Project Solera: Diary (Preparation)

We are getting closer to that exciting moment.  The moment where all the hard work final comes to fruition and we can finally fill our barrel full of our future lambic.

That being said, now that 55 gallons of the base beer had been brewed and moved into secondary to settle out, the next step was to prepare the actual barrel for being filled.  This preparation included building a rack/stand for the barrel and hydrating the barrel with water in order to help the wood expand and fill in any gaps that would result in seepage.

Night 1:

For the first part of this endeavor I enlisted the help of Michan a member of my homebrew club and one of people involved in the Solera Project.  Together we procured the necessary supplies to build the stand.  Ultimately this consisted of a few lengths of hi-quality 2×4’s, a skill saw, the necessary screws and drills and finally a compass.  Now I will admit that the use of a compass to measure and outline the curvature of the barrel on the cross pieces that would hold the barrel was far from the most effective way.  However, in the world of homebrewing we learn to use what we have, we learn how to McGuyver things!

Great beer, allows great minds, to come up with great ideas...

Great beer, allows great minds, to come up with great ideas…

The first thing we did was cut the 2×4’s down into 6 pieces of equal length.  2 of the pieces (which would be running the length of the barrel), were set aside since they did not need any additional work done on them.  The other four pieces still needed to be shaped to the curvature of the barrel.  Thus, we took one of the pieces and using the compass traced the curvature onto one of the pieces of wood.  After making an outline, Michan cut the piece using a skill saw, to give us a rough cut that followed the shape of the barrel.  Using this first piece, we then traced the shape and cut the remaining 3 pieces. (taking into account the changes in the barrel shape as it got further away from the center belly.)

At this point all 6-pieces of wood needed to build the stand were finished.

Michan measuring up the pieces.

Michan measuring up the pieces.

We then proceeded to take the two length pieces of wood (the ones without any cuts) as well as two pieces of the shaped wood and created a box.  We made sure to connect the straight pieces to the outside of the curved pieces in order to ensure that the other two curved pieces would be able to fit snuggly inside the box.

Cutting the barrel shape into the cross pieces.

Cutting the barrel shape into the cross pieces.

Once the box was formed, we took the empty barrel and carefully placed it on the box to see if the cuts and curves matched up.  Fortunately for us, they did.

Now that we were happy with the outline of the box, the next step was adding in the other two cut pieces as braces for the “belly” portion of the barrel.  Our goal was to have them placed on the hoops of the barrel as to not put to much pressure on any of the individual wooden staves.  To accomplish this we simply, wiggled in the two curved pieces of wood and shifted them until they aligned on the hoops of the barrel.  Once we found the sweet spot, we drilled the last two pieces of wood in and called in a night.

Checking to make sure the pieces form to the belly of the barrel.

Checking to make sure the pieces form to the belly of the barrel.

Night 2:

Now that the stand was built it was time to put the finishing touches on the stand, load the barrel up onto the stand and finally fill the barrel full of water in order to hydrate.

For this portion another member of the Mid-Mass Malt Masters, and yes another person involved in the Solera Project, Mike came over to help.  The first thing we did was sand down the curved pieces of wood on the stand.  By doing this we knew the barrel would sit a lot easier on the stand again preventing any unwanted pressure on a single point of the barrel.

Sanding down the barrel stand.

Sanding down the barrel stand.


Mike helping out with the sanding.

After sanding down each curved piece, we decided on a spot to “house” the barrel and placed the stand there.  Next we retrieved the empty barrel and carefully placed it on the stand, making sure that the curved wooden pieces were on the barrels hoops as much as possible.  We were very happy to see that after the shaping and sanding that the barrel sat comfortably and solidly on the stand.

At this point everything had gone incredibly smoothly, however as we all know, generally nothing goes smoothly the first time you do it, and here is where we finally ran into some problems.  With the barrel set in its permanent resting place, the last task we needed to complete for the night was rehydrating the barrel.  The barrel was still in excellent condition with a wonderful bourbon aroma, however having sat for an extended amount of time “dry”, we knew that there would be some weeping when we went to fill the barrel up.

filling the barrel in order to hydrate it.

filling the barrel in order to hydrate it.

What we didn’t expect was the amount of weeping, and the time it would take for the barrel to seal itself back up.  At first the barrel wept at a very slow pace from only two points in the barrel, however just as the barrel reached its capacity, the pressure built and the real leaking commenced.  With 55 gallons of water now sitting in a barrel in my basement, I was freaking out that the entire barrel was compromised and that I was about to spend the night sitting in the basement attempting to avoid an all out flood.  The barrel continued to leak at a consistent pace for about 4 hours, resulting in almost 4 gallons of water being lost.  Finally after a lot of waiting and a lot of cleaning, the weeping began to slow down, and by the following morning, the barrel had sealed itself and was hydrating nicely.  Looking back on the situation, I may have only put 10 gallons of water in at a time, and let the barrel seal itself over an extended period, rather than dumping in the entire 55 gallons at once.  However the reality, and my advice to anyone taking on this endeavor, is to trust your barrel.  If you have a high quality barrel, then the weeping will eventually stop, and your barrel will seal itself.  It may result in having to use a couple dozen towels to soak up water on the floor, but eventually it will work itself out.

The weeping looked manageable at first...then the flood gates opened!

The weeping looked manageable at first…then the flood gates opened!

The next week or so…

I allowed the barrel to hydrate for a little over a week.  I wanted to make sure it was good and sealed, and I was still waiting on a couple of carboys of the base beer to make its way over to my house.

The plan is to empty the barrel and then fill it with the beer next weekend.  Then the waiting game can begin!



Tags: barrel weeping, barrel-aged beer, bourbon-barrel, building a barrel stand, homebrew, lambic, solera


  • Mitch says:

    Hi from another beer nut. I just discovered your blog, can’t believe I haven’t run across it before. We seem to share the same interest in beer. Are you on untappd? I love connecting with other beer geeks.

  • matalec1984 says:

    I am, matalec1984. Thanks for checking out the blog, always great to have another beer nut hanging out and chatting!


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