Bottom view of wooden beer oak barrel and mug of beer

Barrel Aging: Effective Ways To Avoid Oxidation In Homebrewing

Bottom view of wooden beer oak barrel and mug of beer

Now is the time you've been looking forward to. You've been thinking about it for months, dreaming about it, and staring at it longingly from across the house.

Before taking your first sip, you pour your first sample after taking it out from the barrel, swish the liquid around, and take a deep breath — and you gag. What exactly is this? It's as if anyone dutch-opened a bag of rotting grapes!

What went wrong?

My dear friend, you have just succumbed to beer oxidation.

So, what exactly is oxidation? And what could you do to avoid oxidation by used bourbon barrels for brewing? Let’s find it out in this reading session.

What is Beer Oxidation, and How Does It Happen?

Post-fermentation oxidation is described as adding too much oxygen to the beer. It's a catch-all term for several undesirable chemical reactions at different levels in the brewing process after the beer is brewed in the bourbon barrels due to an oxygen deficiency in the beer at inopportune moments.

Still, oxygen is present in the fermentation process after it is kept in the barrels for brewing, and your beer will never be completely free of it. The tiny volume of unavoidable oxygen is referred to as "micro-oxidation," which is not a cause for concern. 

The oxidation that homebrewers should be worried about happens 9 times out of 10 when you're lazy with the beer after it's fermented.

It's crucial to remember that "aeration" refers to the addition of oxygen before fermentation, which is critical for yeast activation. Yeast needs to eat, and deliberately aerating the brew gives the yeast the oxygen they need to replicate. When fermentation starts, however, oxygen is no longer our mate.

What Are the Signs That the Beer Has Been Oxidized?


Man smelling craft beer

You can see it in the beer as an unwelcome aura, but you'll mostly be able to tell from the taste and aroma. For example, oxidation is indicated by an off-putting, crumbly, almondy, or perhaps even rotten fruit taste.

Aroma is trickier; a vinegar aroma indicates that the beer has gone sour, but a sulfur/rotten egg aroma from your beer aged in used bourbon barrels isn't always a bad thing! 

It's only in the middle of the barrel-aging process, about the 6-month mark. It's okay if it tastes a little like burnt rubber at this stage. It'll be gone in no time.

The only positive news about these undesirable outcomes is that they will reveal where you went wrong in the process, from inappropriate aeration on the hot or cold side to improper storage temperatures.

How Do We Avoid Oxidation While Homebrewing With Oak Wooden Barrels?


Wooden Beer Keg and Mug of Light Draft Beer

So, here are few most popular blunders that cause homebrewers to oxidize their barrel-aged brews inadvertently:

1. Splashing During Container Switching!

When moving your creation from one bottle to another, the most important thing to note is not to slop the liquid around. The most significant chance of oxidation is always when transferring your beer!

But, instead of just dumping your beer into different barrels, use your homebrewing used barrels (and your big cool brain) to ensure quick, continuous flow between them.

2. The Containers Aren't Purged Until Transfer!

CO2 is a homebrewer's best mate, much as a gem is a girl's best friend.

With a few Google searches, you can quickly find a CO2 container that fits your needs, but you'll need to locate CO2 gas on a regional basis. Anywhere that sells fillable gases and “fire prevention suppliers” is a safe place to start looking. 

To avoid oxygen pick-up and keep your homebrew fresh, always purge your containers with CO2 before loading them with your homebrew. And always use oak barrels or used bourbon barrels for the brewing of your beer.

3. Filling the Barrel Just Half-Full!

It's a bit of a no-brainer here. Before lowering the barrel, make sure it's filled; the less space between the beer's fill line and the top of the barrel, the less air is trapped within. 

The wood of the bottle lets a slight amount of oxygen in as it breathes, and your beer soaks into the wood as it ages, but this kind of micro-oxidation is not detrimental to the beer's end product.

4. Allowing Air Bubbles to Reach the Tubes!

When you remove your beer from the bourbon barrels, always check the tubing as you rack to see if any air bubbles are going through it or are stuck at the high points. If this is the case, make sure the attachment points are snug and gently change the tubing to remove any bubbles. 

If you don't sort these bubbles out fast, any of the beer that passes into the tubes will become oxidized as well.

5. Bad Bottling Techniques!

Using your oak wooden barrels and your brain once more! Bottle wands, bottling buckets, fixtures, and correctly fitted tubing can help you bottle your brew aged in oak barrels comfortably. Often fill from the bottom up, and maintain the flow steady and constant beneath/near the flange.

In a nutshell, work carefully and use all of the homebrewing bourbon barrels or oak barrels at your disposal to prevent splashing the liquid and exposing it to air prematurely during the post-fermentation phase. 

Does that make sense? Yes? Common! Kill the homebrewing, boy! But not with oxidized beer rotting. 

If you find this article helpful, don’t forget to comment down on the comment section below!

Rachel Moore works as a Marketing Manager at Rocky Mountain Barrel Company. Rocky Mountain Barrel Company provides used wooden barrels for spirits, like bourbon barrels, whiskey barrels, rum barrels, and wine barrels. Rachel loves her combination of nature, wine, and nerdy friends who appreciate her homemade wines.


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