I’ve been a homebrewer for almost two decades and although I’m essentially a simple brewer by trade, many in the craft are more than a bit adventurous. That could be true with the microbrew world as well.
Like the wine garagiste brethren, with that daring and bold streak, some homebrewers are actually going back to beginning – they’re brewing in barrels … mostly wine barrels to be specific. And to that point, more than a few folks have ventured my way, asking for wine barrels that they can use for aging.
Looking for unique and distinctive flavors, these risktakers – meaning craft brewers – purposefully want to impart that tinge of wine aroma and flavor along with whatever the oak can still give off after several years as a wine producer. The part that is tricky for Paso Wine Barrels is we are receiving barrels that most wineries don’t want, and sometimes there’s reasons for why they don’t want these particular barrels.
Vintners typically hold on to wine barrels for roughly six years. This isn’t set in stone as some winemakers use barrels for only two or three years while other use them as long as they don’t leak or no longer offer any oak value.
So you can see the situation arise where someone asks us if the barrels are still good – we don’t really know. What we do know though is whether they leak or not. No matter where you go to purchase your used barrel, just be aware that leaks are possible. Often I will go through a new batch of used barrels and sift out some that are obviously no good for holding water because maybe I can literally see through the seems in between the staves. Also, a decent leak can appear as major stains and let anyone who is looking know it likely won’t hold wine … or beer.
By the way, these circumstances offer one of the many reasons why barrels are getting harder to find. Combined with whiskey distillers, these groups are making wine barrels harder and harder to come by. Just a few short years ago, wineries were giving away their barrels, or selling them for a very nominal fee. That’s no longer the case as just about no one gives them away and some hold out for steeper and steeper prices.
Regardless, with wine barrels becoming popular with brewers, there appears to be many nuances that should give these whimsical crafters an abundance of capricious if somewhat volatile and fickle creations. Which means if you are a fan of home or craft brews, expect some wild variances and interesting flavors, to say the least. At 59 gallons a crack, homebrewers will be taking big chances – but than again, that’s part of what is so fun with garagiste and homebrewers as they experiment, while the rest of us might taste that rare flavor … and smile with amazement.
Here’s to homebrewers and down the hatch,
Daryle W. Hier