Do you have a spare bourbon barrel lying around your place waiting for you to make your next bourbon barrel aged (BBA) homebrew beer? Me neither. So you can either try to find one or you can just go to your local homebrew store and pick up some oak chips, cubes or staves like I did.

Even if I did have a barrel at my disposal I think I would still prefer to use oak chips anyway. Oak chips allow you to more easily control the amount of bourbon and oak flavors per batch. You can always add more chips but you can’t add more barrel.

So let’s get started, first you need to determine what kind of oak chips you want to use. Next what kind of bourbon you want to use. And finally exactly how much bourbon and “barrel” you want to taste in your batch.

Oak Chips vs Oak Cubes

Now we have already discussed the pitfalls to using actual barrels (less flavor control and of course limited availability) but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention in addition to chips there is yet another option – oak cubes. Oak cubes can also be found at the homebrew store but from a time perspective they are much less appealing when compared to chips. It takes much longer for the cube to absorb the bourbon and likewise much longer for the bourbon cubes’ flavor to permeate the beer.

So in my experience, oak chips work best. Be careful to select the purest chips, don’t source this key ingredient for your next batch from a home improvement store (they do carry chips for smoking meats, etc.) as they sometimes have additional flavors/chemicals you would not want in your beer.

There are two main types of chips to choose from, French and American. Oak chips in general have an undeniable vanilla flavor and sometimes you can also taste hints of coconut and/or aromatic wood. French chips offer well-rounded wood character, and sweet spice flavors including cinnamon and allspice. American chips have an intense oak flavor, with high vanilla and low tannin content.

Bourbon/Whiskey Selection

There really is no wrong choice when it comes to what bourbon or whiskey you want to use. I personally prefer bourbon and aim for something with a good bit of vanilla & caramel flavors (Makers Mark 46).


You can very the time you let the chips soak in bourbon based on your preference.  The longer they soak, the stronger the bourbon flavors. The less, the more dry oak flavor.  The flavors of oak/bourbon will also depend on when you drink your beer. The bourbon and oak flavors will become less harsh and mellow out as the beer ages. You can expect to enjoy more rounded flavor from your batch months later.


For a 5 gal homebrew batch I combined two ounces of French oak chips med toast with three shots of my favorite bourbon. I let that soak for three days then pitch all chips and remaining liquid into the secondary fermenter with the beer. Check out our article on using a secondary fermenter to age beer, I prefer to use a plastic larger mouth carboy which makes it easier to add/remove the chips.

(Note -if you plan to bottle, use a little less priming sugar because bourbon naturally adds additional sugar which can result in over carbonation)

Check out our homebrew Russian imperial stout recipe that can be bourbon barrel aged(coming soon).  Imperial stouts are the ideal beer style for a homebrew beer that will be barrel aged.  Soured beers are also great for barrel aging.  As mentioned previously, if you wait to drink your bourbon barrel aged beer the smooth rich flavors will be at their prime a few months or even years down the road.



Racking Beer to a secondary fermenter is the process of transferring beer from one fermenter to another after the primary fermentation process is complete.  The primary purpose for racking beer is to improve clarity, age the beer for better flavor and in some cases protect it from off flavors produced by dying yeast.  Additional benefits behind racking include the ability to dry hop, check out How to Dry Hop? and bourbon barrel aging your beer.  The most important part of this process is to make sure the primary fermentation step is complete before racking.

How to tell when primary fermentation is complete?

On average primary fermentation takes about 4-6 days for ales and 4-10 days for lagers to complete.  You can confirm that primary fermentation is complete by noticing the activity on the airlock has slowed down to less than 2 bubbles a minute. With some beers both primary and secondary fermentation happen in the same vessel, check out our fermenting the beer article for more.  Our recipe page will tell you what fermentation process is recommend for each specific style and recipe of beer.

primary fermentation phase finished

primary fermentation phase finished

What type of fermenter to rack into?

The best vessel to use during secondary fermentation is with out a doubt a carboy.  Carboy’s tend to have less head space than a bucket for example, less head space is important to help prevent oxidation to the beer. Both glass and plastic(food grade) carboys work great, however the plastic carboys are safer and tend to have a larger opening making them easier to clean.

How to rack and for how long?

