Monday, December 21, 2009

Clear Sugar Experiment - Bottling

Over the weekend I bottled the "Clear" Sugar Experiment that I posted about last week.  Sunday I wanted to brew a Belgian Strong Dark based on De Struise Pannepot, and I needed the yeast harvested from the experiment to pitch into it.  The experimental beers had hit a gravity around 1.006 (~90% AA) and they looked clear, so I didn't think it was necessary for them to sit longer than two weeks in primary.

The experimental sugars were used for the priming dosage for their respective batches.  I haven't done this two previous sugar experiments, but when we are talking such minute differences, the extra work seemed worth it.  I weighed out the sugars based on how much would be needed to give the equivalent carbonation of 1 oz (28 g) of sucrose.  This worked out to: 28 g of table sugar, 28 g of clear candi rocks, 39 g clear candi syrup, and 33 g of corn sugar.  Finally for the batch that received no sugar I went with 46 g of DME, just to keep it completely sugar free.  I am a bit concerned that priming in this way could induce some variability if I didn't work things out exactly right, but it seemed worth doing since the amount of sugar added for carbonation is equivalent to 28% of the sugar added to the wort initially.

After the sugars were weighed out, I dissolved them in enough water to make ~10 tbls of liquid.  Each glass got two minutes in the microwave to dissolve the sugars and make sure everything was sanitary (as usual the candi rocks were the biggest pain to get dissolved).

Each sweet syrup had enough sugar to carbonate 120 oz of beer to 3 volumes of CO2 (assuming I did my math correctly). Since each contained 10 tbls of liquid this means that 1 tbls would be enough to carbonate 12 oz of beer (convenient how that worked out).  So I used a tablespoon and funnel to dose all of the bottles with the sugar solution (2 tbls in each bomber).

Next I siphoned directly from the five jugs into the bottles (a Mini Auto-siphon is a must if you want to do something like this since it fits into the mouth of 1 gallon jugs), and capped them.  The yield was a perfectly even two bombers and five 12 oz bottles per jug (just over 4 gallons total). The small amount of leftover beer tasted pretty good (fruity, clean pils malt, hint of hops etc...), if still a bit yeasty. 

I'm looking forward to a full blind taste test on these in a couple weeks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wine Barrel Flanders Red Tasting

After the tasting of the dry hopped version of our group's Wine Barrel Flanders Red, I thought it was only fair to give a review of the “plain version.” Needless to say I am floored by my first attempt at barrel aging, and can't wait to see how it develops with more time in the bottle (it was just bottled 6 weeks ago!).  The portion aging on sour cherries is tasting terrific as well, but it will be another few months before I bottle it.

On a side note I really like these Ivrig tasting (fine... wine) glasses I picked up at Ikea last weekend. They are perfect for swirling, and do a great job keeping the aromas in (and for $2.99 each, hard to beat). 

Wine Barrel Flanders Red

Appearance – One and a half finger slightly off-white head. The bubble structure is a bit open, but the retention is pretty good for a sour beer (that is to say not terrible). There is even a bit of lacing. Beautiful clear, amber-ruby-auburn colored liquid, a really stunning looking beer.  

Smell – Some deep sour tones, but no vinegary (acetic) notes as most of the big name Flanders Reds have (not that I am complaining). Overripe cherries are the primary fruit note, and they are backed up by a wet earthy (borderline moldy) oaky basement aroma.  

Taste – Just beautiful, deep (not not over the top) sourness balanced by just a touch of sweetness. The acid is lactic, but I get just a hint of the sharper acetic giving it a great lingering tart finish. The cherry character is not as big as it was in the nose, but it is still there bringing with it that same dank, earthy, woody complexity from the aroma. It is hard to tell just where the beer ends, and the wine character from the barrel begins. Much drier than most Belgian examples of the style (because we didn't blend in sweet young beer, or saccharin), and much less acetic than most American examples, both of which are fine by me.

Mouthfeel – Pretty thin, but there is still some residual body there. Not much tannin from the oak, I guess the wine stripped most of it out before we got the barrel. The carbonation is restrained, which I enjoy, but might be a bit low “for the style.”

