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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sour Barrel Ale Project

The wine barrel from Hogshead Wine
I know I promised an update on my SCHF Split Batch Porter which is well on its way to being BaseCamp Breakfast and BaseCamp Dessert.  I promise I will do an update on them in a week or so when I keg the finished products.  This post will cover a far more exciting project – barrel aging.

A few months ago my brewing mentor Shawn got his hands on a couple of used 65 gallon wine barrels from a local winery.  The idea surfaced to fill one them with a red ale and then pitch a large culture of bugs to create a barrel aged sour ale.  The problem became filling the barrel as 65 gallons is a lot of beer to produce.   Shawn decided to launch a thread on the AHP Brew Club forum to recruit additional brewers.  In total 7 brewers participated.

That's a damn big fermenter
The next question in the fill became how to conduct the primary, this was a question that I had an answer too.  A little over a year ago I bought a 55 gallon food grade water drum from my friend and Mead Master Chad.   My reason for buying it was that one day I wanted to do a group brew and use it as a massive primary.  Over a year later that day had arrived and I offered it up to the group. The water drum was in great shape and only needed a light cleaning to get it into shape.  

At the beginning of April we met at the shop to outline the project and determine the style guidelines we would brew to.  I mentioned it was a red ale that we decided to lightly hop (under 20) with a targeted OG around 1.060-1.075.  It’s a huge range I know, but will even out around the up 1.060 range when combined.  We next settled on a brew date of April 15th for everyone to brew in the morning then meet at Shawn’s house for drop off and combining.  In addition to the 50 gallons we planned a group fermenting we set aside about 15 gallons to ferment by itself for topping off the barrel.  In total the range on production was between 26 and 5 gallons with Shawn brewing the bulk with 26 over a very long brewday that used every piece of equipment he had. 

The day before the brew I went over to Shawn’s house with the water drum so that we could study it to see what we needed to do to convert it from a sealed water drum to a massive primary fermenter.  There were two ports on the lid what upon closer examination turned out to contain 2 inch threaded end caps.  After unscrewing one we headed off to Lowe's to build a blow off tub.  The blow off adapter is made of three part which reduced it from 2 inches to 1.  We then took about 5 feet of 1 inch ID vinyl tubing and hose clamped it to the adapter.  We ran the tub up and over the fermenter pulling it back to its sides and into a bucket (which will be filled with sanitizer) using blue bungee cords.

I opened this after the wort was combined
After the conversion I headed over to the shop to grab my grain and ran into two of my fellow brewers also buying grain for the next day.  After a quick comparison of recipes it was noted that my mash temperature was too low.  I had been in a rush to finish it and clearly had forgotten to make the adjustments.

Brewday itself will probably go down as one of my smoothest.  Not only did I set a brewhouse efficiency record of 80% but I was extremely productive as well.  Between in process cleaning I was also able to plant my remaining hops and mow the lawn.  

In about two weeks I plan on heading back to Shawn’s to help him transfer the beer from the fermenter drum to the barrel.  After that it is a short 12 month wait to the final project.  In the meantime Shawn and I will try to figure out a use for the other barrel.  Maybe a big stout? 



Adding it to the barrel 

Sour Barrel Red
Flanders Red Ale
Type: All Grain
Date: 04/15/2012
Batch Size (fermenter): 11.50 gal
Brewer: Scott Bennett
Asst Brewer:  DG
Boil Size: 14.36 gal
Boil Time: 90 min
Equipment: SNB Brewhouse (Keggle and Cooler)
End of Boil Volume 12.48 gal
Brewhouse Efficiency: 80.00 %
Beer Profile
Est Original Gravity: 1.071
SG Measured Original Gravity: 1.071 SG
Bitterness: 16.8 IBUs
Est Color: 14.2 SRM 


9.00 lb Pale Malt (2 Row) UK (3.0 SRM) Grain 1 33.0 %
8.00 lb Wheat Malt, Bel (2.0 SRM) Grain 2 29.4 %
3.00 lb Carared (20.0 SRM) Grain 3 11.0 %
2.00 lb Caramel/Crystal Malt - 40L (40.0 SRM) Grain 4 7.3 %
1.00 lb Acid Malt (3.0 SRM) Grain 5 3.7 %
1.00 lb Victory Malt (25.0 SRM) Grain 6 3.7 %
0.25 lb Chocolate Malt (350.0 SRM) Grain 7 0.9 %
3.00 lb Wheat Dry Extract (8.0 SRM) Dry Extract 8 11.0 %

1.00 oz Northern Brewer [8.50 %] - Boil 75.0 min Hop 9 12.9 IBUs
1.00 oz Hallertauer [4.80 %] - Boil 18.0 min Hop 10 3.9 IBUs

2.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient (Boil 18.0 mins) Other 11 -

Mash Profile

Mash Name: Single Infusion, Full Body, Batch Sparge Total Grain Weight: 27.25 lb
Sparge Water: 9.71 gal Grain Temperature: 72.0 F
Sparge Temperature: 168.0 F Tun Temperature: 72.0 F
Adjust Temp for Equipment: FALSE Mash PH: 5.20

Mash Steps
Name Description Step Temperature Step Time
Mash In Add 7.80 gal of water at 167.9 F 156.0 F 60 min

Sparge Step: Batch sparge with 3 steps (Drain mash tun, 4.5gal, 4.5gal) of 168.0 F water

The water drum
Cutting the blow-off tube
The blow-off adapter
Completed blow-off tube
My current set-up
Mid sparge
Most wort I've boiled
Barely contained
Cool down
SNB Brewing: HopFarms
My Temp has been spiking back up post cool down.
I'm assuming residual heat from the keg.
The foam being pushed out by the wort
16.2 Bx = 1.071 SG
Needed a good long Ice Bath
Filling the drum
26 gallons in a day!


  1. This has been fun, I wish I could be there for the transfer to secondary, but I will be out of town.

    I am game for contributing to whatever you guys come up with.

  2. Very cool. You're my hero, Scott.


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