Behold: My 7th anniversary present from Lindsey!
Yup, that is a 6.9 gallon barrel that was originally used by Tuthilltown Spirits to age their Manhattan Rye Whiskey. The beauty of barrels like this is that they hold on to the flavor of the whiskey that they age. Then, when the barrels are used to hold beer, the flavors are imparted on the beer. Barrels are like the giving tree of the alcohol world.
A couple things you should know about aging beer in barrels:
1) You can age in a new barrel or a used barrel. They will impart different flavors, so choose the barrel based on the flavors you want.
2) Age a style that can stand up to the barrel flavors. Unless you want to make a completely oak flavored beer, make sure to choose a flavorful beer that will be complemented by the oak. This is why the most common aged beers are Imperial Stouts or Imperial IPAs. Select breweries age lighter beers (Allagash, Innis & Gunn), but keep in mind that they actually know what their doing. I decided to rye barrel-age my Belgian Dubbel.
The first step to aging your beer is to brew it, obviously. Once the beer is fully finished fermenting, you can transfer it into the barrel for aging. There are a lot of opinions about how to sanitize the barrel. Some say to fill the barrel with boiling water. Others say to use a high proof liquor. Still others say that you don't need to, as the whiskey in the wood keeps it sanitized. I played it safe and used the boiling water.
As the beer sits in the barrel, it will gradually pick up the flavors in the wood. The aging time really depends on the size of the barrel, the desired amount of flavor, and what kind of barrel it is. The best method is to occasionally taste the beer while it is aging and decide for yourself when enough is enough. I decided to let my beer age for 2 weeks. I did some tasting as I went and the beer certainly has a strong rye flavor. It's a good thing that I like rye.
When it was done, I bottled it up. For kicks, I put wax tops on my beer bottles. My home brew store sells wax beads (more often used for wine). Rather than basically ruin a saucepan, I used a cleaned vegetable can to hold the wax. It worked out really well. Here is what you need to do:
1) Clean and remove the label from a tin can.
2) Start boiling water in a saucepan.
3) Add as many of the wax beads as you want to the can.
4) Put the can in the water, pouring out water until the can doesn't float.
5) Use pliers to hold the can as you stir the wax.
6) Dip a bottle in the wax as deep as you desire. Let the wax dry however you want. Try a few ways and see what looks best.
7) Repeat, adding more wax beads when the level gets too low.
Note: You can recover any of the remaining wax in the can after it cools.
Lastly, make sure you rinse and sanitize the barrel after you bottle so that you can use it again.
If you are looking to do either of these things, you can send me an email. I'm no expert, but I have a little incite now, having already gone through the process. Google is also a good resource (as it is for everything).
If you want me to look at a particular beer, drink, place, or have anything to say to me, email me at email@example.com. You can send me cool photos too, if you like.