Drinkability & Notes – It is remarkable what a few friends, a barrel, and some microbes can create in a year. I could easily drink a couple of these in a row.  Even without the opportunity to blend, I think this is better than 75% of the sours I have tasted from American breweries (although I might just be a little biased...).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Candi/Table/Corn Sugar Belgian Beer Experiment

A couple years back I did two split batch sugar experiments (the original, the sequel).  They focused on the more interesting sugars out there, including unrefined sugars, caramelized sugars, and sugars from plants besides the classic sugar beet/cane (date, agave, and gur).  All well and good, but it left a big gap when it comes to how different plain/white/refined/pure sugars compare when used in brewing beer. The one "plain" sugar I try didn't get the same temperature controls and ended up tasting a bit hot/cidery.

Many Belgian beers, particularly the paler and stronger ones, get dryness (and a boost in alcohol) from the addition of relatively flavorless sugars.  For years Americans brewers (both home and craft) used the expensive and difficult to dissolve candi sugar rocks.  For the most part this changed a few years back when Brew Like a Monk was published with the claim that not only do brewers in Belgium not use candi rocks but also that the rocks are simply recrystalized sucrose (that is to say white table sugar).  As a result candi rocks and tablet sugar seemed like they would make an interesting head-to-head match, but I wanted to try some other options out as well.

A couple years back the company that imports an authentic and excellent dark candi syrup began importing a clear candi syrup that is partially inverted (supposedly making it easier on the yeast to ferment).  It hasn't gotten the same press/hype as the dark syrup, but I thought it was worth a try.  This is apparently what many Belgian brewers are referring to when they talk about candi sugar, so despite the high cost (~20X) compared to table sugar it might be the key to nailing sugar heavy styles like Tripel and Belgian Strong Golden.

Lastly the old priming sugar stand-by, corn sugar (glucose), seemed like a good candidate to throw into the mix.  The claim here is that much like the inverted sugar glucose is easier on yeast because they don't need to employ the enzyme invertase to ferment it.  In addition to these four experimental portions I wanted to leave one gallon as a control without any sugar to see how the gravity and flavor would fare compared to the rest. 

I didn't want to do anything too fancy with the recipe because if there are flavor differences they will most likely be subtle at best.  As a result I went with a base wort made from 100% pilsner malt, and a light hand with some Willamette hops near the start of the boil.  For yeast I went with my old friend Wyeast 3787 (Westmalle), fermented cool at the start and ramping up toward the end of fermentation to ensure complete attenuation.

I brewed in my friend Scott's garage on a snowy Saturday in early December (he was brewing a porter on his system at the same time).  The brewday was relatively uneventful (aside from a tasty bottle of TPS Report, a GABF Gold Medal willing 100% Brett rose petal aged beer, from TriNity Brewing and a flat bottle of Lost Abbey Angel's Share that we had to sic my carbonator cap on).  I want to figure out given the standard homebrewer single-infusion process which sugar makes the best beer, so I skipped a protein rest despite the fact that it might have added some extra nutrition (FAN).  I did add some yeast nutrient as I usually do, which will help to make up for it though.

For introducing the sugar I wanted to balance suggestions to add it before fermentation to replicate the most common fermentation procedure with my concerns that having five separate aerations, pitches, fermentations etc... could introduce too many uncontrolled variables into my process.  I chose to inoculate the entire batch and leave it to ferment for 24 hours before adding the sugars (which I had weighed out so they would contribute the same gravity to each portion of the beer).  While only about 10.1% by weight the sugars (depending on the type) each account for 15.7% by extract, more than enough to get a good impression of impact of each variety.

I'll have a full tasting in a month or two after the beers bottle condition (of course using the respective sugars to add the fermentables for natural carbonation). 

White Sugar Showdown

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
----------------
Batch Size (Gal):         4.80   
Total Grain (Lbs):       11.12
Anticipated OG:          1.069   
Anticipated SRM:           3.4
Anticipated IBU:          24.0
Brewhouse Efficiency:       73 %
Wort Boil Time:             75    Minutes

Grain/Sugar
------------
89.9% - 10.00 lbs. German Pilsener   
10.1% - 1.12 lbs. Cane Sugar  

Hops
------
1.50 oz. Willamette (Pellet 4.40% AA) @ 60 min.

