Adding Barrels to the Brewery

I was finally successful in acquiring a couple reasonably priced barrels for use in the brewery.  I am lucky enough to have a friend who runs a great barrel-only fermentation brewery and he was kind enough to pass on some savings, so…no links for purchase.  This is more for preparing the barrels for use, maintenance, and care of the barrels.  I’ve also build a multi-use stand for the barrels that will be detailed here.

The barrels I was able to secure are as follows:

15 Gallon Fair Game Beverage Co. Apple Brandy
10 Gallon Woodinville Whiskey Co. Rye Whiskey Maple Barrel

To make the most efficient system for storing the barrels, I decided to use a furniture dolly that I purchased from Lowe’s a few years ago.  It’s a good base and is already on wheels.  The 1,000 pound capacity will also mean that I will not come close to the limit.  Since water weighs 8.34 pounds per gallon, 25 gallons of water would weigh 208.5 pounds.  Plenty of room for the barrels themselves, the second tier, weight of wort vs. water, adjuncts, yeast, etc.

Milwaukee 1,000-lb Capacity Wood Dolly

I modified the dolly with scrap wood that was lying around.  First two strips of 1×4 to go across the dolly, just behind the carpeted sections.  The opening in the dolly is JUST large enough that the 15 gallon barrel would slip off the carpeted runner on one side if left as is.  (We’ll discuss the liquid stains further down).

I countersunk the screws to attach the side runners.

Then I used a single scrap of 2×4 to cut the blocks that you see.  The angle doesn’t matter so much.  Just so you place them close enough to cradle the barrel and not let it roll.

I looked at the inside of the 15 gallon barrel and there was no mold.  The staves all seemed to be wet.  So, in my naivete, I simply bought two bottles of Fair Game Apple Brandy and poured them into the 15 gallon barrel.  The good news is that there were no leaks.

As discussed in the External HERMS Coil post, I brewed  Necrophiliac (Russian Imperial Stout) to age in this barrel.  To impart as much of the Apple Brandy flavor as possible, I decided to re-wet the barrel using the same spirits that were originally in it.  I will, of course, empty the barrel completely (back into the bottles) prior to filling the barrel with beer.

I then lucked upon the 10 gallon barrel and decided that the flavor profile would work nicely with Jezebel (Caramel Porter).  Before I could re-wet the second barrel, I wanted to make a second tier to the furniture dolly to hold it.

So I did.

It’s a super simple 2×4 structure that is tall enough to allow for a 3-piece airlock in the 15 gallon barrel sitting underneath.  This piece sits freely atop the furniture dolly with the weight of the full barrel keeping it in place.  It’s 23.5″ tall and the front/rear posts are 25.25″ apart.  The runners along the top are spaced to cradle the barrel with no rocking.  Of course, wood glue and counter sunk screws at every joint.

With that built, I was ready to place and re-wet the second barrel.  I found the perfect spot.

This picture shows the size difference between the barrels better:

So now that it’s in place, it’s time to re-wet!  Again, I looked inside and there was no mold.  The staves looked wetter than the other barrel!  So I mixed the Rye Whiskey and Maple Syrup in a flask and poured it in!

As soon as I did that, I made the starter wort for Jezebel.  Once that was done, I brought it into the same room as the barrels to place in the refrigerator to cool.  I immediately sensed disaster.  I mean, the room smelled great!  The fact that the great smell was all over the floor was NOT great.  The 10 gallon barrel was now empty.  Hence, the liquid stains in the first picture of this post.

I placed my 5L Flask of HOT liquid into the refrigerator while carefully stepping over the liquid (sticky) mess.  Then I started to swear,  and clean.  And swear some more.  Once everything was cleaned, I placed the 10 gallon barrel into the garage to deal with the next day.

