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Thread: Oak barrels

  1. #1

    Default Oak barrels

    Does aging mead in oak barrels cause any damage to the barrel or to the mead? Does it make any positive or negative difference in the final taste of the mead? Post your experiences, please.

  2. #2
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    Well first you need a good quality barrel, either a properly hydrated new barrel, or a used barrel that's been taken very good care of. I personally wouldn't have a previously used barrel unless I was very familiar with the owner.

    Barrels have two functions - they impart an oak essence and they serve to concentrate the wine or mead through the process of evaporation and low level exposure to oxygen. Mead will certainly benefit from barrel aging, just as wine or beer does, depending upon your goal for the final profile.

    Barrels require a lot of maintenance and vigilance but are well worth the expense.

  3. #3

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    Oak and mead go very well together. If you have the time, patience and know how, barrel aging will reward you with some excellent meads.

    It's a subject to be researched carefully. Size and volume of the barrel are important, amount of toasting, whether the barrel is new or not, ect.

    On the other hand, you can achieve the marrying of oak and mead by use of oak cubes, available through many home winemaking resources. Do a search on GotMead for oak and you'll find a lot of info. Narrow the search further to oak and Oskaar -- Oskaar is our oak guru on this site.
    <><><><><><><><><><>
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    Dan McFeeley

    "Meon an phobail a thogail trid an chultur"
    (The people's spirit is raised through culture)

  4. Default

    Most homebrew shops sell a wide selection of oak chips, powder, cubes, staves, extracts, etc.. I don't see any reason to own a barrel, with all this, unless you just want to own a barrel. They're high maintenance and it wouldn't take much to ruin one.

    You can split a batch when using chips and oak as much as you want. With barrels, you have to keep it filled at all times.


    Phil

  5. #5
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    There is apparently more to oak barrels than just oak. While aging in barrels there is some slow evaporation of H2O and alcohol that concentrates the flavors of the wine/mead. This is different from what occurs in glass or steel containers with barrel alternatives.

    I don't have space (or money) for a barrel right now, but as soon as I can find a way, I'm going to get one for myself. The LHBS that was here did a couple of barrel project that I participated in - the results made a believer out of me.

    Medsen
    Lanne pase toujou pi bon
    (Past years are always better)

  6. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Medsen Fey View Post
    I don't have space (or money) for a barrel right now, but as soon as I can find a way, I'm going to get one for myself. The LHBS that was here did a couple of barrel project that I participated in - the results made a believer out of me.
    If someone gave me a barrel I would either cut it in half and make foot stools out of it, or make a kick-ass looking jockey box out of it. Barrels must be kept constantly filled. Having a partially-filled barrel leaves you open to infection. Leaving it partially-filled for too long can result in some of the wood drying out, resulting in leaks.

    Phil

  7. #7
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    If someone gives you a barrel, please feel free to send it to me - I'll gladly pay the freight cost.

    Yes, a barrel does require some attention, but I've directly compared the results and
    I believe it can be worth the extra effort. Besides, what's so tough about keeping a Barrel filled?

    Medsen
    Lanne pase toujou pi bon
    (Past years are always better)

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by dogglebe View Post
    Most homebrew shops sell a wide selection of oak chips, powder, cubes, staves, extracts, etc.. I don't see any reason to own a barrel, with all this, unless you just want to own a barrel. They're high maintenance and it wouldn't take much to ruin one.

    You can split a batch when using chips and oak as much as you want. With barrels, you have to keep it filled at all times.


    Phil
    I've been using barrels for a very long time. The very simple reason to own them is that they are far superior to chips, cubes and other oak alternatives. The upkeep is actually pretty basic and simple, saturate and sanitize before filling, top up monthly when filled, rinse and sanitize after use, sulfur them periodically during the time that they are empty.

    It's no big deal, the materials are cheap and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to do it. I've found that many people who are initially unsure about barrels are quickly converted once they begin using them. It's like maintaining a fermenter, a brew system or any other part of the overall wine/mead/beermaking process. It has it's foibles like anything else. Ruining a barrel takes some effort, mostly it takes gross negligence.

    Upkeep is not a good reason to not get a barrel. Space limitation is the main reason to not own a barrel.

    Cheers, Oskaar
    Is it tasty . . . precious?

  9. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by dogglebe View Post
    Most homebrew shops sell a wide selection of oak chips, powder, cubes, staves, extracts, etc.. I don't see any reason to own a barrel, with all this, unless you just want to own a barrel. They're high maintenance and it wouldn't take much to ruin one.

    You can split a batch when using chips and oak as much as you want. With barrels, you have to keep it filled at all times.


    Phil

    For meadmakers going the non-barrel route, I recommend cubes and staves over the chips, powders, and extracts. There is quite a difference on how these alternatives are made.
    Cheers,
    Jason
    www.foxhillmead.com

  10. #10
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    I've read where some winemakers feel that oak spirals produce results better than cubes. I certainly don't have enough experience with them to have formed an opinion, but it might be something to test.
    Lanne pase toujou pi bon
    (Past years are always better)

  11. #11
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    Upkeep on my two barrels is simple: when I empty one, I have something else going in the same day.

  12. #12

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    I have 3 for wine and mead and wish I had the $ and space for many more. I was a bit hesitant at first, but find barrel prep and care to be a relatively easy task. Topping up isn't a big deal, as I will typically taste the aging wine or mead every 2-3 weeks.

  13. #13

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    I bought a small 10L barrel, hope it will be arriving here next week.
    This one: http://www.benedettishop.com.br/sist...roduto=1358689
    (the site is in portuguese, just click the image to get a better photo)
    ps: I'm from Brazil, and that's another reason I don't have access to special yeasts and airlocks, unless I buy it in the internet - there are no brewing stores near where I live (at least, not that I know of)

  14. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by PBakulic View Post
    Upkeep is not a good reason to not get a barrel. Space limitation is the main reason to not own a barrel.
    And then there's cost!

