Barrel Project: American Farmhouse Chardonnay Saison

I finally got to brew some funky beer in a barrel. This has been a goal of mine for quite some time. In my limited experience tasting sour beers, the beers that come from barrels seem to have a better complexity and blending of flavours. (And they also have much higher chances of failing.) The other reason I’ve been excited to brew in a barrel is because of the idea of collaborative brewing in a group.

This whole project started when a fellow QUAFF member (Steven) sent out an announcement:

I just picked up a Chardonnay barrel (French Oak) from Caruth Cellars in Solana Beach, and was wondering if anyone from the group would like to join me in filling it up. I’m wanting to make a Saison using the WLP 670 american farmhouse…


I instantly jumped at the opportunity and so did 4 other brewers for a total of 6 brewers. We end up having 3 brewing 12 gals, 2 brewing 10 gals and 1 brewing 6 gals – totalling 62 gals. This number is just about perfect for brewing in a 59 gal wine barrel.



Steven wanted to do primary fermentation in the barrel. I thought this was a fun idea and would make the organizing a bit easier. I contacted a few people with experience – Sam Tierney (intothebrew) who fills the barrels in Firestone’s Union System and Levi (Funk Factory) who has done primary fermentation of a lambic in a barrel – they both concurred to leave about 10

The next big task was recipe generation. Steven did a good job by starting us all with a solid Saison recipe that was based on Jamil’s recipe in Brewing Classic Styles. After about 20 emails, the group we had tweaked the recipe with everyone’s comments. gals of headspace in the barrel. So that was our plan, 50 gals in the barrel and 12 gals in carboys that can be added once fermentation calms down in the barrel. We also all found a day that we could brew at the same time and fill the barrel straight from each of our brew kettles.

After another 20 emails, we figured out who was going to pick up what supplies and bring them to the group brew day. We were able to get the base malt in bulk and also the hops, which really helps to reduce cost. The next mission was getting enough yeast to ferment 60 gals. According to Mr.Malty, we would need 24 vials or 8 vials with a 36 litre starter (~10 gals). The first plan was for all of us to make a 2 litre starter with 2 vials.

Then one of the group members, Chris, came up with the idea to ask White Labs for a 2 BBL (63 gal) pitch of WLP670. White Labs had the yeast ready in about a week and Chris picked it up the day before our brew session. Just as an FYI, this 2 BBL pitch cost us $150 ( I don’t think we got a QUAFF discount). It makes me wonder how much big breweries pay and I guess it makes sense that they re-use the yeast so often. For our next barrel, I’m going to recommend that one of the members brews a 10 gal batch and then we use the yeast cake for the barrel.

Recipe: American Farmhouse Chardonnay Saison

Batch Size 60.0 gal        O.G.-1.055           F.G.-TBD
IBU-25                             SRM-4.5               ABV-TBD

Grain Bill (77% Efficiency):
100 lb Pilsner Malt (85%)
7.5 lb Munich (6%)
7.5 lb Wheat Wheat Malt (6%)
3 lb Acid Malt (3%)

6 oz Premiant, 11%, pellet, 90 min 25.6 IBU
=6 oz Pacific Jade, 14%, pellet, Whirlpool

6 oz Pacific Jade, 14%, pellet,  Optional Dry-hopYeast:
White Labs American Farmhouse Blend – WLP670

Brew Day:
Brewed: 7/29/12
50/50 Blend of San Diego tap water and Distilled

Mash Details:
H2O/Grain Ratio: 1.25 qt/lb
Sacc Rest. Temp/Time: 148F @ 60min
Sparge Temp/Time: 170F

Boil Details:
Boil Time: 90min

Ferment Details:
Ferment Temp: Encinitas Garage Ambient

The Brew Day was about as much fun as I’ve ever had brewing. It was a long brew day starting around 9 and ending close to 6. Most of that time was spent sharing beers and other beer geeking activities.

Here are a few lessons we learned on our first Barrel Project:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to plan – with our group of 6 brewers it took about 4 weeks and 40+ emails to get everything arranged.
  • Bring a corded drill – we lost over an hour on brew day because the cordless drill can’t mill that much grain on a single charge.
  • American Malt comes in 50 lb bags instead of 55 lb – we were dangerously close to not having enough malt.
  • Keep your group as small as possible – even with 6 people communication starts becoming more difficult.
  • Work out the financials and brewing calculations before brew day – homebrew and math don’t mix well.
We are predicting about 3 months in the barrel. Then corking a case of 750s and a 5 gal corny for each person.
And since the barrel now has Brett in it, I think the next batch will have to go total funky with something like Russian River Temptation.


Update 08.10.12
The fermentation has been steady going this whole month and the 2 – 5 gal carboys have been added to the barrel. We will also top up the barrel with about 3 gals of boiled water with 2 lbs of sugar added to help with producing CO2 in the head space, reducing the amount of head space and the simple sugar should dry the beer out a tad more.

The gravity is down to 1.010 and since it is still fermenting plus will age for a few month with the Brett I imagine this will drop down a few more points.

This is the comment on the taste so far, “I must say this tastes absolutely amazing right now!! It has a nice fruity taste from the Chardonnay. Let the funk begin.”

Categories : Brewing Adventures

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4 Responses to “Barrel Project: American Farmhouse Chardonnay Saison”

  1. So that’s where my rolling barrel stand went.

  2. Sounds tasty! Nice to see you guys incorporated the barrel into your crossfit workouts.

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