Now, please forgive me.  I was so angry at myself for not properly preparing the barrel, that I do not have pictures of the process I went through to swell the staves.  The barrel is now water tight and I used this process from Midwest Supplies to do so:

First let’s get to know your barrel with a little anatomy lesson:

New barrel care:
The first thing to do when you get your barrel is to check for damage or defects. Make sure there are no cracked or dislocated Staves, ensure the Chime and Croze are intact and that there are no large gaps, If the barrel is excessively dry make sure the Hoops are in their proper location before proceeding to the next step.

Rehydrating your Barrel:
Depending on how long it has been since the barrel was made it will be dry and will need to be swollen with water to ensure a liquid tight seal.  There are two ways to do this, start with the first method and continue on with the second method (if necessary).

The French Method (Hot Water):
Start with hot chlorine free water. Warning: if you do not have a filter on your tap water and you are on a municipal water system you have chlorine in your water. If you set out the needed volume of water over night it should dissipate,
or use store bought water.

Fill the barrel to 20% of its volume with hot water, insert a solid bung, and give it a thorough shaking. There will be some spraying from between the Staves, this should subside quickly depending on how dry your barrel is.

Once the leaking from the Stave Joints has slowed down turn the barrel on its Head. Fill the outside of the Head that is facing up with hot water. Wait 20 minutes and turn the barrel over, fill the other Head with hot water and wait 20 minutes. At this point, if the barrel wasn’t overly dry, it should be water tight. To test this fill the barrel all the way up and watch for leaks. If there are any leaks leave it full of water for up to 24 hours (this is the second method). If your barrel still leaks after the 24 hour soak, empty and refill with fresh water and soak for 12 more hours. If it still leaks after 36 hours there is probably a structural flaw and you should not put beer in it (this happens in a very small percentage of barrels, contact the store if you experience this issue).

If your barrel is sealed it is ready for beer.

The full instruction sheet can be found HERE.

Luckily for me (and as dry as the barrel was!) this method worked.  I boiled up 15 gallons of water and filled the barrel 1/3 of the way through the bung hole.  The water was quickly running out of the barrel through the stave joints.  While I let it sit, I was wetting down the outside of the barrel.  Once the leaking slowed sufficiently, I rolled the barrel to wet more of the staves from the inside.  Once these staves started to slow the leaking, I rolled it again.  I kept up this process until I was back to the barrel with the bung facing up and only slow leaks.

I then placed the barrel upright on its head and filled the upward facing head area and let is sit for 40 minutes (as dry as the barrel was, I added time to every step).  I then flipped it and filled the other head area.  Once that was done, I placed the barrel back on its side and completely filled it with the hot water.  I placed the bung in the hole and let it sit for 4 hours.  Not only did this give the wood time to swell, the exterior of the barrel dried, making it easier to find leaks.  At the end of the 4 hours, I rolled the barrel looking for leaks and found none.

During the time that I initially filled the barrel to have it leak out and then the process to swell the staves, Adventures in Homebrewing sent me an email for a Free Shipping promotion.  I used that opportunity to purchase some Barrel Wax.  I had some other stuff to get so $2.50 was a small price to pay for peace of mind after what had already happened.

Barrel Wax – $2.50

I then coated the stave joints in barrel wax and after another trip to the liquor store, added the Rye Whiskey and Maple Syrup to the barrel – this time with plenty of towels underneath.  SUCCESS!!  No leaks!  None at all.

The moral of the (long-winded) story, is to ALWAYS properly prepare your barrel(s)!  If it looks good, do it anyway!  Save yourself the headache.

I mentioned way back in the beginning of the post that the stand I built is multi-use.  How, exactly is this multi-use?  Well, it also serves as my barrel filling station.

I use the same hose here that I use to transfer to my kegs as shown in this post.  It works quite well and makes the transfer easy.

Now to let them rest.  Airlocks are in place and the hibernation begins.  In the next post, I’ll detail how to transfer from the barrels to the kegs without using a pump and risking oxidation of the beer.

2 Replies to “Adding Barrels to the Brewery”

    1. Thanks! I enjoy being able to write about them. The good AND the bad! And, yes, having a beer is mandatory.

Leave a Reply