For the second edition of Pimp My Beer, I want to try to experiment adding different spirit flavours to my beers. The most authentic way to do this would be to age your beer in a barrel that has previously housed the spirit you require (this works for wine barrels too).
However for home brewers this isn’t always feasible, barrel sizes are generally 200L+ capacity making them way too big for typical homebrew batches. However, there is another way to infuse your beer with the oak and spirit aromas and flavours – by soaking oak chips in spirits and then adding them to your beer post fermentation.
This is the method I’ve experimented with for this blog, adding 3 different types of oak chips – soaked in 3 different spirits – to 3 different beer styles as below:
- Port 66 Premium Continental Lager – as a lighter beer I’ll be adding French medium oak chips, soaked in tequila. French oak chips have a lighter toast level than American and so won’t overpower the flavour of the lager. Tequila should also add a nice subtle kick to the lager.
- Port 66 Amber Ale – as a distinctively malty and bitter beer, the toast flavours of the oak chips need to be robust enough to balance the strength of the whisky whilst not overpowering the beer. So for this beer I’ll be using American heavy oak chips soaked in whisky.
- Port 66 US IPA – to complement the strong hoppy aromas and flavours in this beer, I’ll be using American light oak chips and soaking them in rum. This should carry through adding a warmth and caramelised, toffee notes to the IPA.
In this experiment I syphoned off 4.5 litres wort from each kit into a separate demijohn and followed the fermentation instructions as normal.
I started soaking the oak chips at the start of fermentation, to make sure they take on as much flavour as possible, they were soaked in the various spirits for 7 days, topping up the spirits every couple of days as it gets absorbed by the wood. You should use 3g of oak chips per litre of beer. So for a full 23 litre Port 66 kit, you want about 70g of oak chips. As I’ve scaled the kits down to 4.5 litres, I’m using 13.5g of oak chips for each.
You want to pour enough of the spirit to just cover the chips, in whatever vessel you’re using. I’ve used a 100ml beaker for mine, but any suitable vessel will do. I then covered these with film and left to soak. The high alcohol strength in the spirits will kill off germs but it best to keep the vessel covered over the 7 days.
On day 7 add the oak chips, and the spirit they’re soaking in, to the fermenter. Allow to stand for 1 hour before adding the hops. Leave this to sit for another 3 days, taking a gravity reading each day.
If after 3 days you have a consistent gravity reading, you’re ready to bottle the beer. Be careful not to syphon any of the oak chips into the bottles – I used a hop sock over the end of my siphon to get it as clear as possible – and then bottle primed the beer.
Two weeks later, I gathered a few colleagues from our lab for a tasting and have summarised the feedback below:
Lager with French Medium Oak Chips soaked in Tequila:
Of the three beers, we could taste the spirit (tequila) the least in the lager, and although the oak flavour was there this was also less prominent than in the other beers. Overall the lager tasted really good and was really drinkable, however we felt it lacked a prominent tequila taste. For better results I would recommend increasing the amount of tequila and oak chips by 50%.
US IPA with American Light Oak Chips soaked in Rum:
The US IPA was chosen as the favourite out of the three beers, the taste of the rum and oak both came through beautifully adding depth, complexity and an alcohol warmth to the beer. For me the best thing about this beer was how well balanced all of the different flavour elements were, I wouldn’t change the dosage of anything – hops, malt, oak and rum all present without any overpowering the other, this made it a super drinkable beer that I could happily sup all night.
Amber Ale with American Heavy Oak Chips soaked in Whisky:
There was a much more prominent spirit taste in the amber ale and the Whisky aroma was pleasant and distinctive, giving the beer a welcoming warm and boozy character. A couple of us felt that the oak flavour was a little light, perhaps being overpowered by the spirit. This would be the only criticism, that the flavours in this one were slightly less balanced than the IPA, so this beer came in a close second favourite. If I were to brew it again I would increase the amount of Oak Chips by 50% whilst keeping the Whisky addition the same.
Although the US IPA w Rum was voted the favourite, all 3 of the beers were improved with the Oak & Spirit additions so I’d say this is definitely one experiment that people should try themselves. There’s so much scope for further experimentation too, I’m already looking at all of the half empty bottles of spirits I have lurking in the back of my cupboards thinking about how I could put them to use. Gin, Brandy, Schnapps, even red wine would all be interesting additions to experiment with.
If you’ve tried any oak chip/spirit additions with your beers, let us know how you’ve got on and any tips you have by commenting below. Also, if you try a Pimp My Beer technique or a variation of your own, let us know on Instagram by tagging us in a photo @port66 and using the hashtag #pimpmybeer so we pick it up.