Steam Clean Barrels?

Discussion in 'Barrels & Oaking' started by crushday, Dec 10, 2019.

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  1. Dec 10, 2019 #1

    crushday

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    Is there anyone out there who steam cleans their barrels between fills? If so, how are you doing it? I've found a couple companies in central and northern California that have on-sight steam cleaning. I live too far away from those locations to be a viable option for me.

    Steamer prices are barbelled. I've found steamers in the $150 range at Lowes/Home Depot (and Amazon) that are marketed for home consumer cleaning projects but I'm not certain the steam output is adequate to blast a barrel. On the other side of the spectrum, there are steamers marketed for commercial cleaning projects in the $3500 plus price point. These too carry an uncertainty of adequate steam output and not at a price that is feasible for my needs. Not much in the middle.

    I want the ability to home steam a handful of barrels once to twice annually. Anyone have a solution?
     
  2. Dec 10, 2019 #2

    Johnd

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    Yup. I have a propane fired burner and stainless pot for boiling crawfish. A buddy uses steam for paint removal, the burner provides the heat, an old water heater tank provides the vessel. A few modifications to close off unwanted openings, a proper hose, and you can steam a barrel.
     
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  3. Dec 11, 2019 #3

    1d10t

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    Just curious. Is this for sanitary purposes or just cleaning?
     
  4. Dec 12, 2019 #4

    crushday

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    @1d10t - very good question. Primary purpose is for sanitary reasons. I purchased two 15-gallon oak barrels from a company in California that had one filling of bourbon (aged 2 years) for $150 each, shipped. I thought that was a great deal. They were sulfured, sealed and shipped to me. I have my first wine in them.

    Prior to filling with wine I prepared them by filling with a Kmeta/citric acid solution for about two months to seal any leaks and hopefully dilute any residual bourbon taste. Although, since cab sauv was going into one of them, I wouldn't be too bummed if there was a bourbon note in the final wine. The other was to be filled with super tuscan (RJS).

    I'm now six months into a twelve month barrel age. One barrel smells and tastes normal, with a hint of bourbon. The other one (cab sauv) has a musty smell and essentially no taste. I think it might be tainted...

    I've been reading about possible reasons and solutions. I've stumbled upon steam barrel cleaning. From what I've read, you can sanitize a barrel using steam as much as 1/2" into the interior surface. I want to steam that barrel, specifically, before I fill it again in June 2020. But, I don't live anywhere near such a service. And, I have 9 barrels... I would steam, as part of normal practice, before each subsequent filling.
     
  5. Dec 12, 2019 #5

    wxtrendsguy

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    My first rule of barrels is if it smells bad inside it is time to become a flower pot. Strong VA smell or anything foul smelling is not going to always be fixed by steaming...sometimes a barrel's life holding wine is over.

    As far as steaming a barrel, with the size you are talking about any steam producing device will work. You are not trying to "bast a barrel". The way steam cleaning in a barrel works is from heat and then from the suction created by the steam condensing inside the barrel as it cools. Steam for at least 5 mins...you want to get the barrel up to temperature and then hold it there for 3 minutes, then bung the barrel and wait, When you pull the bung off you will be really amazed at the amount of suction that has developed.
     
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  6. Dec 12, 2019 #6

    crushday

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    @wxtrendsguy - excellent information. I appreciate it, greatly.
     
  7. Dec 12, 2019 #7

    stickman

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    @crushday How did the barrels smell when you received them, also did you look inside the barrel with a flashlight? Are the barrels charred or just toasted? If charred, I would open and remove the char, steaming a charred barrel will partially activate the carbon which will strip flavors and color if used for aging wine.

    What have you been topping the barrel with during the 6 months? I know I'm repeating myself, but if you are using commercial wine for topping, a slight activity will generate some co2 which can temporarily cause the musty flavor you describe, it should be ok once the co2 has left.
     
  8. Dec 12, 2019 #8

    crushday

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    @stickman - thanks for your question and wisdom. The barrels smelled like bourbon when I received them. And, the kmeta/citric acid solution also smelled like bourbon and was a nice caramel color as it spilled onto my driveway. Although I did look inside with a flashlight, I’m ignorant of the finishing properties of toasted vs. charred. As such, I did not identify which. I just checked the receipt from a year ago and the description said “charred”.

    I have been topping up monthly with wine I’ve made. I have been going through a half bottle to a full bottle every month. It’s really slowed down this fall...
     
  9. Dec 12, 2019 #9

    Johnd

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    Typically, bourbon barrels are charred, not just toasted. A barrel that is toasted has a fire burned inside of it in a confined container, and the radiant heat from the fire "toasts" the wood. The longer the fire burns, the darker the toast. The barrels are not allowed to catch on fire.

    Charred barrels, on the other hand, are allowed to catch on fire on the inside and have burned wood inside, affecting the taste of the liquid in a much different fashion.

    Never having done it, I don't know what the implications are for aging wine in a used bourbon barrel, perhaps much of the charred taste / characteristics are depleted with the bourbon aging. I suspect that the outcome of aging wine in a new charred barrel would not be good.

