Saturday, April 20, 2013

Add Toasted Oak Chips To Your Next Beer

I finally decided to go ahead and add oak chips to my now fermenting Rye Ale, it's been a week since I brewed it and the primary fermentation completed quickly. Within 8 hours of pitching the yeast the airlock was bubbling away and a steady stream of StarSan bubbles flowed down onto the lid of the fermentor. I'm including a picture here of the inside of the fermentor to show how high the krausen rose inside the fermentor during the first week of fermentation, my best guess is the krauzen rose 6 to 8 inches high at it's peak.

Soaked 2 Ounces Of Toasted Oak Chip For 60 Minutes

The backbone of this 6.5% ABV beer is mostly all Pale Ale malt with much lesser amounts of Amber, Carapils, Chocolate, Crystal 60 and a bit of flaked rye for spice.  The recipe also called for a generous amount of American Yakima Valley hops added to the kettle at various times during the boil which produced beer with a lot a hop flavor and aroma. I'm very interested to find out how the oak flavors come through and how long it'll take to get just the right amount of flavor. I could let them soak for as long as 3 weeks but frequent sampling and tasting is the best way of getting just the right amount of oak while letting all those other high quality ingredients come through too.

Krauzen Ring Inside Fermentor After Aggressive Fermentation
 I guess until I get to add oak chips to my fermenting beers a few more times the whole process is going to seem a little awkward. The entire oaking process took most of the late morning on into early afternoon, although I did have time to organize my communications equipment and watch Archer on NetFlix too. I weighed out 2 ounces of American Oak chips and soaked them in water for about 90 minutes to prevent them from drying out and burning, this was on the advice of a very good cook familiar with using cedar when grilling.

Only The Chips On Left Were Toasted For 20 Minutes
 With the oaks chips spread out evenly on a sheet of aluminum foil put on top of the broiler grill I set the broiler timer to 20 minutes and after about 10 minutes I began to smell a faint smell of damp burnt wood fill the kitchen. I checked in to see how the toasting progress was going a few times to make sure there were no signs of smoke or flames. Towards the end of the 20 minutes the now toasted oak chips filled the entire house with a pleasing aroma of toasted American Oak chips.

Two Mesh Sacks Containing Weights And Boiled Oak Chips
I boiled the toasted oak chips in water for a good 10 minutes before cooling them down and putting them in the nylon mesh hops sacks with stainless steel hardware inside to keep them submerged under the beer. The mesh sacks worked a filters that strained and captured all the chips while I collected the now dark aromatic water in a sanitized bowl. I didn't want to risk infecting the rye beer with wild yeast and bacteria living on the oak chips and in the the process they got toasted, boiled and handled with sanitized utensils and bowls.

Electric Toaster Oven Set To Broil
 American Oak is said to add a light vanilla flavor to beer and I believe it will add some new and interesting flavors and aromas to just about any beer, when added in just the right amount. I'm dealing with multiple variables here to hit just the right balance including amount of oak chips, the length of time they come in contact with the fermented beer and the amount of toasting complexity the oak chips will add.

The amount of work that went into this recipe was about 3 hours or more than it would have taken to simply make a dry hop addition, but the aromas and flavors the oak will add to the beer are so different that it's completely worth it to me. This week the beer will be sampled often to check the hydrometer readings but to also taste the beer as the wood flavors begin to develop, this is going to be an awesome week.

I took a gravity sample and drank it the other day, the beer finished at 1.019 just a point off from my calculations and the first sample was yeasty so a real sense of this beer's taste won't come until bottling day. The fermentors in the refrigerator where I leave it to cold crash for another day or two while I decide to bottle it or keg it.  


  1. How long did you end up leaving the oak chips in there?

  2. I don't recall exactly, it may have been 7 days, which is a good place to start. My advice would be to take a sample every other day until you have the right amount of oak flavor to suite your taste.