Extras
-------
1 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.(boil)
0.25 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.(boil)

Yeast
-----
WYeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity

Water Profile
-------------
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
----------------
Sacch Rest 60 min @ 149

Notes
-----
Brewed 12/05/09 at Scott's.

1.4 qrt starter made the night before with a 3 month old smack pack.  Not much activity as of brew day.

Water was treated with fish-tank chlorine remover, no other water adjustments as mash pH was ~5.2

Collected 6.5 gallons after batch sparge.  Solid boil.  Ended up a bit higher gravity than I was originally aiming for.  Chilled to 68, drove home, shook to aerate and pitched the starter into the 6 gallon better bottle.

I was a bit concerned about the yeast, so I placed the carboy in a pot and put it on the radiator overnight.  No action by the next morning, but soon after that the fermentation took off like a rocket.

At ~24 hours racked to secondary adding:
Clear Candi Rocks 101 g (1.045)
Table Sugar 101 g (1.045)
Clear Candi Syrup 142 g  (1.032)
Corn Sugar 120 g (1.038)
None

Sugars dissolved in 8 oz of water, heated in the microwave to dissolve and sanitize.

12/12/09 Put back on radiator to ensure fermentation finishes up, temp ~75F.

12/17/09 Took off radiator to give time to settle before bottling.

12/19/09  Bottled with the sugars below, dissolved with water to make ~10 tbls of liquid.  Should provide about equal carbonation... hopefully.
Clear Candi Rocks - 28 g same
Table Sugar - 28 g same
Clear Candi Syrup - 39 g same
Corn Sugar - 33 g same
None - 46 g DME

3/10/10 First tasting.  Very similar, although the candi rocks came out a bit over-carbed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dry Hopped Flanders Red Tasting

It is rare that you taste a beer that combines sourness with hoppiness well. The general issue is that when you sour a hoppy beer the hops fade by the time the microbes do their work. There are a few notable exceptions, like the amazingly drinkable Cantillon Cuvee des Champions, El Rojo Diablo from Bullfrog, and New Belgium Le Terroir, their secret?  A minimally hopped beer that is dry hopped after it has time to age/sour. This is a great technique because it allows you to add a fresh hop flavor to a beer that has already had plenty of time to mature.

The problem is that if you dry hop a whole batch of homebrewed sour you'll either have to drink it quickly (the horror) or keep drinking as the hops fade and oxidize (the real horror).  A few years back I played around with a way to get around this when I bottle hopped some of my Mo Betta' Bretta clone. The results were good enough that I thought I would give it another whirl with thewine barrel Flanders red we bottled a few weeks back. I opted for four hop cones in each bottle (which sounds like a lot when you consider that it is equivalent to ~200 hop cones in a 5 gallon batch), one cone each Simcoe and Amarillo and two home grown Cascades.
The only real draw back from this method is that the beer will start to foam when you open it, so be prepared with an over-sized glass and some sort of strainer when serving.

Dry Hopped Flanders Red

Appearance - Slightly murky, ruddy brown/red (what do you expect from all those nucleation sites). This bottle didn't gush nearly as badly as some of my other ones have.  The off white head pours pretty big, and sticks around for a good while.

Aroma - Big citrus (grapefruit especially) from the hops mingling with the fruitiness and funk from the bugs. At 6 weeks in the bottle (and on the hops) the hop aroma is just as fresh and alive as it was a month ago when I drank the first bottle (this one is my last).  The hops do cover up some of the subtle barrel/fermentation notes, but the added complexity is well worth the price.

Flavor - The hops almost seem to temper the sourness compared to the non-dry-hopped version (tasting soon). Big citrus remains with a touch of red wine fruitiness. No big funky flavors, but some hints of damp basement peak through from time to time.  The balance is the most striking thing to me, there is still enough malt and just a touch of sweetness to support the sourness, without being overly sweet like so many commercial Flanders Reds.

Mouthfeel - Still has a bit of heft to the body despite the Brettanomyces activity, but it is far from being a thick beer. Some of the carbonation was knocked out by straining the beer to remove the hops, but it is still adequately prickly.

