Category Archives: Sour Ale

Home-brew Update: Matt turns sour

I haven’t been blogging much lately, but that’s because I’ve been busy experimenting with my beers. I’ve brewed 6 batches of beer, plus started my own yeast bank and played around with sour beer program a bit.

IMG_2409I did a lot of research for my sour beer program. I started in this back in August with my first Flanders Red and Lambic, but I’ve added two more reds, a Berliner Weisse, Oud Bruin, and a Sour Farmhouse Ale that used a split primary fermentation to give the lacto a headstart. In addition to the sours I have made a Robust Porter and a Schwarzbier and kept all the different strains used in the yeast (and bug) bank.

The most recent Flanders Red batches were brewed as a single batch and the recipe was based on the one in Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff. It was brewed as a full batch and fermented for in the primary with Wyeast 1056, but then split between two secondary fermenters with the larger part getting the Wyeast Rosaelare blend and the other part getting the Wyeast De Bom. They’re now aging with a bit of oak in the fermenters.

The Berliner Weisse was done as a no boil/no hop batch. Michael Tonesmeire talks about this in his book, American Sour Beers. I asked him about the hops, which his recipe show being added in the decoction part of the mash and he suggested that the IBU levels were so low that your could forgo them, so I did. I also didn’t do a decoction mash, just a single infusion. Lacto, half pack of Brett L., and a clean ale yeast (house culture of Wyeast 1056) added. The main fermentation went well and its now resting and hopefully getting delicious.

IMG_2512The Sour Farmhouse Ale is the one I’m looking forward to the most. I dream of kicking back in the heat of summer with a few bottles of this. This was originally split in two and had lacto in one half and WPL566 Belgian Saison II in the other. The lacto part was kept warm (pitched at about 100 F) on a heating pad and after a couple of days when both were going full on they got combined and had a third of a pack of Brett Brux. added. The ferment took off and is quite vigorous as I’m typing. I will slowly warm this a bit as it starts to finish to make sure it drys out good.

My Oud Bruin was fermented out for a week with the same house culture of Wyeast 1056 as the Berliner Weisse (large starter split between the two) and half a pack of Brett L. Then racked onto about 500mL of the lacto half of the Sour Farmhouse Ale and then had Pedio and a half pack of Brett Brux. Hope to try this in the summer and maybe drink it in the fall or winter. We’ll see how it comes along.

My Flanders Red from last August has a nice profile, but was a bit lacklustre in both the complexity and the sourness. It is sitting at SG 1.006, which says to me that it’s probably pretty much done the ferment, so I’m guessing the sourness is pretty locked it, and the one-dimensional level of complexity is probably more-or-less set as well. So, I think that this can use some new fermentable and judging by the flavour I’m thinking cherries and probably some fresh bugs to chew on them. Its 6 months on and another 6+ months with cherries should build up the complexity I’m looking for.

IMG_2515The Lambic tastes good. I was a bit afraid with this one because it was brewed and just had the Wyeast Lambic Blend added, capped off with and airlock, and left untouched. I had no idea what to expect, and I was please it didn’t taste like vomit. It actually tastes like a traditional lambic, more or less. It’s young and some more age will help, but it’s right in the ballpark already. I am happy with this one so far. But, because I fell like experimenting, I think that half of the batch will get put onto raspberries and aged another 6+ months. The SG is 1.002 and if thats going to hold steady I will bottle up some to drink this summer (I’m thinking I will leave some to age longer for later blending).

I must admit, I’m having fun with this sour program, but it takes forever (it seems) and I’m really looking forward to drinking these beers. Look for more updates and it moves along.

Cheers!

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Bugs In My Beer?? Adventures in Mixed Fermentation, part 1

 

IMG_1684.JPGA year-and-a-half ago, in January of 2013, I brewed an English styled Old Ale using a limited release Old Ale Blend from Wyeast – which was a yeast blend that included a culture of brettanomyces. This was my first encounter with brettanomyces, or brett (known as the king of wild yeast).

Brett is cousin of saccharomyces, which is what typical brewers yeast is (and the same as bakers yeast, just a different twig in the same branch of the family tree). Both are in the same family of fungus (yes, fungus!) and will ferment sugars into CO2 and, most importantly, alcohol. Most of the time brewers do their best to keep brett out of their beers, avoiding it like the plague for fear of contaminating their “clean” beers. Brett creates flavours that are typically referred to as “funk” and are described from “fruity” to “barnyard” and “horse blanket”. It sounds pretty bad, but is one of the main flavour contributors to Belgian and American styled sour ales, changing flavour over its long maturation period (months to years). It can be manipulated, somewhat, with the conditions set out by the brewer in the wort/beer, temperature, time, and brett strain (like yeast, they’re not all the same).

So, why would anyone want to tempt fate and contaminated beers? Flavour, experimentation, to prove you can, sheer insanity – somewhere in there.

After my initial brett beer I did nothing more in the way of “mixed” fermentations until recently when I decided that I wanted to go back down that road. (Mixed fermentation is when not just brewers yeast is added, but brett and/or bacteria cultures to sour the beer – my original brett Old Ale, for example, had brewers yeast and brett). I had been reading a lot on The Mad Fermentationist blog about his experiments with brett, as well as, lactobacillus and pediococcus bacterial fermentations as is done in traditional sour beers from Northern Europe and by newer breweries in the US. This sparked that urge in me to try it. I’ve had several sour ales before and love them, and I’m not afraid of trying new experiments (nor am I afraid of contaminating my other, clean beers – basic sanitation and common sense should help).

So, what did I do?

First thing I did was culture up the dregs from my Old Ale using first a small amount (250mL) of unhopped wort in a mason jar covered in tinfoil to see what would happen. After two weeks it was smelling and looking good, pH and gravity had dropped, so I had a taste and it was nice and fruity (cherry-like). Next, I added it to some lightly hopped wort (900mL) and put in an airlock, and this is where it sits as I’m writing, sill fermenting/aging. I hope to use this culture to ferment out an pale ale and added it to some other fermentations.

The next bit of experimenting came from inspiration after reading American Sour Beers by Michael Tonsmeire (also the operator/writer of The Mad Fermentationist). I made a small (300mL) lightly hopped wort (13 IBU) and added nothing but 10 or so ripe blueberries from my bush in the backyard. I have no idea what I will grow in this one, but if the test come out (pH, gravity, smell) its probably safe enough to taste and then we’ll see if it was a success (note of caution – attempting to grow something from the wild can be dangerous. There is a possibility of mold or E.coli or other nasty things growing in that wort. There are some indicators that its safe or not, but I’m no expert and I don’t advocate following my word on this). My hope is to capture some local wild yeast and souring bacteria that will make tasty beer. We’ll see how it goes, wait for a future post on this.

I have also purchased ingredients for a lambic beer, including Wyeast Lambic Blend, which is a blend of brewers yeast, brett, lactobacillus, and pediococcus. This will be a more traditional attempt at a sour ale. I also plan on a red type ale as a side experiment with the lambic blend, my house cultured brett blend, and a standard ale yeast. I will post on this once they are made.

So, as I start out down this long road to sour ales, I feel like I’m part brew master and part mad scientist. I can see the need for more airlocks and jugs of various sizes (and space for them, and understand/tolerance from my wife) in the near future. The path to great beer is always exciting, but now that I’m on this path I feel a new brewer, excited like a kid in a candy shop with cash in his hand. Look for upcoming posts as I brew and experiment.

-Cheers!

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