Friday, June 21, 2013

Rye Barrel Aged Rye Strong Ale... and Coasters

Besides carpentry, I also dabble in home brewing. Have been since I was 13. Yep, 13. Anyway, for a few years my family and I had kicked around the idea of barrel aging a beer. The problem with barrel aging beer is that barrels tend to be big... really big... like 250 gallons big. I was at a beer and art show in Chicago with my girlfriend (everyone drank the beer, a few people looked at the art, let's just call it a beer show), and got to talking about the barrels are too damn big problem with one of the brewers there. He tipped me off to a company that distills small batch single barrel whiskeys and sells their barrels. Woodinville Whiskey Co., thank you for aging whiskey 8 glorious gallons at a time.

I ordered a whiskey barrel, they sent a rye barrel, and my brother came up with a beer recipe that featured rye as a grain. It ended up being sort of a mutt of a beer without a good home in one style or another. It's not quite a porter or stout; thankfully English Strong Ale is designed to be a catch-all style, so that's what we're calling it.

We brewed 10 gallons (two batches) and put eight gallons into the barrel after we got through with secondary fermentation. Every day or two I used a thief to pull a taste of the beer from the barrel. Barrel aged beers, in my opinion, can be great and boy can they be awful. Too long in the barrel, and the beer ends up just tasting like oak and whiskey and you lose the flavor of the beer. The timeline for ours was shorter than some because our barrel was smaller, so the volume to interior surface area ratio was tipped in the favor of surface area, meaning the barrel was going to flavor the beer faster.

We pulled the beer from the cask after a couple weeks and bottled it. It has been bottle conditioning since February or so and it's just getting to a good age for drinking.

It's got body and strong rye whiskey flavors without being too overpowering. The alcohol content is in the 6ish percent area, which is stronger than some beers, but much much lower than many beers we've made before. It's delicious.

Oh, and I built the coasters that the glass and bottle are sitting on. I wanted to have some good coasters to go with my tables, so I took some maple cut it into four inch squares, rounded it over with a router, and finished it with a waterproof spar varnish (sometimes called marine varnish). Then I took a piece of mahogany and made a base for the coasters to sit in, that way it sort of goes with the tables.

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