Drinkability/Notes - Something about the combination is so quenching, but at the same time draws you back for another sip. This is one of those beers that no matter how slow I try to drink it I end up finishing my glass faster than I should. This might just be the best beer I have ever had a hand in brewed (I am now tempted to shove hop cones into some of the already carbonated bottles, but that could make quite a mess).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chile Cocoa Coffee Vanilla Maple Bourbon Imperial Stout

Well not all in one beer, obviously.  Two weeks ago I racked my Breakfast Stout Riff Imperial Stout to four 1-gallon jugs and added the flavorants.  Then yesterday I bottled the four gallons of finished beer (ended up with about seven 12 oz bottles and a bomber of each).  My samples of the variants at bottling were very promising, all of them seemed to have a good balance, but carbonation and time will help them along.

I didn't do anything to sanitize the additives, I'm relying on the ~10% alcohol and ~45 IBUs that the base beer to provide its own protection.

For the "Dessert" portion I added 1.5 oz of cocoa powder, made into a paste with hot water, along with 2/3 of a split Moroccan Vanilla bean.  I also decided to add .5 oz of bourbon (Makers Mark) soaked oak cubes to compliment the vanilla flavors (artificial vanilla flavor is made from wood).

The "Canadian Breakfast" portion got a touch less chocolate paste (1.375 oz), along with 2 oz of the bourbonized maple syrup, and 1.25 oz of the cubes that had been soaking in it (which spent several months in bourbon before that).  24 hours before bottling I added 2 oz of whole El Salvadorian coffee beans to the fermenter.  That is about double what I would normally use because of the lower surface area (in the past I have done coarse crushed beans), if nothing else it made transferring the beer off the coffee much easier.

This is the only one that saw significant fermentation in secondary, it also had by far the largest yeast cake in the bottom of the fermenter.  I am hoping that the sugars from fermentation were completely fermented out before I bottled, despite the fact that it was pretty cold in my basement the last few weeks.


The "Mexican" portion got a got the least cocoa (1.125 oz) I mixed the 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon into the paste as well.  The dried chiles (1/2 ancho, 1/2 guajillo) were thrown is as well along with the remaining 1/3 of a vanilla bean from the Dessert portion. 

Next to the three flavored stouts the plain portion tasted pretty bland, but it will be interesting to try next to the other three.  In particular I am looking forward to seeing how it tastes once it has some age on it, and as a control to see just what characteristics are from the coffee/chocolate, and what is from the roasted malts.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What sort of recipe do you brew most often?

Your own - 51%
Someone's recipe w/ minor tweaks - 29%
Original recipe from a book/internet - 9%
Homebrew shop kit - 5%
Clone recipe - 2%
Recipe from someone you know 0%

In my mind there is a continuum when it comes to how people design recipes.  Almost everyone start out brewing recipes and kits to the letter, this takes the lowest amount involvement and can make some very tasty beers.  After that most people begin to make subtle tweaks, changing a finishing hop, or swapping base malts, relatively minor changes, but it allows you to feel some control and ownership over a batch.  After that some people start synthesizing recipes by combining the grain/hop/yeast bills from multiple recipes to craft something that gives what they are looking for.  Finally there are those that start with an idea (original or not) and build a recipe based on general concepts and specific ingredient preferences that they have learned from experience and research. 

All of these methods are perfectly valid, and at various points I have (and still do) practice all of them.  That said, the batches I have enjoyed most over my time as a homebrewer tend to be the ones I spent the most time designing.  This is not always true of course, and it certainly could be a result of some cognitive dissonance on my part, but I'd like to think it is because I know what I like to drink better than someone else does.

I am often let down when trying to brew someone else's a recipe exactly.  I find many recipe are too heavy on the crystal malt for my taste, or for whatever reason just don't match the vision of the beer in my mind.  This is especially true for random authorless recipes off of websites and message boards.  I have had better results brewing recipes from the homebrew big names like Denny and Jamil, but I have made several (like Denny's RyePA, and Jamil's Amber) that I did not care for.

Despite the 0% showing there was actually one person who indicated that they mostly brew recipes from people they know.  I don't do this as often as I should, but I have had much better results with this than brewing recipes from books or the internet.  It is very nice to taste a beer before brewing it so you know you enjoy it, a nice bonus is that it enables you to ask all the questions you want of the person who brewed it. 

