Brew Day – Bunsy Imperial Stout + Bourbon Oak Chips – 12/8/18

It’s time to get a little freaky! I don’t want to buy an oak barrel because they are a pain to keep clean/sanitized from what I read. BUT, I do want a way to create a delicious oak flavored beer.

Enter the chips.

Oak chips to be exact. Oak chips, spirals, or cubes are a very useful arrow in the homebrewer’s quiver. As long as they are handled properly, they can add some very interesting character and depth to your beer. I never used them previously, so I’m keeping very basic. I’m brewing a base imperial stout, and then I’m going to soak the oak chips in some bourbon for a week. The goal is to have a nice imperial stout with detectable (but not overwhelming) bourbon and some oak/smoke highlights.

I chose Evan Williams as my bourbon of choice because I like the taste. And, it won’t break the bank. I bought my oak chips (packaged) from my local homebrew store, so no additional prep was needed. I don’t know enough about this process to advocate making your own oak chips – I’m sure that there is some type of prep involved – I’ll save that for another person to explain. You probably don’t want to sweep sawdust off your workshop floor. That just sounds gross.

This oak chip addition will be in the secondary, so I don’t have to worry TOO much about infection. The beer should be alcoholy enough to ward off the plague at that point. But, I do want to make sure I handle these things properly (like a good little home brewer). Here are the simple steps I performed…

  1. get a mason jar and lid (wash, rinse, sanitize both)
  2. dump in the oak chips
  3. pour bourbon on top until the oak chips are covered
  4. shake and let the chips set
  5. top off bourbon to keep the chips below liquid level

The general idea is that the bourbon will sanitize the oak chips. Over the next few days, I checked on the liquid level, and topped it off once or twice as the chips absorbed more bourbon. By week’s end, that jar smelled MIGHT FINE!

Here is where you can personalize the process. Some forums advocate pouring the liquid AND the chips into the secondary. Some advocate just putting the chips into the secondary. It really comes down to your taste preference. Since I only wanted some highlights, I reserved the liquid, and just threw in the chips. The liquid is sitting in my fridge for future deployment (or drinking). It really does smell amazing.

The amount of time the chips sit in the secondary is totally a taste preference. After 5 days, I started drawing mini samples to see how it was doing. At day 7, I felt that the level of bourbon/oakiness was where I wanted (another taster confirmed), and then I bottled. I had three other people taste this sample completely still. THEY LOVED IT. This thing will be amazing once its done bottle conditioning.

Recipe note – it took about 4 oz of bourbon to cover initially, and I probably topped off with about 1-2 more ounces as time went on.

The Recipe:

imperial stout + bourbon oak

Target numbers:

  • Pre boil SG: 1.073
  • OG – 1.102, FG – 1.020

This will be bottled once it reaches its final gravity.

Bought ingredients at my local homebrew store (Bacchus & Barleycorn).

Brew day notes:

  • Date: 12/8/18
  • Stovetop BIAB setup
  • Total time (including cleaning): 4 hours
  • Brew day beer of choice:
  • Brew day A/V stylings of choice:
    • “Two and a Half Men,” season 8
  • Actual OG: 1.114
    • I’ve never hit an OG that high – this is new territory for me! Glad I made a yeast starter!
  • Final OG: 1.031
  • Final ABV: 11.3%
  • What went well:
    • Everything – no issues at all
  • What went bad:
    • Fermentation temp was a little too low for my liking. The basement is reflecting the arctic tundra that is the outside weather. The space heater only does so much without going TOO HOT, so I’ll need to find a more targeted way. I don’t want to build a fermentation chamber, so I’ll have to see what options are out there.
  • Fermentation notes:
    • 12/8 (yeah, same day as brewing) – visible bubbling in airlock
    • 12/12 – still bubbling…
    • 12/15 – 1.036 gravity
    • 12/17 – added bourbon soaked oak chips, but reserved the liquid
    • 12/22 – nice taste in the sample, some nice oak and bourbon character – put in fridge to cold crash for a few days
    • 12/27 – 1.031 gravity at bottling. Missed final OG, but hit the target ABV for the recipe. I think that better temp control during the fermentation would have driven the gravity lower. I’m looking at some interesting solutions for that including aquarium heaters!
  • Tasting notes:
    • 12/27 – this beer tastes amazing. At 10 days on the oak/bourbon chips, this thing is even nice to drink at room temp and still. Its sweet with a little bourbon backbone and some oakiness. I’m very glad that I reserved the liquid and didn’t pour that into the fermenter – the bourbon balance is PERFECT right now. I’m going to put a bottle or two off to the side, and let it age for a couple of months in the bottle. I have a trip to Philly in March, and I know my buddies will want to try this one.


Have you ever brewed this style beer before? Please let us know about your brewing experiences. If you enjoyed this post, please like and share. Thanks!