Monday, May 19, 2008

The beautiful liquid pictured below is a mixture of Ketel One vodka, toasted French oak chips and three days of time.

Being able to taste the woody vodka will be a nice side benefit of what I'm really up to: teaching myself how to brew sour beers.

My favorite sour beers are Flanders red ales and their derivatives, which are traditionally aged in oak barrels for 1-3 years. The oak isn't used to provide flavor, though. Its real purpose is to provide a home for souring microorganisms, aka wild yeasts and bacteria. For that reason, commercial brewers typically revive old wine barrels that don't have a lot of flavor left in them. I'm trying to strip the flavor from my wood chips by soaking them in vodka.

Why use chips instead of a barrel? The huge barrels common to commercial producers have small surface to volume ratios, which reduce the diffusion of oxygen into the beer. Too much oxygen would result in pure vinegar. Wood chips in a glass fermenter will restrict oxygen better than a small barrel, and the beer should more closely resemble what would be produced in a large barrel. I plan on using spent wine barrels to age sour beers at the pub, though. Wollersheim, are you reading this?


Shane said...

So what does woody vodka taste like, anyway?

Sour beers, now you're just being mean. I want, I want!

Joe said...

To an aficionado, I think it'll taste sort of like a one-dimensional bourbon. To me, it'll taste like burning.