Part of my goal with this blog is to give the why just as much as the what when it comes to my recipes.  Hopefully that helps those who want to brew them to better understand the reasons behind the malt/hops/yeast choices.  I also hope that it makes it easier to tweak the recipes for you own tastes if that is what you want to do.  I also realize that some of you are just looking for a spark of inspiration, so hopefully reading about my thought process will help you as well.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Double Berliner Weisse Tasting

At just over six months since brew day my second batch of Berliner Weisse is still pretty young by sour beer standards. The recipe I used was nearly identical to that of my first batch of Berliner Weisse, but I took half of this batch and added Cabernet juice to give it a twist.  Both halves of the batch turned out well, but the Cabernet juice didn't have as much of a flavor impact as I expected (and the impact it did have was not as bright and fresh as I had hoped). 

Berliner Weisse isn't exactly my choice for winter drinking, so most of this batch will probably hang around my basement until next summer.  I may break out a bottle in a couple months to send to the National Homebrew Conference (NHC), I've been meaning to enter a couple beers to see how they fare.  As a result of its subdued flavor and potent acidity I will also blend some with other beers that need more sourness.


Berliner Weisse

Appearance - The beer pictured on the left.  Clear straw yellow, not many beers on this side of Budweiser. A small white head forms, but quickly dissipates.  Glad to see the starchy haze has completely cleared up (or settled out).

Aroma - Clean lactic aroma with a slight wheatiness.  Not a complex aroma, but then that may come with some more age as the Brett from the bottle dregs continue to work.

Flavor - Bright, clean, with just a touch of wet hay from the Brett. Sour, but not quite as saliva gland punishing as the Cabernet laced half. The dry cereal character this beer had right after it was bottled has mostly faded, but there is still a hint of Cheerios.

Mouthfeel - Certainly thin, but no unpleasant dryness or tannic character. Nice assertive carbonation, but might be a slightly low for the style (which is what I was aiming for since I don't like aggressive carbonation).

Drinkability & Notes - I think it is just as good as my first batch. Still needs a few months, but it is almost there.  The acidity may mellow a bit as well as the Brett continues to work in the bottle, but it is very drinkable as is (assuming you don't mind sour).

Cabernet Berliner Weisse

Appearance - The beer pictured on the right. Clear light reddish-amber, no longer the beautiful pink it appeared in the fermenter. The same lackluster head featured in the straight version, between the acidity and the low gravity there isn't much hope for a great head on a Berliner Weisse.

Aroma - Similar sour aroma (ethyl lactate?) with just a hint of Concord grape juice. The grape character just does not have the volume or character I had hoped for.

Flavor - Forceful sourness up front, probably closer to commercial Gueuzes than the few Berliner Weisses still produced (I'm sure the acids and sugars in the juice contributed to the additional sourness). Not much grape character, but the flavor is just a bit deeper and sweeter than the plain.

Mouthfeel - A little bit fuller, and the carbonation is a lighter than in the other version.

Drinkability & Notes - Needs a better grape character, next time around I'll have to go with fresh/frozen fruit (that always seems to give me the best results). Still not a bad beer, but sadly that First Blush juice doesn't seem like a great idea for a beer this delicate.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Funky Dark Saison with Black Cardamom

Last fall I got together with my friends Noah and Alex at Noah's place to brew a big, dark saison seasoned with blackened raisins, rosemary, and orange peel. The base beer turned out alright, but the funky portion to which we had added the dregs from various sour beers turned out fantastic, a blend of earthy funk and dark herbal complexity. It turned out so well in fact that this year we decided to brew a 15 gallon batch of dark saison, and sour the whole thing.

While the basic concept of the beer remained consistent the recipe itself went through some big changes in regards to the malt, yeast, and spices. Noah's brew system had also gone through some changes, making it now approximately four times more complex than mine (no I'm not really clear what that box does either).


The malt bill was overhauled, making it much more complex this time around (not my idea) but for something funky I don't mind some extra complexity (and unfermentables) from the additional crystal and dark malts.


We got some extra fermentables from caramelized dates instead of the raisins we used last year. We deglazed them with a bit of the final runnings which we boiled down to a thick syrup, along with a cup of red wine. They were then pureed with a stick blender and added this paste right at the end of the boil.


