Gordon Schuck of Funkwerks was kind enough to invite the members of the Liquid Poets Society down for a clinic on how to clean out a used barrel. Funkwerks recently just emptied a batch of burgundy barrels that had their new brew, Codename: Ron Burgundy aging in it for 6 weeks. The old brun style ale is perfect to be aged on the robust richness of burgundy soaked oak.
When we first arrived, there was already tons of noise coming from brew house of Funkwerks. Gordon led us step by step how to take apart the barrel to prepare it for another batch. The barrels had already been rinsed and dried previously.
The first step is to remove the top plank. To do this you need a punch and a hammer to pop the wooden pegs out that are holding the plank to the lid. each side had 3-4 pegs. I tried my hand at this, and split a peg in half. I am either incredibly strong, or should never be allowed to use tools.
Next, you must remove the metal rings that are holding the barrel together if you want to get the lid off. We removed the top 3, and only moved the middle ring up slightly to give the staves some movement. He explained you don’t want to take it all the way off, because a barrel is not a puzzle you want to try to put back together.
We loosened the staves with a tool that supposedly has no real name, so we just called it a “pryer”. Arthur of Funkwerks wanted to call it a snuffleumpump, or something along those lines. Before the lid came off, we made sure to mark it so we can put it back into the exactly place.
With the lid gone, the smell of burgundy wine filled the room. I wanted to crawl inside the barrel and live there. The next step was to chisel out any air pockets that had formed. These can be felt by running your hands along the inside of the barrel, but not always seen. You do not want these to be there when you put new liquid in as the space can allow bacteria to form that could infect your brew.
In addition, we also scrapped out the barrel, removing any bacteria or fungus that had begun to grow on the staves.
Once you had done this, it was time to reassemble the metal rings and place the lid back in place. Replacing the lid was a difficult task that required two separate tools to help secure it in place. Sometimes the rings do not always line up in the same place as before, but it is important to get them tight. Then, flip the barrel over and clean the other side.
At the end of the clinic, Gordon brought out a Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrel they had received from New Belgium. The smell from this barrel was quite different and the inside was covered in a thick black char. Homebrewers can sometimes get lucky a score a barrel straight from a winery or distillery. With so many more brewers dabbling in barrel aging, occasionally you can find a barrel that has had beer in it too.
Thanks to Gordon Schuck and Funkwerks for opening this clinic to us.