    I've been using chips almost since my first batch of mead. I think you would have more control with them than with a barrel. And I know enough people with barrel nightmares (mostly winemakers, but still).


    Phil

  15. #15

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    Muito bom! Suerte con your new barrel. Eu falo un poco de portuguese, maes sol un poco.
    If I could time travel, I'd probably use it to see how my brews were doing in the future.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by dogglebe View Post
    And then there's cost!

    I've been using chips almost since my first batch of mead. I think you would have more control with them than with a barrel. And I know enough people with barrel nightmares (mostly winemakers, but still).


    Phil
    Cost for a well made 30 gallon barrel is anywhere from $125 to $275 (my last one was $225 shipped and delivered) which is very reasonable. One of my buddies just picked up a nice new American Oak Barrel on sale for $75 (24 gallon) and wanted me to check on it for him. I was jealous immediately because it was a very nice barrel at an exceptional price.

    Control is very easy, you just rack out when the oak is at the level you want. Control with chips and cubes is trickier since they saturate and infuse more quickly. None of my many winemaking friends have had issues with their barrels, except that that they want more. They know people who know people who haven't ever had problems as well. There are people that they might know that I'm pretty sure haven't had problems either. I think my dog knows a few dogs that know people who haven't had problems as well, but I can't verify that.

    Oskaar
    Is it tasty . . . precious?

  17. #17

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by capoeirista13 View Post
    Muito bom! Suerte con your new barrel. Eu falo un poco de portuguese, maes sol un poco.
    You mixed some words of Portuguese with some of Spanish! lol
    Have you been to Brazil already? You fight capoeira?

    Quote Originally Posted by dogglebe View Post
    If someone gave me a barrel I would either cut it in half and make foot stools out of it, or make a kick-ass looking jockey box out of it. Barrels must be kept constantly filled. Having a partially-filled barrel leaves you open to infection. Leaving it partially-filled for too long can result in some of the wood drying out, resulting in leaks.

    Phil
    You must keep the barrel completely full at all times?
    How much time can you leave it partially filled before it is damaged?

  18. #18

    Default

    lol, yeah I learned spanish first in high school and tried teaching myself portuguese in college, its slow goingm lol. I wanted to learn because of capoeira, one of my mestres only speaks portuguese and spanish.
    If I could time travel, I'd probably use it to see how my brews were doing in the future.

  19. #19

    Default Confusion about Barrels

    Ok Barrel people, I've got confusions about the use of Barrels.

    I've read, read and read and have not been able to find any “procedural” use of oak barrels. How do you know how long to leave it in a barrel.......Now, I’ve used oak cubes in a number of my Meads and have had excellent results. The oak usually translates to the mead within a month at most. But what happens to the mead if left to age in a barrel for a longer term, 2 months, 6 months, say a year? There’s people who use new barrels, some use old barrels. Is there an ageing process for new barrels?

  20. #20
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    Depending on the size of the barrel the contact time will be longer. The smaller the barrel the larger the surface contact to volume ratio there is, and the shorter the mead/wine/beer/sake/brandy/etc. should be exposed lest the oak overrun the flavor of the beverage. You'll need a good glass wine thief that will pull between 25-50 ml of fluid and begin tasting after a week or so for a barrel/cask that is less than 20 gallons in size, a month or so up to 30 gallons and about three months at 60 gallon or greater. That's my general model. There are modifications based on new oak, used oak and neutral oak.

    New oak will require that you check a bit earlier on volumes up to 30 gallons (say two weeks), and on up to 60 gallons (about a month or six weeks). This is also dependent on what you are putting in the barrel. For traditional mead I'd stick with the formula above, for higher gravity melomels, metheglins, pyments, braggots, etc. a bit later. Generally you want to get the influence but not over the top depending on what you like when it comes to influence and character. You should have a good idea if you've used cubes, staves, dominos etc. If you've used chips, you'll need to re-train your palate a bit as chips give a mono-dimensional and disjointed impression of oak which takes a long time to mellow and integrate.

    Used oak (3-5 usages) you can factor another month or two on the larger volumes and another week or so on smaller volumes. Use barrels are good for traditionals. Barrels that have contained other beverages (wine, port, sherry, etc.) can lend some very favorable characters from the beverage that was aged within. Remember that whiskey, bourbon, rye and other spirits are aged in barrels that are sawn rather than split and have a rougher finish and charred toast level so you'll have to adjudicate what the influence you are trying to impart will be. Bourbon, Whiskey, Rye, Rum and Brandy barrels all impart some very nice flavors into your meads depending again on what it is you're putting in the barrel.

    Neutral oak (generally more than 5-8 useages) does not need to be checked as frequently as the two preceeding levels of usage. The character, flavor and oakiness will be minimal in contribution unless another type of beverage was stored in it (wine, whiskey, etc) in which case the flavor of the beverage will be more prevalent than the actual oak itself. There are hybrid barrels that are made of different types of oak that can have some very favorable effects on your mead as well. It's a matter of characteristics of each of the oak type used in the barrel, as well as what your palate prefers. Some folks like French Oak, others prefer American, others like Hungarian/Eastern European.

    I personally preferred the barrels from the oak forests in Croatia, which have pretty much become far and very few between. I generally prefer a light influence from American Oak in Metheglins, Red Pyments, Braggots and some varietal traditionals. I like French or Hungarian in cyser, traditional, white pyments, hippocras and some fruit melomels. In big berry melomels I like either American or French, and sometimes a layered influence from both. Starting with American and then into French Cooperage.

    That's my view. I'm sure there are others out there as well.
    Is it tasty . . . precious?

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