews or info about styles but many I speak to weren’t aware there was a monthly magazine. I’ve been receving this for about 2 years and look forward to it every month. It’s mostly short articles about various facets of beer or the industry. There is always an interview with a brewer and 2 – 3 pages of reviews of new beers. They also just released a digital version on the Google Play Store.

All About Beer ($20/year) – I’ve been getting this for a while as well. I used to prefer Beer Advocate for their articles but All About Beer has stepped up their game recently and rolled out some really great feature articles.

Other Stuff

Beers not bombs bottle opener ($15) – I think this is a really cool idea. They take cables from old nuke launch silos, melt it down, and turn them into bottle openers! Plus 20% of their profits go to peace organizations. Kinda hippyish but you always need a bottle opener so you might as well have a bad ass one that goes to a good cause.

If recycled nuclear material is a bit off putting and not-your-style then check out Brewsees Sunglasses. They’re sleek looking sunglasses w/ bottle openers on the end! ($30)- Thanks to Sud Savant for this idea.

Growler on board ($30) – Being a 1-growler man I personally have no use for this… yet. But if you’ve ever tried to keep a growler up-right in the passenger seat on the way home from the brewery you already know the value this brings.

Home brewing start kit ($50 on Amazon) – I’m no home brewer nor do I have an interest in becoming one. But this is an ambition that is shared by many beer enthusiasts so I think it’d make a great present. I’m semi-hesitant linking to Amazon for something like this and I, personally, would be more apt to head to a local home brew store for their recommendations. So check out Listermann’s, Osborne Brewing, or Brew Monkey’s.

Beercation (beer-vacation)

Prices on this could vary tremendously. When I first did this list I said “getting a DD to spend a day driving from Rivertown to Mt. Carmel and end with dinner at the Moerlein Lager house”. Well we can now scratch that and you, your dad/grad, and your friends can get torn up thanks to Cincinnati’s own Tonic Tours (full disclosure: Tonic Tours is run by Ginny Tonic, a writer for this blog, and I have provided some advice for her). A step up would be a stop in Columbus for lunch at the Columbus Brewing Company (order the Bodhi) then heading on to Cleveland for Fat Heads & Great Lakes. Farther out would be a trip to Three Floyd’s and a night in Chicago.

From there the USA awaits you can hit the  Denver-Longmont-Ft. Collins area or head down to So.Cal and see Russian River, Stone, Lagunitas, 21st Amendment and all the other awesomeness around there. A personal favorite of mine that I can speak to from experience is Asheville, NC. I prefer mountains over cities and Asheville is nicely nestled in the Appalachians. Asheville also nets you some Colorado experience as Oskar Blues as a brewery setup near there and New Belgium should be up next year (assuming there aren’t more delays).

If you’re in a higher income bracket then myself the world opens up with London, Belgium, Dublin, and all the old brewing cities in Germany.

oh, and 1 more thing BEER!

Right, that stuff that we talk about all the time. I’m not gonna say what to get because everyone’s tastes differ but I don’t think anyone would be disappointed to get a new brew as a gift. If you have no idea what to get your family member then I’d suggest a gift card to one of the bigger stores that sell good beer like Jungle Jim’s or Party source. Better yet how about a gift card to one of the new smaller beer stores like Everything d’Vine. Other places may have gift cards but I’m not sure.

If you’ve got no idea what beer to buy and don’t like giving gift cards then I’d suggest a Beer of the month club ($40/month). There are a lot of different websites out there offering varying packages and prices but the gist is all the same. They send you new beers every month. From the poking around that I’ve done online halftimebeverage.com is what I would go with but I encourage you to shop around and decide what works for, and interests, you best.

What’s on your list?

If a lot of this seems familiar that’s because it’s based on my holiday post from last year. I’ll probably be doing this type of thing twice a year in summer and winter. So to help out me and all our readers out in the future please add any great gift ideas you’ve seen lately in the comments below! I’ll be sure to give you credit for your discover just like I did with Sud Savant.