Add Bourbon-Soaked Oak Chips To Your Homebrew For A Smokier Beer

Bourbon-soaked wood chips aren't just for grilling. To take your homebrew to the next level and create a brew with a deep, dimensional profile, all it takes is a handful of oak wood chips — particularly American or Hungarian oak.

Why wood chips? Steeping these little woody beauties in your homebrew achieves much the same effect as distilleries achieve by casing their brews in oak barrels — and it takes up way less space and time. When it comes to brewing, oak is smooth and mild, an easy to work with inclusion for intrepid homebrewers. Oak works well for beer thanks to its natural tannin content, high without being overwhelming or introducing an unwelcome pungent aroma. Coupled with dark smoky bourbon notes, the flavorful duo adds sophisticated character and elevates your homebrew with slight bitterness and a full-bodied mouthfeel.

To do it, simply soak the oak chips in bourbon and add 'em to the brew. Once they're thoroughly saturated, add those soaked wood chips to the wort in your secondary fermenter. This way, the flavors you just added won't get cooked off during the primary ferment. Oak chips have a high surface area, so they'll impart an oaky, bourbon-y flavor fairly quickly. Start with ½ ounce of oak chips per five gallons of beer and adjust to taste from there. Soak those chips for at least 24 hours, but for a bolder smoky, woody flavor, leave them for a full two weeks.

Do the brew and make bourbon work for you

How much bourbon to use depends on the desired alcohol-by-volume level of your homebrew. Four ounces of bourbon per ounce of oak wood chips is generally a good jumping-off point, but this step is largely up to personal preference. Feel free to experiment with different proportions — and opt for a mid-range priced bourbon. There's no need to break the bank here, but as a general rule, it's never a good idea to work with a bourbon you wouldn't drink on its own. Your choice of bourbon can also be a great opportunity to customize the flavor profile of your brew. Spice-forward bourbons like Redemption Straight High-Rye ($28.99) or Hirsch Small Batch ($42.99) can lend a pleasant piquant spiced mouthfeel. (A little spiced bourbon is extra yummy when brewing Christmas Ales!)

Or, to make your brew lean smokier (and super affordable), you could soak your wood chips in Evan Williams Black Label ($17.39). The type of beer you intend to make matters, too. English and Scotch ales, porters, stouts, and IPAs tend to pair especially well with the flavor of oak wood chips. Pro tip: To keep those naturally buoyant wood chips submerged as they steep, it can be helpful to pop 'em in a hop bag and weigh it down with a heavy (sterilized) paperweight or a few glass marbles.