Pimp My Beer – Spirit Soaked Oak Chips

Chips Soaked Close Up

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.

Method

In this experiment I syphoned off 4.5 litres wort from each kit into a separate demijohn and followed the fermentation instructions as normal.

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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.

Spirits and Oak Chips

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.

Spirit Soaked Oak Chips

Oak Chips Soaked in Spirits – Day 1

Oak Chips Soaked in Spirits - Day 7

Oak Chips Soaked in Spirits – Day 7

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.

Tasting

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.

Summary

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.

8 Comments

  • Reply October 28, 2016

    ed_m

    Ooof… timely. (Albeit I was perusing the black IPA post)

    I just dropped some whisky soaked chips in with my Imperial Stout.
    I roasted them a little first in the oven and let them soak a few days (or until I had time to rack the stout) in whatever I had to hand (Bowmore as it turns out).

    Looks like I don’t need to leave them too long, I’ll have a taste this weekend and see how we’re progressing.

    • Reply October 31, 2016

      Samuel Williams

      Hi Ed, thanks for the comment – sounds like a good combination. Hopefully the toast level of the oak chips works with the stout, I’d be interested in hearing how it tastes if you want to keep us updated.

  • Reply January 6, 2017

    Austin

    Great post! I’m planning to use French oak chips soaked in rum in my next brown porter. It’s my first time trying this process, so I’m adding the flavored rum to only 4L of a 23L batch. I was considering just adding the flavored rum at bottling time (sans chips) in order to simplify the process. I’m wondering if you think this will be effective or if it’s important to add the chips to the fermentor and complete the 3-day soak described above. Also, wondering if there’s a risk of tannin extraction from either soaking the chips too long in either the spirits or main batch. Thanks in advance.

    • Reply January 10, 2017

      Paul Dodd

      Thank you! Whilst it is possible to add the spirit directly to the beer I find this can be a little one dimensional, overpowering and often adds a little sweetness to the beer which can result in it being unbalanced. If you want to just add spirits you might prefer to add the spirit to the glass when drinking the beer – this gives you a bit more control over the dosage and flavour and lets you experiment with different spirits.

      The oak chips are a way for homebrewers to replicate the barrel aging process that commercial breweries would use. As well as the spirit flavour you are getting vanilla and wood flavours from the oak and some tannins which add to the body and overall complexity of the beer. This all adds to drinking experience and makes a much more well-rounded and interesting beer.

      • Reply January 15, 2017

        Austin

        Thanks for your reply Paul. I think I was unclear in my previous post and I should clarify. I had planned to flavor the rum with oak chips to extract the oak flavor, but then add a measured amount of this oak-infused liquor at bottling time (skipping the intermediate steo of adding both the oak and rum to the fermentor for 3 days). I was just wondering if I’m losing any of the more complex flavors by skipping the 3 day soak. Sorry for the confusion.

        • Reply January 20, 2017

          Samuel Williams

          Hi Austin, if you skip this step you’re likely to lose most of the oak flavours and tannins you’ll get from the additional 3 days of soaking. The spirit alone can only take on so many of these flavours during the soaking process, and you might find they are far too subtle and diluted in the final beer by adding it at the bottling stage.

          By adding the chips with the spirit to the fermenter for 3 days, the beer will take on characteristics of both, before you’re ready to bottle. I hope this helps – let me know how you get on and if you do decide to skip the extra 3 days of soaking, how the beer turns out.

  • Reply January 27, 2017

    Austin

    Understood, thanks guys. I’m bottling the main batch this weekend, and based on your advice I’ll transfer a portion to secondary and complete the 3-day soak.

    • Reply January 27, 2017

      Samuel Williams

      That’s great to hear 🙂 feel free to update us on the outcome.

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