My barrel project has begun! Inspired by an article about using a nocino barrel to age a Belgian Strong Dark by Fat Head’s Brewery, I have gone “all in.”
I’ve been making nocino for several years. I’ve also experimented with “oaking” nocino using charred oak chips. This project will take me to the new level of cask aging. Once the nocino is aged to the desired level, my plan is to use the barrel to age/flavor a strong beer. Here are a few issues that I need to consider.
- This project will involve the largest batch of nocino I’ve made to date. Because I prefer to use Persian walnuts (Juglans regia) I will incur a significant expense. The nice people at Haag Farms will get a much bigger order this year!
- I need to decide what to use for my base alcohol. In the past, I’ve used vodka, Evercleer, grappa, brandy, and red wine. I decided long ago that Evercleer was NOT a good base alcohol. Grappa works well, but is not much different from vodka due to the overpowering flavor of green walnuts. Both brandy and red wine seem to provide the most positive comments by those persons who have sampled them. Also, these two beverages were probably the most likely used to make nocino during the Middle Ages. Presently, I am experimenting with nocino blends made with brandy and red wine to see if a combination of these two base alcohols might work well.
- Once the nocino is made and transferred into the barrel it must be monitored closely to prevent “over-oaking.” My barrel is a brand new 10L container with #3 char. Small barrels such as this tend to give up their flavors to their contents more quickly than larger barrels. If the nocino picked up too much oak, I could probably balance it with additions of non-oaked nocino in the future.
- The decision of beer style is important. I already know that nocino goes well with coffee and chocolate flavors, so an imperial stout with either of both of those flavors might go well. I am intrigued by Fat Head’s use of a Belgian Strong Dark. Its fruity, spicy character would also tend to be good match as well. More thought is needed on this decision and I will likely ask for input from fellow brewers on this choice.
That about sums up my current thoughts/plans for this project. My first order of business is to determine the amount of green walnuts I need to use. Haag Farms opens orders for green walnuts on April 1, which is coming up quickly!!!
I’m quite excited about this project. I will need much help from my friends to consume all of that nocino!!