Barley Mowat 

How Hard Can It Be?

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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

A Recipe for Disaster

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Last weekend, Sharon and I sat down with a few beers, a large amount of fruit, and mixed and matched until Sharon no longer wanted beer and I no longer wanted fruit. The reason? To devise three solid recipes with which to populate my three newly primed oak barrels.

In the end, though, I decided to play it safe, and only one true fruit/beer combo will be making an appearance in this round of “Chuck Tries To Poison Himself.” (Stay tuned for next round: “Licking things found in the alley beside Bitter”)


He tastes like… banana! Oh wait… no, no… I got it! That’s meningitis, isn’t it?

So what won round one? The boring and the safe, that’s what:

2 Litre Barrel Primed with Red Wine = Driftwood White Bark, Red Grapes, Brettanomyces
2 Litre Barrel Primed with Bourbon = Howe Sound Pothole Filler, Vanilla Beans, Dextrose, Champagne yeast
5 Litre Barrel Primed with Nothing = Howe Sound 4Way, Dextrose, Champagne yeast

And that’s it, really. The HS beers feature prominently half because I found some Pothole Filler at Darby’s, and half because I’ll need a lot of HS’s bottles to put all this beer back into when it’s done going off in my tiny oak botulism machines.

Hopefully the 2 litre barrels will be ready to go in as little as two weeks, but don’t you worry, I’ll keep this spot updated as I sample these guys along the way.

Oh, and for the curious, yes aging Jackson Triggs in a tiny oak barrel for two weeks did manage to make it somewhat drinkable. And Bulleit becomes… deadly smooth.

Written by chuck

May 10th, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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A Word on Beer Awards

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If you were up late last night you no doubt saw the early results coming out of San Diego for the 2012 World Beer Cup. Central City walked away with two awards while Russell picked up one. Good on you guys.

Now the rest of you are likely wondering when the swearing will start. It’s rant time, right? Well, it isn’t. While beer competitions are of dubious merit overall, and some can even equate to a paid endorsement, the World Beer Cup is not one of these. Sure, it’s not perfect, and certainly not how I’d run a beer competition, but it ain’t bad. Here’s what they do right:

  • Entry fees are low ($150 per style)
  • They proactively help you ship product over international boundaries, by arranging pick-up points for you to drop off cases of beer for a set price
  • A very low percentage of all entrants wins a prize (~7.2% this year). Some competitions have that up around 90%.
  • Their sponsor list contains not a single producer of beer, or any affiliated brand
  • While they do generally award Gold, Silver and Bronze, their judges are not required to do so. If all the beer in category X sucks, then no one takes home The Shiny

Sounds pretty good, right? Now for the downside. Beer is very hard to categorize. It’s constantly changing, and so are the styles that people throw awards at. For instance, this year the WBC recognized 95 styles of beer–that’s up from 90 two years ago. More categories means more awards, so that means people go home happier, but it also devalues winning.

What’s more, the sheer number of categories often means certain categories are reserved for awful beer. Take, for example, American-Style Lager, Light Lager, or Premium Lager. Yup, three categories featuring repeat winners like Miller and Anheuser-Busch. Take a stand guys, admit that no matter what happens, Michelob Ultra does not deserve recognition, and winning “Best American-Style Lager” doesn’t mean your beer is any good.


Much like how “most graceful car egress after 40oz of tequila” might not be the spotlight on exemplary gymnastics that you’d expect

Next, you can’t win if you don’t enter. While this seems like a no brainer, it does leave the WBC rather under-represented. Missing from BC are Driftwood, Tofino, Lighthouse, Phillips, etc. In fact, only 8 of BC’s 50-odd breweries bothered to send in beer.

The other dark beer competition secret is that the judges just aren’t that good. Sure, they’re often critics or beer geeks, but very rarely are they trained tasters. Us beer geeks are a selective crowd who really honestly do know our beer, but put 30 different beers in front of us (the # judged per person at WBC), and it all begins to blend together a bit.

These people know beer, and can especially pick out bad beer, but the subtle details that make a single great beer great will get lost by the time your palate is on round 10, let alone 30. Interesting use of hops? No luck. Smoked your malt in a BBQ instead of using liquid smoke? Sorry, didn’t notice. Good colour? Oooo… I can still see! Plus marks!

The end result of all this is that beer awards, even the WBC, are a bit of a crap shoot. Generally shitty beer doesn’t get far (unless you’re in the shitty beer category… you usually tell because it’s won by Coors Light, no really), but the good beers are more or less picked at random.

What does stand out, though, are trends. Look for a single beer consistently winning awards year after year, or a single brewery winning many awards in one year. These are signs to pay attention to. Sure, getting a Bronze in English-Style IPA means that your beer was put in front of a whack of beer geeks and they all thought it was good. That’s about all. But getting Silver for the same beer in the same category two years later? That means something.

So congrats to Russell. Well earned, guys.

Find the full list of awards here.

Written by chuck

May 6th, 2012 at 11:02 am