    A couple of videos showing toasting vs charring:

    Toasting:
    Charring:
     
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  10. Dec 15, 2019 #10

    anthony toto

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    There is a local wine maker who also uses steam processing between fills for his neutral barrels. In conversations with him, purpose is 2 fold, 1-cleaning/sterilize and 2-the heat opens the pores of the wood and it aids in oaking the wine. His wine is excellent for being in neutral barrels, so the process must be working.
     
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  11. Dec 15, 2019 #11

    crushday

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    @anthony toto - I’m convinced I’ll be adding this to my process. Question now is which steamer. I have two 15 gallon barrels, two 13.2L barrels and five 23L barrels. Annually, that’s only going to be 14 steam applications. Can you ask your local wine maker what steamer they use?
     
  12. Dec 15, 2019 #12

    anthony toto

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    Absolutely. If timing is not an issue for you, I plan to visit him after the holidays and I'll get make/model/procedure from him.
     
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  13. Dec 15, 2019 #13

    crushday

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    Timing not an issue. I won’t have empty barrels until May 2020. Between May and July I’ll cycle through all the barrels, however.
     
  14. Dec 15, 2019 #14

    anthony toto

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    Perfect
     
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  15. Dec 29, 2019 #15

    pjd

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    I made my own barrel steamer. and I have used it now for two years. This is what I wrote a couple years ago.
    "Being laid up with a hip replacement allows me a lot of time to think about my wine making processes. One issue that always bothered me was maintenance and cleaning of my barrels. Up until now all I really did was rinse them out and immediately add a new batch of wine.
    I mostly use 15 gallon barrels and currently am using five of them. they are mostly neutral and have been in continuous use since May 2015.
    I have been reading about cleaning the barrels and came to the conclusion that steam cleaning would be the way to go. It's not real practical to buy a commercial barrel steamer when you only have a few barrels so the DIY in me decided to assemble one.
    I found a new 4kw electric steam generator, the kind that is used for a steam shower. I added some silicone hose, rated 500 degrees and I fabricated a steam "gun" to inject the steam into the barrel. Total cost was less than $200.00.
    I got everything installed today and gave it a test drive. I had lots of steam after about 5 minutes warm up time. Now I wish to automate it with a timer.
    My plan is to empty the barrels, rinse them then inject steam for around 10 minutes then insert the bung. the barrel should go into a deep vacuum while drawing out the tartrates and wine from the wood pores."
    I have now had opportunity to use the barrel steamer a couple years. I am real happy with the results. 10 minutes of steaming gets the interior of the barrel past 225 degrees and the exterior of the barrel gets past 135 degrees. I am impressed with how much wine and crystals it removes from the barrel. The barrels smell real good when finished.
     
  16. Dec 29, 2019 #16

    Boatboy24

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    Wow, very cool. I imagine at those temps for a few minutes, you're killing any buggers that might be in there as well.
     
  17. Dec 31, 2019 #17

    buzi

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    Just a couple of principles here to keep us on track. There are two functions here: cleaning and sterilizing. Cleaning can be done with pressure and heat to blow off dirt and residue. Sterilizing is a function of time and heat. It takes 15-20 minutes at 121c to sterilize a vessel or 3-4 minutes at134c.

    Two more items, it is very difficult to heat sterilize something that is not clean and you can bake in residues. Also wood is porous and it will be hard to clean and it is also hard for the heat to penetrate the wood as it an insulator. That being said, I am intrigued! I can't wait to see the the end result. The sterilizer would also be great for stainless tanks and vessels but glass carboy's make me a bit nervous. I am definitely curious to hear more thoughts.
     
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  18. Dec 31, 2019 #18

    WellingtonToad

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    Sterilizing is a function of time and heat. It takes 15-20 minutes at 121c to sterilize a vessel or 3-4 minutes at134c.

    @buzi just want to check your numbers. You have used temperatures in Celsius. Living on the other side of the world that is my language.
    Then there is a terminology difference. I pasteurise cider, to keep the bubbles without the bottles exploding.
    I heat the bottles to 60c for 20 minutes or to 70c for 3 minutes. No explosions after that.
    I'm thinking sterilizing and pasteurising are much the same. Did you mean to say F not c?
     
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  19. Dec 31, 2019 #19

    buzi

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    That little s a really good question because they are closely related. I am speaking in Celsius. Both are good methods for the right reasons. Typically pasteurization will allow a 5 log reduction in the micro population vs sterilization which is a 6 log reduction in the microbe population. Or in layman's terms pasteurization kills most microbe where sterilization will kill all the microbes - given the right amount of time and temp.

    If sterization is the goal the challenge with a barrel will be getting the right about of heat to penetrate the wood for the right amount of time. Steel or glass is a much better conduit for heat and it is not porous. If your goal is better cleaning with a good reduction in microbes then either will be effective just don't drop your santizing solutions and sulphur sticks out of you regimine!

    I am sorry I went of the deep end I just don't want someone thinking a quick steam will solve all the problems with a dirty barrel and end losing a second or third batch.
     
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  20. Jan 9, 2020 #20

    chitownwine

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    @pjd if you don’t mind could you elaborate a little on your steam set up very interested in trying a similar build myself,
    Rob.
     

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