Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wood Toasting 101

I have been known as the "oak guy" in my local homebrewer's club for a couple years now, and while I'm not quite sure how I earned the distinction, I will admit that I enjoy using wood in my brewing.

In addition to the tried-and-true oak staple, I've been known to venture into less well-charted territory from time to time, using cedar, applewood, cherrywood, walnut, and other woods. Of course, they don't usually sell toasted cherrywood staves at the local homebrew shop, so you'll have to make your own.

I was able to source some 1"x12" un-treated cherry staves from a local cabinet maker. Wherever you get your wood, make sure it's untreated, pesticide free wood, as the stuff sold at Home Depot may not be food safe.

After that, you will want to toast it to bring out it's flavor characteristics. I use my kitchen oven, but a butane torch or open fire will work just as well provided you are careful. For this particular piece, I was looking for a medium toast so I put it in a 300°F oven on the center rack for approximately 35 minutes.

I like to use a pizza screen for this process as it makes it easy to get the wood in and out and allows adequate airflow so I get a nice even toast. Once it's to your desired toast level (I'll have a more in-depth write-up on toast levels and the flavor contributions of different woods in a future post), let it cool down for at least 15 minutes, and I prefer to let them rest for about a week before using them - just like fresh roasted coffee or chocolate, some of the harsher flavors need to mellow before use.

For reference, here is an un-toasted stave next to a freshly toasted one:

I hope this information proves useful. If you are doing any oaked beers soon, let me know in the comments.

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