Barley Mowat 

How Hard Can It Be?

with 4 comments

Alright, it’s game time. This weekend I took some time out from patio lounging and beer drinking to decant my barrels and shift this project into high gear (just kidding; I was drinking beer the whole time… which might explain a few things).

You’ve probably heard about the “angel’s share” when it comes to barrels. I had, as well, and I was curious to experience it firsthand myself. If you have no idea what I’m talking aboot, oak barrels are permeable to the air outside and liquid inside them. The liquid inside the barrel diffuses into the oak, migrates to the surface, and then escapes due to the lower partial pressure of sweet sweet booze outside the barrel (replacing the lost space inside with nasty horrible air). Honestly, if that bastard Dalton hadn’t geeked things up we’d all be in much better form… except for that whole part about our lungs not working… and booze going straight through us… okay, fine, Dalton and his law can stay.

This missing amount of liquid is the Angel’s Share, presumably because it disappeared when no one was looking and Underwear Gnomes hadn’t yet been invented to take the blame for this sort of thing. But, how much IS the Angel’s Share? If I were to put 750ml of bourbon in a barrel and age it for two weeks, how much would be missing?

Fuck you, angel

For those with a poor sense of volume, that’s about 250ml, or ~1/3rd of the bottle. The ratio is a bit better for the 2L of cheap red wine I put in the other barrel: about 500ml was stolen in the middle of the night by the Missing Booze Fairy.

Perhaps the most important bit of knowledge, though, is that those missing volumes of liquid mean that an equivalent volume of air has been added to my barrels. All those pains I took to keep oxygen from getting in the barrels and ruining my beer might be for naught if 500ml of O2 gets pulled through the sides of the cask anyways. O2 oxidizes your beer, and oxidized beer tastes like ass (well, more like cardboard… assy cardboard). As local beer guru Dave Shea pointed out to me during my brewing mentorship: Oxidation is a Bitch.

The hope is, of course, that the C02 produced by my brettanomyces and champagne yeasts will fill up the space first and keep that evil bastard oxygen at bay, but only time will tell. While it appears that I might not die from this experiment, there is a decent chance I’ll have to drink some awfully crappy beer.

Making this chance even more likely is the fact that, despite as much tender care as I could give it, my brett culture never really took off. Oh sure, it produced slightly Belgian-tasting sugar water, but it also seemed to enjoy sharing that space with a healthy dose of lactobacillus. Yes, lacto is desirable in a brett-conditioned beer, but oh man is it much trickier to work with than I’d bargained. Screw up your lacto, and you’ve essentially got vinegar.

And as much as I love me some fish and chips, that really wasn’t the purpose of this exercise.

Tasting Update, Day 4:
White Bark, grapes, brett: Starting to see some potential here
Pothole Filler, vanilla, bourbon: Oh. Wow. All stouts go in here now.
4Way plain: Um… I think I might be pouring out five litres of fruit beer

Written by chuck

May 16th, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Posted in Beer and You

4 Responses to 'How Hard Can It Be?'

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  1. How much of that angels share is still stuck inside the wood? Woods a pretty porous material when you get up close. Maybe that’s why the ones presoaked are doing better than the one that wasn’t?


    16 May 12 at 23:11

  2. @Foaner Likely a good chunk, but even then the extra head space in the barrel isn’t filled with unicorn farts. Putting not-whiskey into the barrel will likely draw back some of the bourbon, but overall the liquid volume will decrease. It’s just that the amount of the decrease was so much more than I’d estimated.


    17 May 12 at 07:48

  3. Barrels are in style right now. I was at the Clough Club on Abbot last night (think cocktail bar, not beer bar) and they had some 2-month barrel aged manhattans pre-mixed. They were totally awesome, lightly oaked and wonderful. I imagine there’s much less concern of oxidation when you’re dealing with hard alcohol, though.

    Ben Coli

    17 May 12 at 13:51

  4. @Ben and infection. The bourbon barrel I did open to air and germs. Not a concern when the thing you’re aging is itself an antiseptic.


    17 May 12 at 13:59

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