Well, this is a classic "Field of Dreams" type story of "If you build it, they will come."
This little story I'm about to tell is my own Field of Dreams, but I'm going to call it Barrel Cellar of Dreams. Since I started writing on this blog I've had a bunch of people make comments and reach out to me with advice, or thanking me for publishing my own advice, trials, and tribulation. Mainly trials. Anyways, along the way I also started a little homebrew club in my neighborhood called the Nordeast Brewers Alliance. This club has allowed me first to "stop talking about brewing to my wife", who apparently could care less about whether I batch, or fly sparge. Anyways, along with the HBC has come some amazing experiments. Our annual Single Hop experiment is a big draw and something you can't do by yourself very effectively. Another project that we've done is the Barrel aged Project. This is another thing that you simply can't do by yourself. (You could, but who wants 59 gallons of the same beer for personal consumption). Anyways, through writing about my experiences as the barrel wrangler for our club, our club has received a lot of local interest, as well as people reaching out to us wanting to get involved. Luckily, somehow my blog reached, or our HBC blog got on the computer of a former San Franciscan resident (Lodi actually) getting ready to move back home to beautiful Minneapolis. He reached out to me, and turns out he had 4 freshly emptied French Oak wine barrels. As fate would have it, we seem to be simpatico in aspects of music (Phish, Big Wu, ect), beer, and life in general (Hockey) . Turns out he is looking to fill these barrels up with beer, and I have just the crew to do that! Luckily, one of our club members has the perfect "Barrel Room" in his basement and is willing to take on the responsibility of housing, maintaining, and managing our "new" barrels.
Here is a little background on the barrels. Apparently Casey had become friends with some of the local Wineries in Lodi and upon leaving town, he snagged a few barrels that had been freshly emptied of their juice.
Both of these wineries employ "Native Fermentation" which means that they don't initially pitch yeast, but allow the nature local yeast to take hold in the wine adding complexity and truly embracing the terroir. With that, it would seem that it may be tough to produce a "clean" beer with these barrels so we are looking to introduce mixed fermentation into anything we decide to put into these barrels!
French Oak Barrels
(2) from Fields Family Wines, and (2) from McCay Cellars. The McCay cellars barrels are heavier duty barrels compared to the Fields Barrels which is interesting. The staves must be thicker. All of these barrels were first filled with grape juice in 2008. McCay's were filled with their highly rated Zinfandel, and the Fields barrels were filled with Cab and Merlot.
A few notes from sniffing the bungs in order to figure out what to fill them with.
Barrel #1 - McCay Zin - Medium/Heavy Oak, vanilla, blackberries, currants.
Barrel #2 - McCay Zin - Medium/Heavy Oak, vanilla, fruity cocoa.
Barrel #3 - Fields Merlot - Light Oak, red fruit, cherries.
Barrel #4 - Fields Cab - Light Oak, light fruit
Here's what I'm thinking as far as filling the barrels-
Barrel #1 - Wee Heavy (clean)
Barrel #2 - Russian Imperial Stout
Barrel #3 - Flanders Style Red Ale - Awarded winning recipe
Barrel #4 - Saison or Dark Saison (Honey and Figs)