As winter draws closer we are starting to enjoy darker, heavier beers at the braai and around the fire. Dark Ales, Porters, Stouts, Imperial IPA's, 90 shilling etc are all firm favorites. More recently we have also seen barrel aged beers grow in delicious popularity.
Oak compliments so many beer styles perfectly (just look at the Oaked Aged Innis and Gun range).
So how do you add oak flavour to you beer?
Most home brewers do not own a oak barrel but using oak chips is a cheap and easy way to add to add oak to your beer.
Oak chips have a large surface area, which means it lends its flavour quickly.
There are 3 different oak varieties available today - American, Hungarian and French.
American oak will provide the strongest oak flavour while French oak is much softer, with a sweeter, vanilla flavour. (Hungarian falls in between the American and French varieties)
The more toasted your oak chips the darker the colour will be - a heavy toast will add a more cabonized flavour.
At BeerLab we have American and French oak chips on offer. Both of these varieties are available in Mini Chip (Coarse) and Vini Oak (Finer).
The finer the oak chip the greater the surface to area ratio - resulting in a faster flavour transfer.
So how do you use oak chips?
A - You can add the chips directly to your fermenter
This is the most common method. Oak chips are added to a weighted bag (remember to sterilize the bag too) and dropped into the fermenter. Oak aging can take anywhere from a few days to several months depending on oak used and desired flavor level.
B - Infuse the oak chips
Infusing avoids having actual oak chips in your fermenter. This is also the fastest flavour transfer method. It is however very important to only do this post fermentation - preferably in a secondary fermenter.
You can infuse in two ways. Firstly you can make a oak 'tea' - This is done by boiling oak chips for at least 10 minutes in enough water to cover (about 1 cm), straining out the chips, and adding the resulting 'tea' to your fermenter. An advantage to this method is that you can you can blend it to your liking adding oak tea according to taste.
The second way to infuse oak chips involve alcohol. For a base oak flavour the chips can be soaked in vodka to extract the flavour - the chips will need to steep for a week. If you would like to add a whiskey or bourbon flavour you can infuse your oak chips in whiskey/bourbon. The strained oak 'extract' can then be added directly to your fermenter prior to bottling (taste and adjust depending on how much oak flavour you want)
Finally, If you find the oak flavour to harsh or tannic you can consider doing a two stage soak in alcohol - soak and cover for the chips a few days, discard the liquid from the first soak and top up with fresh vodka/whiskey before soaking for another week.
Bourbon porter anyone?