Denard Brewing

Better brewing through science.

The Barrel Mimic Experiment

I love the flavors a barrel imparts on mead. If I could, almost every mead I make would be put in a barrel. Sadly, this is not possible due to cost (I would make space). As usual, I’ve decided to use science to find the closest mimic through side by side testing. 

 

Searching for viable alternatives to actual barrel aging, I found the following options:

1. Oak cubes: Tried and true, but lacks a fullness of a barrel. 

2. Xoakers: Think round oak cubes, but supposedly a bit higher quality. 

3. Staves/Winestix: I find the thickness to be lacking here. Cubes are actually better in most cases unless you have a really thick stave. I have no reliable source of thick staves. 

4. Liquid Tannins: This is a new product I recently discovered. I’ve never tested it, but it claims to be superior to powder additives such as booster blanc. I’m trying two versions here. Vanilla and fruit enhancer plus. I plan to try a mixture as well. They also have a mocha, but that didn’t sound like the flavor profile I’m going for here. 

 

The question is which method is the closest to a real barrel aged mead? Since no one has published anything about this, I have to do the experiment. 

 

The Experimental Design

 

For a true side by side test, the only variable that can change is the tannin source. To perform the experiment, a large batch of mead will be made, then split into subsequent tannin testing batches as follows:

1. Barrel Aged Control (Medium Toast Plus American): We must have this to determine what is closest to an actual barrel aged mead. 

2. Oak cubes (Medium Toast Plus American)

3. Xoakers (Medium Toast Plus American)

4. Toasted Oak Liquid Tannin - Vanilla

5. Toasted Oak Liquid Tannin - Fruit Enhancer Plus

6. #4 & #5 combined.  

 

Post fermentation, the mead will be exposed to each tannin source. At intervals, the meads will be evaluated blindly for characteristics and evaluated on an overall 10 point scale with 3 criteria: 

1. Similarity to a barrel aged mead

2. Improvement of the mead

3. Overall impressions (ie: Do I want more?)

 

Once optimal barrel levels are reached, meads will be bottled and evaluated over time to determine how they integrate the tannin sources. 

 

I will follow manufacture dosing for cubes and xoakers. For liquid tannin, I’ll follow manufacturers protocol for max dosing. For this experiment, I’m using a particular Wildflower honey that I already know shines in a barrel. 

 

The Mead: Fermentation 

Start 2/26/2019

 

1. For a 12 gallon batch, add 42 lbs of honey to 7.5 gallons of Ozarka spring water (1.140). 

2. Add 22.5 g Fermaid K, 18 g KHCO3 & 38 g Fermaid O. Add 38 g Fermaid O at 1.110 (Day 2: 2/28/2019) and 1.080 (Day 4: 3/2/2019).

3. Mix with a drill powered stirrer until honey is dissolved. My drill died. I had to do it with a hand crank. 

4. Add a 1 gallon starter of Wyeast 1388.  (Began starter 2/20/19. Stepped up from my yeast bank). 

5. Ferment at 74 F in a temperature controlled chamber (this is more like 68 F because it’s been cold here). Stir vigorously everyday with a drill powered stirrer. 

6. Once terminal gravity is reached (~1.020), cold crash until most yeast have settled. 

7. Rack into the following:

     -5.3 gallons into the barrel 

     -1 gallon onto 2 Xoaker spheres

     -1 gallon onto 4 cubes

     -1 gallon + 3.7 ml Liquid Vanilla Tannin

     -1 gallon + 2.5 ml Liquid Fruit Tannin

     -1 gallon + 1.85 ml both Liquid Tannins

     -1 gallon for untreated control

     -1 gallons saved for barrel top off 

8. Tastings will be performed at 2 weeks, 1 month, 2 months. Longer if needed. 

 

Calculations

 

I’m just putting these here to help explain some of my logic. Apparently, barrel aging is not quite as efficient as adding spheres/cubes/staves; therefore, much less is needed. Mead in barrels is only exposed to side grains and cannot penetrate into the wood very far. Cubes have side grains and can be fully penetrated (giggity). As a result, cubes/xoakers/staves have more contact surface than that calculated by raw surface area. 

 

From the rough math below, there seems to be a factor of 20-fold built into the barrel alternatives surface area. For example, 6 square inches of xoaker surface area has the oaking potential of 120 square inches of barrel. Of course, none of these barrel alternatives have the micro oxidation effect barrels have. 

 

As a note, I’m using new oak barrels. I really love the full flavor they provide. It is also more relevant to the oak alternatives I am using here. 

 

Barrel Surface Area

Reference: https://www.deepsouthbarrels.com/page/barrel-dimensions/barrel-dimensions

 

In terms I understand (combining metric and standard is just strange):

For 1.32 gallon barrel, 431 square inches per gallon. 

For 5.3 gallon barrel, 260 square inches per gallon. 

For 53 gallon barrel, 123 square inches per gallon. 

 

Xoakers

1” sphere: 4*pi*r^2 = 3.14 square inches per gallon per sphere.

-Add 2 per gallon for 6.28 square inches per gallon. 