We didn't get great efficiency because the boil kettle size limited us to collecting only 12 gallons of wort. As a result we added light dry malt extract so we could get a full 15 gallons of 1.078 wort out of Noah's keggle system after topping off with water post-boil.


This time around we replaced the rosemary with black cardamom, an African cousin of the more common green/white variety. It has a darker more complex flavor (notes of smoke and creosote), and is most often used in African and Indian cooking. We erred on the side of caution going with just 3 g of the crushed inner seeds added with 2 minutes left in the boil. We had also intended to add the zest from an orange as we did last year, but between the activities of brew days and the microbial harvesting we forgot to add it.


The yeast changed from one Wyeast VSS saison strain to another when we replaced the 3725 Bier de Garde with 3711 French Saison. The yeast cake for the 15 gallon batch came from the Hoppy French Saison I had brewed a few weeks earlier. The bugs came from a variety of sour beers, both commercial and homemade that we sampled during the brew.

At least we kept the hops pretty much the same going with 2 oz of Amarillo to bitter.


With the mash finished Alex vacuumed out the spent grain using a shop vac, seemed like a good way to get rid of that large a mass of wet grain if your mash tun is too heavy to lift.


Seems like this is becoming a yearly tradition, hopefully this batch lives up to its predecessor.

Winter Saison (Funky Dark Saison w/ Black Cardamom)

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 15.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 50.33
Anticipated OG: 1.078
Anticipated SRM: 32.4
Anticipated IBU: 17.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 62 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Grain/Extract/Sugar
----------------------
77.5% - 39.00 lbs. American Pale Malt
6.0% - 3.00 lbs. Light DME
4.0% - 2.00 lbs. CaraMunich Malt
2.5% - 1.25 lbs. Crystal 40L
2.5% - 1.25 lbs. Special B Malt
2.0% - 1.00 lbs. Belgian Chocolate Malt
1.6% - 0.81 lbs. KilnCoffee Malt
1.6% - 0.80 lbs. Crystal 90L
0.8% - 0.41 lbs. Cara-Pils Dextrine Malt
0.8% - 0.41 lbs. Carafa Special II
0.8% - 0.41 lbs. Flaked Soft White Wheat

Hops
-----
2.00 oz. Amarillo (Pellet 8.00% AA) 60 min.

Extras
-------
3 g Black Cardamom Seeds 2 Min.
20 oz Dates toasted and deglazed with wort and red wine

Yeast
-----
WYeast 3711 French Saison

Water Profile
-------------
Profile: Vienna Virginia Aquifer

Mash Schedule
-------------
Sacch Rest 90 min @ 154

Notes
-----
Brewed 11/15/09 with Alex at Noah's house.

3 grams of black cardamom (inner part of seeds ground) added with 2 minutes left in the boil.

Dates caramelized in pan, deglazed with 1 cup of red wine, and then 5 cups of first runnings that had been reduced to ~1.5.

Cooled to about 72. Pitched slurry from my Hoppy French Saison, plus the dregs of numerous homebrewed sours, as well as a Russian River Consecration and Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noir. Oxygenated with 60 seconds of pure O2.

Strong hard fermentation in my basement. Did not ramp the temperature up in an attempt to save some fermentables for the bugs. Soaking some Hungarian oak cubes in port to add when I transfer to secondary.

Alex added orange zest to his as well as wine soaked oak cubes. Noah is going with Grand Marnier soaked oak, it will be interesting to see how the batches differ.

11/29/09 Boiled 1 oz of house toast Hungarian oak cubes in water for just a few minutes.  Poured ~1 cup of port over to cover.

12/06/09 Racked to secondary, gravity down to 1.012.  Added port and oak cubes.  Put back in the ~60 degree basement.

10/14/10 Racked half of the beer onto 3.5 lbs of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

10/15/10 Bottled the remaining 2 gallons of beer with 1 5/8 oz of table sugar.

12/9/10 After a year it is doing pretty well, with the cardamom is at about the right level. It is tart, but not sour with layers of complex savory flavors.

