Barrel Fermented French Saison

by Robert French | Updated: December 3, 2014

Homebrew French Oak Barrel

When you get the chance to use a whiskey barrel in your homebrewing adventures, you really need to make the most if it.

I was lucky enough to get this oak whiskey barrel as a Christmas present from my wife 2-years ago.

Within a few weeks I had an Old Ale aging in it. Since then I have barrel aged two more beers. The last beer I aged was a Mild Ale.

I let that one sit for about 4-months with the goal to extract as much of the remaining whiskey flavors as possible so that I could start a sour barrel in a more neutral oak setting.

The Mild did pick up a slight whiskey aroma and taste, but it really didn’t change too much during the 4-month time frame. At that point I was prepared to make this barrel sour, but I didn’t want to let it sit empty too long and I wasn’t quite set on what style to sour.

To buy a little time, I thought it would be fun to try a barrel fermented beer. Inspired by one of my long time favorites Firestone-Walker DBA, I thought I would give it a shot.

French Saison Holiday Ale

The plan was to do straight ahead Saison with just a hint of holiday spices. It was a 5.5 gallon batch to be fermented in an 8 gallon rye whiskey barrel

OG 1.075
FG 1.010
Bottled to 2.4 vol CO2

10.8 lbs. Canadian 2-Row
2 lbs. German Pilsner
8 oz. Flaked Wheat
8 oz. Flaked Oats
8 oz. Honey
8 oz. Molassess

Mashed @ 153 degrees for 60 minutes
Vorlauff @ 168 degrees for 10 minutes
Sparged @ 170 degrees for 60 minutes

1 oz. Goldings 4.5 AA 90 min
.5 oz. Hallertau Mittelfruh 3.75 AA 15 min
.5 oz. Hallertau Mittelfruh 3.75 AA 0 min

1 Cinnamon stick
5 Cloves whole
5 All Spice berries
2 oz Crystalized Ginger


All spices were put in the boil at flame out
Whirlpool for 15 minutes
Rest 15 minutes
Chilled to 80 degrees

White Labs WLP 565 Belgian Saison I (2 viles, no starter)

Barrel Prep
Since the barrel had not been rinsed between batches I wanted to make sure I got out any chunkies. I was surprised by how much came out. After the rinsing I filled the barrel with 200°F water and let sit for about 30 minutes. I drained the barrel and let it cool down a bit before filling with the fresh wort.

brew system single tier

The beer fermented in an uncontrolled garage which stayed in the mid 70s during the first week.

It spent 16 days in the barrel and then I transferred into a secondary. At transfer, I sampled and was amazed that all the spice aroma and flavor was gone and the rye whiskey really came through. A few days before bottling I pulled off 2 cups of beer and boiled for 15 minutes with the exact same spices that were used at flame out. I then blended the spiced beer back in at bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Appearance: Golden Straw in color with a foamy head.

Aroma: A light whiskey aroma with a fruit component.  A melon/stone fruit aroma but without a distinct fruit.

Taste: A slight whiskey/caramel sweetness with just a hint of spice. Finishes very clean and easy drinking.

Overall: I love this beer. The spice elements are muted, but the slight whiskey notes makes this easy drinking full of interesting characteristics. No off flavors or indications fermentation flaws. The bad thing is this beer is pretty much one and done, not sure I would ever be able to replicate the soft whiskey notes with a new barrel.

Next up: Sour Project….