-Need 39 per gallon to equal the raw surface area of a 53 gallon barrel. Using our 20-fold factor, only 2 xoakers are needed per gallon to equal a 53 gallon barrel. 

 

Cubes

Roughly 0.5 inch cubes: 6*a^2 or 1.5 square inches per cube. 

-Add 4.18 to equal 2 Xoakers. Call it 4. 

 

Vanilla Liquid Tannin (4 oz = 118.29 ml)

-Low dose: 4 oz>313 gallons

—-0.38 ml per gallon 

-High dose: 4 oz>32 gallons

—-3.7 ml per gallon 

My reason for using high dose is my desire for intense oak. 

 

Fruit Enhancer Plus Liquid Tannin 

-Low dose: 4 oz>125 gallons

—-0.95 ml per gallon 

-High dose: 4 oz>47 gallons

—-2.51 ml per gallon[/QUOTE]

 

 

 

2 Week Taste Comparison 

 

Tasting are performed side by side with exactly the same glass type (glencairn) at room temperature. 

 

First, we must identify the components of a true barrel aged flavor. 

 

Barrel Aged Mead 

-Nose: Oaky, honey, sweetness 

-Taste: Vanilla, honey, trace smoke. Drying effect on finish from tannins. Of course, it needs more oak for a fuller flavor and body. 

-Body: Improved but needs more time. 

 

Cubes

-Nose: Musty oak, honey, sweet

-Taste: Very trace oak, but musty. Honey. No smoke. Some tannins. 

-Body: Some increased body but very little. 

 

Xoakers

-Nose: Oaky (slightly less than barrel), honey, sweet

-Taste: Trace vanilla, honey, smoke. Tannins present but needs more. 

-Body: Improved, similar to barrel at this point. 

 

Vanilla Liquid Tannin

-Nose: Honey, sweetness, noticeably absent oak

-Taste: Vanilla, No smoke, very mild oak notes. 

-Body: Some improvement, less than barrel at this time. 

 

Fruit Liquid Tannin 

-Nose: Tartness, honey 

-Taste: Adds a tartness, but it’s a bit strange. No oak noticeable. Honey. Tannins definitely present. It would compliment a berry mead much better than a traditional. 

-Body: Improved, but not as much as the barrel. 

 

Combined Liquid Tannin 

-Nose: Trace oak, honey. 

-Taste: Taste like I combined them. Tart fruit flavor is still at odds with this mead. The vanilla makes it better by providing a counterpoint and some oak, but still off. 

-Body: Improved but not as good as barrel. 

 

Takeaway

 

It’s hard to describe oak flavor. While vanilla is one component, it’s so much more than that. I could get into chemical compounds, but let’s keep it simple. I get 3 real components of a barrel flavor:

  1. Vanilla
  2. Enhancing flavors (smoke, vanilla-like compounds that give a more satisfying sensation than pure vanilla)
  3. Tannins (body, mouthfeel, thickness)

 

With the above criteria, I rate each as follows:

-Cubes lack everything compared to a barrel. 

-Xoakers give 2 and some 3, but lack 1. 

-Liquid Tannin Vanilla gives 1 and some 3, but lacks 2. 

-Liquid Tannin Fruit is just not suitable for this purpose at all. It is more of a fruit Tannin enhancer rather than a Barrel Mimic. 

-Combined Liquid tannins maybe useful in fruit, but is just strange here. 

 

My take away at this point is to combine Xoakers and Liquid Tannin Vanilla as a suitable Barrel Mimic. For a fruit mead, maybe add Liquid Tannin Fruit as well. I don’t imagine the Liquid Tannins will improve further, but the Xoakers should. 

 

Keep in mind this is 2 weeks in. My barrel aging sweet spot is generally somewhere between 2-4 months depending on temperature fluctuations. I like big oak, but prefer to stop before bourbon notes become apparent. 

 

Cheers until the next time point in 2 weeks!

 

 

1 Month Taste Comparison 

 

Tasting are performed side by side with exactly the same glass type (glencairn) at room temperature. 

 

Barrel Aged Mead 

-Nose: Strong Oak, honey, sweetness 

-Taste: Vanilla, honey, trace smoke. Drying effect on finish from tannins. Oak is approaching balance. More vanilla than last time. 

-Body: Much improved but needs a wee bit more time. 

 

Cubes

-Nose: Musty oak, honey, sweet

-Taste: Light vanilla. Honey. No smoke. Some tannins. 

-Body: Some increased body. 

 

Xoakers

-Nose: Oaky but smells hollow compared to Barrel, honey, sweet. Some mustyness. 

-Taste: Trace vanilla, honey, smoke. Tannins present but needs more. Lacks the depth of a barrel. 

-Body: Improved, hollow compared to barrel. 

 

Vanilla Liquid Tannin

-Nose: Honey, sweetness, noticeably absent oak

-Taste: Vanilla, No smoke, very mild oak notes. 

-Body: Some improvement, lot less than barrel at this time. 

