Are You Treating Your Barrels The Best? Tips on Storage & Care

In an ongoing series, Brewer will take a small note from interviews of some of the Fundamental stories it has run and give a small tidbit that didn’t make the issue but is still worth diving into.
Next-Level Barrel-Aging Tips” appears in the July/August issue of Brewer.

In an earlier part of this series, Brewer discussed sourcing opportunities for many breweries. After finding a broker or a distillery, winery, or other source, breweries must work on inspection and care of the barrels in its fleet.

Phil Roche, the Head Brewer for Ecliptic Brewing explains that they do a visual inspection, along with looking and smelling the inside.

“We then fill them with 200-degree water and look for any leaks,” he added. “When we are ready to fill barrels, we purge them with CO2 first and then fill.”

One recent addition to Funkwerks’ barrel program is a steam generator.

“Having the ability to ‘nuke’ a barrel if needed and reinoculated is a nice option versus retiring it,” said Gordon Schuck, the head brewer and co-founder at Funkwerks.

Quality is never a guarantee with wood, added Cascade Lakes’ Ryan Schmiege, so trusting the people and their processes in sourcing is his best QA.

“Also, acquiring barrels as soon as possible after they have been emptied and filling them soon after is key,” he said.

Cascade Lakes is starting small and has a total of 20 oak barrels.

“We don’t have a lot of the toys and tools of large barrel programs, so we rely on the knowledge and diligence of our brewing and packaging teams to use best practices with these projects just like the rest of our beers,” Schmiege said. “A great, diligent team goes a long way.”

Weldwerks currently has two separate barrel rooms, which can be daunting since one of them is also shared space for taproom storage, said Skip Schwartz who is the Innovation and Wood Cellar Lead at WeldWerks.

“I spend a lot of time and effort keeping the barrels organized by age, as well as having all the proper paperwork on each barrel,” he said. “I have learned over the years that the more info you have on the barrel itself certainly helps, but also having that tied to a spreadsheet can be a lifesaver.”

Coming up with a barrel numbering system that works for you can also be super helpful. Schwartz said he likes to number barrels so he can tell the age of the beer inside with just this number alone.

An example he gave was barrel #190402. It was the second barrel filled in April of 2019. The first two digits of the number represent the year the barrel was filled, the second two digits represent the month, and the last two digits represent the order in which it was filled.

“We warehouse anywhere between 350-400 53-gallon oak barrels at any given time, so it can sometimes be a bit of a nightmare trying to find the oldest ones,” he said. “Even with diligent note taking and spreadsheets, we have had some from past years fall through the cracks. For example last year we found a few barrels of 24-month-old Double Barrel Sweet Disposition (a barrel-aged Stout collab brewed with our friends Mikerphone Brewing Company out of Elk Grove Village, Illinois) It was a fun surprise for all of the fans of the regular barrel-aged Sweet Disposition that had come out a year prior, but it definitely made us step up our barrel tracking and organization process.”

Storage has been a problem for Scofflaw. The Georgia brewery currently has over 250 oak barrels that Head Brewer and Wood Cellar Manager Joe McIntyre is constantly trying to figure out where to store.

“It seems every time they find a new home we are reclaiming that space for some new equipment,” he said. “With steady growth comes its own set of challenges. Challenges we are happy to take on though.”

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