Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Exploring Oak Aging Alternatives Part 1: Background

I really enjoy oak aged and oak fermented beers. It might have something to do with my first real craft beer being a Firestone DBA. For the styles I enjoy the most (Farmhouse and sour styles), I find as an almost absolute rule that the beer is always better with some oak added. Oak adds a lot more than just flavor to beers and often adds what Brett and bacteria take away. With a caveat that you should use the proper amount and match the flavors correctly. I think of oak flavors as Belgian brewers often refer to spice additions, "The use of spices should enhance flavor notes already present, but if you can tell which spice has been used then you have added too much."

For our barrel program at Council Brewing, I wanted to decide how I was going to integrate oak into our batches. We are using almost exclusively neutral barrels, at least oak neutral, most of them still have some wine or spirit flavor remaining. This brought me to the point where I need to look at oak alternatives. I thought it would be a good idea to compile some of the work I've done lately for Council Brewing to really firm up some of my ideas on oak aging. As far as flavor, I've always had some good general ideas on what type of oak would work well in beers (i.e. med + or heavy toast American oak in clean, dark malt-forward beers and med or med + French oak in lighter, clean or funky yeast-forward beers), but I'll be writing in much more detail about specific flavors and profiles I think they match. For cost, ease of use and extraction rate, I've always used oak cubes, but have recently been exploring other options. It seemed the best idea to split this topic into 4 segments and explore each aspect in its own depth.

Exploring Oak Aging Alternatives Part 1: Background

Exploring Oak Aging Alternatives Part 2: Cost

Exploring Oak Aging Alternatives Part 3: Flavors

Exploring Oak Aging Alternatives Part 4: Extraction and Use

There is surprisingly little (useful) information available on the web (way too much generic wine speak). I have gathered together a few resources that are well put together and should give you a good basic understanding.

All About Oak and Red Wine - Written by Shea Comfort
Thee best overview on the basic components in oak and how they vary due to species (French, Hungarian and American), toast level (light, med, med +, heavy) and form (chips, cubes, segments, staves).

Firestone Walker Barrelworks Educational Posters
Covers most of  the same things as the Shea Comfort article, but is more graphic based and easier to understand based on your learning style. Even worthy of printing and hanging in your brew space.
Stage 1: The Oak
Stage 2: The Barrel
Stage 3: The Taste

It's good to be back writing again and the next part in this series should be posted in the coming weeks.
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