Racking into a secondary fermenter should be done using a auto-siphon if you are not draining out a bucket with a spigot.  Before starting anything make sure the carboy has been cleaned, sanitized and had enough time to dry.  Regardless of method make sure the beer is flowing smoothly and not guzzling or splashing at any point.  As a rule of thumb the higher the original gravity of the beer, the long the beer needs to stay in the secondary to reach peak flavor.  From what I have experienced for lighter pale ales about 2 weeks is usually optimal, and about a month for a dry irish stout or any stronger/darker beers.

stout being drained to secondary

stout being drained to secondary

Why should you not rack into a secondary fermenter?

Well after I convinced you it was a good idea for your beer and easy to do, here are a few problems with racking.  The process of racking into a secondary fermenter greatly increases your chances of oxidizing your beer or introducing contaminates.  Introducing oxygen or contaminates to the beer at this point could cause staling reactions that will be noticed in the flavor of the beer within a couple of weeks after bottling the beer / kegging. With all of that being said, its well worth the risk and completely necessary to rack beer if you are planning on dry hopping or barrel aging your beer.



Dry hopping is the process of introducing dry hops to the wort anytime after the boil.  Dry hopping significantly enhances the hop character in aroma and flavor of the beer. It does so without really affecting the beers overall bitterness or IBU rating.  The most common style of beer to dry hop is an IPA, whose demands for hop aroma and flavor can sometimes seem endless.  Check out our American IPA recipe for detailed dry hop amounts.  All hop forms including plug, pellet, or whole leaf can be used when dry hopping.

When to Dry Hop?

The best time to dry hop is after the primary fermentation stage is finished.  This is usually 3-7 days after adding yeast to the wort.  When dry hopping I recommend racking the beer into a secondary fermenter (preferably a carboy) and then adding the hops.  If you do not have an extra carboy, you can remove the top to your fermenter and drop the hop bag right on in.

How to Dry Hop?

By far the cleanest and most efficient way to dry hop is by using a hop bag.  A hop bag is usually a nylon mash bag(pictured above) that has draw strings to help contain the hops. You can purchase a hop bag at your local home brew store or on plenty of online home brew sites and usually cost about $3.  Using a hop bag will help to contain all of the hops and prevent any clogging issues with bottling later.  Another plus behind using a hop bag is that you can drop a few sanitized marbles inside it to submerge the hops completely in the beer.  Be sure to sanitize the bag by boiling it for about 3-5 minutes before use.

How Long to Dry Hop?

The hops should remain submerged in the beer anywhere from 1.5 to 3 weeks before bottling the beer or kegging.  The optimal time from what I and other brewers I have talked with is about two weeks.

Summary/Things to Take Away

  • Dry hopping is an easy way to enhance the hop character in your beer.
  • Dry hop in your secondary fermenter if possible.
  • Use a hop bag when dry hopping.
  • Wait about two weeks for dry hopping to be finished.
Pint of Dry Hopped American IPA

Pint of Dry Hopped American IPA

Photo Courtesy of Flickr, Brew Day MEH

coriander seeds

Coriander is an annual herb that actually grows into what we know as Cilantro, yeah the soapy tasting leaf in a bunch of South Asian dishes and Mexican salsa.  Usually if a recipe says to use coriander it refers to the seed of the plant rather than its leaves. The seeds have a citrus flavor when crushed, almost lemon like. Coriander seeds are sometimes used in brewing certain styles of beer, particularly some Belgian witbier and German Hefeweizens. When brewing wheat beers they are typically used with orange peel to add a citrus character to the beer.

Where can I get some?
You can pick up coriander at your local grocery store, just check out the exotic spice section. I usually grab some just before I am about to brew at the local home brew store here in Raleigh.  You should expect to pay anywhere from $1 to $1.75 per ounce.

How to brew with Coriander?
The average 5 gallon beer recipe requires 1 ounce of Coriander seeds which is about a hand full.  Grind them up with a coffee grinder or crush them with a mortal and pestle ( hammer and napkin) just before use.  They should be placed in a hop bag and added to the boil when 15 minutes or less remain, check out Brewing the Beer for more info on when to add.  I would not recommend adding coriander into the fermenter, I have heard stories of it completely destroying beer by giving it an overwhelming amount of coriander flavor.