3/12/11 Bottled the 2.75 gallons of the cabernet portion 1.625 oz of table sugar.  Aiming for 2.4 volumes of CO2.  Added 1 gram of 71B-1122 to the bottling bucket.

10/13/11 The Cabernet portion is terrific, more sourness than plain, and muted spice.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hoppy French Saison

For awhile now I have wanted to try out Wyeast 3711PC French Saison. I have sampled several homebrews and commercial beers that used it, and they have all had a great peppery character, and been dry but not thin. I had also heard that it is a monster compared to the fussy Dupont strain (WLP565/3724), which fails to attenuate well if it isn't given just the correct combination of plenty of time and heat. The saison portion of my Cable Car Clone for example stopped around 1.015 (75% apparent attenuation) after two weeks of fermentation.

The French Saison strain is supposedly from Brasserie Thiriez, probably one of my favorite 2-3 breweries in France (along with Brasserie Theillier and Brasserie De Saint-Sylvestre, brewers of Biere de Garde just about the only beer style France in known for). It is a bit surprising then that Thiriez specializes in the Belgian saison style, well not too surprising when you learn that they are just a couple miles from the Belgian boarder. For those of you who think France is a country of vineyards, you are pretty much right... but there are a few decent small brewers thrown in there as well.

Inspired by a bottle of Brasserie Dupont's Avril (a ~3.5% ABV saison); my initial thought was to brew this mid-summer when temperatures were hot and a light saison is the perfect thing to knock back. My plan was to do a split batch watering down half post-boil to make a light table saison for summer drinking and save the rest at full strength to enjoy during the warm DC fall. "Sadly" I ended up moving in August and didn't have the time to brew it.

The next iteration of my plan was to brew a big batch of wort with all pils malt and loads of Czech Saaz hops, then split it and ferment half as a saison and half as a pilsner. I had all the ingredients except the lager yeast, so when I got a surprise weekend brewday (while the Fermentationette was studying for her GRE) I decided to just brew it as a hopped up saison.

For the malt bill I kept it very clean and simple to let the yeast and hops take the lead. Mostly Belgian pilsener malt with just a touch of malted wheat for added head stability and a bit of extra body. You certainly could add a portion of a more characterful malt like Munich or Vienna, or even some sugar for dryness, but that isn't what I was going for on this one.


Saaz hops don't have much bittering power, but they give a great spicy character. I got a bunch for less than a dollar an ounce from Hops Direct, so I didn't feel bad using them for both early and late boil additions.


True to its reputation the French Saison strain tore through my wort in a week, taking it from 1.050 down to 1.002. Mind you this was a 3 month old smackpack without a starter, fermenting in my basement in November (although I did give it the benefit of a heating pad set to low after the first three days). Needless to say a few weeks later I gave it something a bit more complex to tackle... but more on that next week.


I will probably keg this one and let it naturally condition until one of the two beers on tap kicks.

Hoppy French Saison

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.75
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.50
Anticipated OG: 1.051
Anticipated SRM: 3.8
Anticipated IBU: 36.4
Brewhouse Efficiency: 62 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Grain
------
88.1% - 9.25 lbs. Belgian Pilsener
11.9% - 1.25 lbs. German Wheat Malt

Hops
------
2.25 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet 3.00% AA) @ 60 min.
1.75 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet 3.00% AA) @ 10 min.
1.50 oz. Czech Saaz (Pellet 3.00% AA) @ 0 min.

Extras
-------
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
0.25 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

Yeast
-----
WYeast 3711 French Saison

Water Profile
-------------
Profile: Carbon Filtered Washington DC

Mash Schedule
-------------
Sacch Rest 80 min @ 148

Notes
-----
Brewed 10/31/09

Used carbon filtered DC water with 1/2 tsp of gypsum to lower the mash pH and give some sulfate for the hops. Batch Sparged.

Hops adjusted down from 3.5% AA because they are about a year old.

Collected 6 gallons of 1.043 runnings. Topped off with a gallon of water pre-boil.

Cooled to around 75. Gave 60 seconds of pure 02. Pitched a swelled smackpack of yeast because I didn't have time for a starter. Left in the basement in the mid-60s ambient.

High krausen after just 16 hours. What an aggressive yeast.

11/03/09 Added a heating pad on low to up the temp to ~75. Hopefully this will help the beer to finishing out nicely dry.

