OK here's the idea, brew some brutally strong beer (or at least quite strong) and at the end of primary fermentation decant it off into my new 3 gallon wooden barrel I have named ‘Elizabeth’. I had to call it something, and it might sound girly to some but it was between that and 'Killswitch', 'Loci' or 'Rambo' (filled with the beer 'First brew', and after that 'First brew part II')'. But I think I chose the most fitting name. My first brew for this barrel I am also calling Elizabeth, it will be an Old Ale with a formulation something like this;
Elizabeth Old Ale (4 Gallons).
Target AG: 1020 (so over 9% abv)
Optic pale malt: 86.5% of fermentables.
Crystal malt: 9% of fermentables.
Black Malt: 4.5% of fermentables.
Challenger hops (44 IBU) boiled 90min.
Bramling X hops (4-5 IBU) boiled 15min.
Fermentation to take place at around 21oC with White Labs Dry English ale strain.
So something relatively simple, going down the straight to the balls, old school traditional rout (I can see a lot of beer geeks yawning now). In part this beer is a tribute to the bloke who made it, and who he works for. But I know I can re use the barrel, so this batch is more of an experiment than anything. The very small size of the barrel means more beer to surface contact area which should speed up the process of oak aging. How many times the wood has been used previously will also play a part, this I don't know. The plan is to fill the barrel and sample from it on a monthly basis which means I will have to keep topping it up (notice the brew length is 4 gallons i.e. I keep the extra gallon to one side for top ups at later dates).
When I eventually bottle Elizabeth I plan to take the project to a second stage. The plan is to bottle approximately 2 of the 3 gallons of beer. The remaining gallon will then be blended with a different beer. Something younger fresher and weaker, I’m thinking of remaking Helen's Beer for this, a 5.7% deep amber beer influenced mainly by porridge oats, loads of crystal malt and Bobek and Amarillo hops. Then, the monthly tastings start again, and we see what happens.
An alternative idea I had was to blend the remaining barrel of Elizabeth with Daleside Morocco ale instead. How much would that rock?! Its something I’m considering but my excitement for the mean time must be suppressed as I have a holiday to Cuba booked in a couple of weeks and don’t really have the time to ferment such a strong beer before then (maybe at a push). So a holiday in Cuba dreaming of barrel aged Old Ale that is. I like the fact that by the time I get back and finally brew this it will be verging on winter, so wherever I choose to leave this baby the maturation will be long and slow. Whatever I make I can be sure that the product/s made will be one of a kind, with no other beer in the world exactly like them (like a Samurai sword) and if it all goes horribly wrong I still have some oak chips somewhere to fall back on.