 

Fruit Liquid Tannin 

-Nose: Tartness, honey 

-Taste: Adds a tartness, this has integrated quite nicely. No oak noticeable but it’s quite pleasant. Honey. Tannins definitely present. I take back saying it would compliment a berry mead much better than a traditional. It has no resemblance to mimicking an oak barrel however. 

-Body: Improved, but not as much as the barrel. 

 

Combined Liquid Tannin 

-Nose: Trace oak, honey. 

-Taste: Nice vanilla with a bit of tartness. Now that some more integration time has occurred, this is way better together than apart. It has no resemblance to mimicking an oak barrel however. 

-Body: Improved but not as good as barrel. 

 

Takeaway

 

It’s hard to describe oak flavor. While vanilla is one component, it’s so much more than that. I could get into chemical compounds, but let’s keep it simple. I get 3 real components of a barrel flavor:

  1. Vanilla
  2. Enhancing flavors (smoke, vanilla-like compounds that give a more satisfying sensation than pure vanilla)
  3. Tannins (body, mouthfeel, thickness)

 

With the above criteria, I rate each as follows:

-Cubes lack everything compared to a barrel. 

-Xoakers give 2 and some 3, but lack 1. Still lacks everything compared to a barrel. 

-Liquid Tannin Vanilla gives 1 and some 3, but lacks 2. Still lacks everything compared to a barrel. 

-Liquid Tannin Fruit is just not suitable for a Barrel Mimic. It is suitable for adding an acidity however.  

-Combined Liquid tannins is actually quite good now. It just doesn’t resemble a barrel. 

 

I still contend using both Xoakers and Liquid Tannin Vanilla would make for a suitable Barrel Mimic, but I would triple the number of Xoakers I add. It’s nowhere even close to the quality of a barrel at this time point, but far better than adding nothing. 

 

The Fruit Enhancer Liquid Tannin actually serves better for providing a rather neutral acidity not attributable to any fruit. That is definitely going in the tool box!

 

At 1 month, all of these are improvements over no oak, but the barrel is far superior at this point. I may need to retest with a combination of treatments to really get to a barrels level. I’m thinking of adding more Xoakers with the Liquid Vanilla. We will see. I feel 2 months is all that will be necessary for the barrel. 

 

Cheers until the next time point in 1 month!

 

 

2 Month Taste Comparison 

 

Tasting are performed side by side with exactly the same glass type (glencairn) at room temperature. 

 

Barrel Aged Mead 

-Nose: Strong Oak, honey, sweetness 

-Taste: Vanilla, honey, trace smoke. Drying effect on finish from tannins. Oak is balanced nicely with the sweetness of the mead. It is now starting to get some trace bourbon notes. 

-Body: Nice body. I don’t think it will get much better without over oaking it. 

 

Cubes

-Nose: Musty oak, honey, sweet. The musty smell has increased in a bad way. 

-Taste: Light vanilla. Honey. No smoke. Some tannins. Cannot taste the mustiness much. 

-Body: Improved body. About the same as 1 month. 

 

Xoakers

-Nose: Oaky but smells hollow compared to Barrel, honey, sweet. Some mustyness. 

-Taste: Lots of vanilla (more of a 1 dimensional vanilla compared to barrel), honey, trace smoke. Slightly less tannins than a barrel. 

-Body: Improved, very close to barrel. 

 

Vanilla Liquid Tannin (No change from 1 month)

-Nose: Honey, sweetness, noticeably absent oak

-Taste: Multidimensional Vanilla, No smoke, very mild oak notes. 

-Body: Some improvement, lot less than barrel. 

 

Fruit Liquid Tannin (No change from 1 month)

-Nose: Tartness, honey 

-Taste: Adds a tartness, this has integrated quite nicely. No oak noticeable but it’s quite pleasant. Honey. Tannins definitely present. I take back saying it would compliment a berry mead much better than a traditional. It has no resemblance to mimicking an oak barrel however. 

-Body: Improved, but not as much as the barrel. 

 

Combined Liquid Tannin (No change from 1 month)

-Nose: Trace oak, honey. 

-Taste: Nice vanilla with a bit of tartness. Now that some more integration time has occurred, this is way better together than apart. It has no resemblance to mimicking an oak barrel however. 

-Body: Improved but not as good as barrel. 

 

 

Takeaway

 

Bottom Line: Xoakers with Vanilla Liquid Tannin would be my recommended barrel mimic. Perhaps up the dose of Xoakers. 

 

Xoakers provide most of the barrel body and base vanilla content, but the vanilla is one dimensional. The Vanilla Liquid Tannin provides a multidimensional vanilla flavor and some additional body. So far, neither of these have provided any trace bourbon notes like the barrel. It could be the Xoakers need more time to fully extract or perhaps I didn’t use a high enough dose of Xoakers. 

 

Since 3 months is the recommended extraction time for Cubes and Xoakers, I will do another time point at 3 months. I may bottle the barrel mead before that point. I find strong bourbon notes to be a flaw in mead (personal preference).

 

Other Points

The Fruit Enhancing Tannin Extract mostly adds clean body and some tartness. It will be my go to over acid blend when a mead needs a slight touch of acidity. Not barrel related, but good to know!

by denardb on April 4, 2019, 1:58 p.m.