I recently brewed a be that is a little different than anything I have brewed before. I have dry-hopped beer and I have added dried fruits and honey to beer before, but on this beer I will be adding oak cubes and bourbon.
Brewing Beer With Bourbon and Oak
If you stop in to your local home brewing store you will probably see a whole section of unusual brewing ingredients that you might not have realized can be added to beer. Dried fruit is a popular one, especially for the Christmas season or in the hot days of summer, and honey and coffee are also popular additives. There are many spices such as coriander and anise that can be added. I have even seen such things as rose hips, spearmint, ginger, and lavender at the store down the street from me, though I would have to think that most of those are actually better for adding to wine.
I have even tried a stout that was fermented with spruce tips, although I would have to say that it was not a phenomenal beer in my estimation. I have also heard that some breweries, like Alaskan, use spruce tips in a few beers with great success. This is something that I might have to try out sometime.
Occassionally you hear about beer being aged in used bourbon barrels or in other styles of barrel. This seems to be an especially popular practice with porters and stouts. Used barrels are not cheap to acquire, though, which is why home brewing stores offer cubes of different types of wood to use in flavoring your beer.
The wood cubes that you buy from a brewing supply shop are not going to be pre-conditioned with a flavor like bourbon as an aging barrel would be. How do you get the same flavor then? The instructions in the kit that I bought say to soak the cubes in bourbon for one to two days and the add the cubes to the secondary fermenter for two weeks or so. This is after the beer was conditioned in the primary fermenter for two weeks and then transferred to the secondary fermenter and conditioned for two to three more weeks.
At the same time that you add the oak cubes you also add a pint of bourbon straight into the beer. This intrigues me quite a bit. Although the bourbon will be diluted into five gallons of beer it will surely contribute to the alcohol content of the beer and, of course, the flavor. Part of me wants to do an experiment – bottle some of the porter without the bourbon or the oak cube conditioning, condition some with just oak cubes (no idea how I would pull that off unless I used a growler or picked up an inexpensive one-gallon experimental brewing kit to use for the conditioning) and condition the rest of the beer with both the bourbon and the oak cubes. It would be very interesting to see the subtleties of difference between all three.
Have you ever brewed with any type of wood for conditioning the beer? How did it work for you?