Luckily in the business I'm in you get to know some useful contacts. One of these just happens to be Theakston's breweries Jonathan Manby, one of the youngest coopers in the UK. Just the other day he dropped by work in his Theakston's van. We had made a little arrangement; he makes me a 2-3 gallon capacity wooden barrel in exchange for some home brew and a few cases of free beer. Like I always say to the office staff, 'the other brewers are our friends'.
That right, my baby, my precious, I'm stroking it now... No that sounds wrong
The oak used was previously used to hold Theakston's beer and I'm informed to soak this baby in salt water between and before filling. This is an area I have to pay attention to as various sources have claimed that wooden beer barrels can be difficult to clean if left unattended after emptying. This is one of the reasons casks today are stainless steel, infections can't embed themselves in steel like they do in wood. I am also aware that whatever beer I fill this thing with must be brutally strong, and must fill the cask right to the brim or else oxidation will be a problem (meaning I need to deliver on volume and extract). For this reason my currently pending Kurgan Imperial Russian Stout and Vintage 2010 ale could not be used, both are 2 gallon brew lengths.
The question is, what do I fill this thing with? My imagination goes wild. Firstly I thought I could soak and wash it out in Sherry, Whisky, Port or Rum and do another Imperial Stout? Or I could do a brutally hoppy new world or old school style IPA, hire a boat and take it on a sea voyage to the Maldives and back (look out Pete Brown)? I could brew some crazy Belgian style offering, pre-soak the wood in Merlot, deliberately infect the resting beer with Brettanomyces or other bacterial strains and blend it with fruit? Or I could use the wood the same way it was used in it's previous life, fill it with an old school British beer, Porter, Stock or Old ale and just leave it for ages? Or I could do another two gallon Imperial stout to be blended with the same brew brewed by another home brewer? Like a collaborative brew.
Frankly I've ruled out the idea of crudely soaking it in any kind of wine or spirit, the wood was previously used for beer, I will take it how it is. Up to now I'm thinking of brewing a 8-10% traditional Old Ale style beer but I keep changing my mind. But I'm open to any suggestions.