11/14/09 Finished out at 1.002ish. Racked to secondary, left at basement temp ~60 F to clear. Saved yeast cake for Dark Saison II.

11/30/09 Racked into a keg with 4.5 oz of cane sugar.  Flushed the keg with CO2 before filling and topped off the keg afterward to ensure a good seal.

1/20/10 First tasting, light, crisp, hoppy, beautiful.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Breakfast Stout Riff

Imperial Stout is the beer that beer geek's love to geek out about most. The flavors are intense, complex, and often improve with age. While Reinheitsgebot approved (well except the unmalted roasted barley) Imperial stouts are out there, many of the most popular are dosed with ingredients that echo the roasted malt character, popular choices include coffee, chocolate, molasses, vanilla, dark candi syrup, and of course aging in decommissioned liquor barrels.

While there are numerous Imperial Stouts that I enjoy, one of my favorites is Breakfast Stout. Founders does a terrific job balancing the different components of their coffee and chocolate spiked Imperial oatmeal stout. It is also one of the few big stouts that is probably better fresh than aged (since both the coffee and hops diminish fairly quickly). After having a couple four packs over the last two months (this is its first year showing up in quantity in DC), I decided to brew a beer based on a BYO clone for the beer from a few months back. I put a bit of my own spin on the base beer (more complex dark malt bill, different bittering hops, Maris Otter instead of American 2-row) but for the most part stayed true to the recipe.




I brewed about 4.5 gallons hoping to have 4 left to rack after primary fermentation. The amount of malt required pushed my 5 gallon mash tun to the brink, even with a mash pretty close to 1 qrt of water per pound of grain. Now that I have the space I will probably put the finishing touches on a larger cooler mash-tun I built a few years back and only used once.

I added a bit of baking soda to the mash to keep the mash pH from falling too far due to the high percentage (13%) of dark grains/malts. The primary reason for doing this was to ensure the amylase enzymes do their work breaking down starches into sugars and dextrins, but I think it also helps the flavor of the finished beer. Dutch Process cocoa powder is treated to make it alkaline instead of acidic, which makes for a milder character that works well in baked goods. I think having suitably alkaline water helps to get rid of much of the harsh/acrid character that I hear people complain about when using roasted barley, and especially black patent.


The first runnings certainly looked the part of a big, bad stout while I was vorlaufing. The beta-glucans in the oats add a nice viscosity to the beer without making it too sweet. If you really want a thick stout go for flaked rye which is even higher in beta-glucans than oats.



As I have done for a few beers in the past I am planning on splitting this one into several different secondaries to get multiple finished beers.

Founders makes a mythical variant of Breakfast Stout called Canadian Breakfast Stout which (in addition to be infused with coffee and chocolate) is aged in bourbon barrels that subsequently held maple syrup (some reports claim that the barrel was used to make Kentucky Breakfast Stout before the maple syrup). A few months back I took some heavy toast American oak cubes which had been sitting in Maker's Mark and moved them into a jar of grade B maple syrup. My plan is to add these cubes along with a healthy dose of the bourbony maple syrup to 1 gallon of this stout (the syrup itself tastes fantastic as it is, or as a glaze for pork loin).

For chocolate flavor I am going to use cocoa powder, mixed with a bit of hot water to form a paste (as I did for my Chocolate Pumpkin Porter last fall), added to secondary about 2 weeks before bottling. For coffee I like to use coarse cracked beans in secondary just a day or so before bottling. I find these two methods give me the best flavor without harshness or risk of the oils ruining the head.

Cigar City Brewing is the most exciting brewery to open in Florida. I have tried several of their beers so far, including a cedar-aged IPA and a guava saison. None of them have been terrific, but both were interesting to experience. The idea of their Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout really struck me, an Imperial stout with chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon... and chile peppers. The combination of chiles and chocolate is a classic one, and it sounds like a good addition to a big rich beer like this one. I liked their idea of going for more chile flavor than heat so I went with dried anchos (unlike Great Divide which adds a hint of cayenne to their Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti), which I'll add cut up to the secondary. For the rest of the character I'll make a paste with the chocolate and cinnamon, and toss that along with a split vanilla bean into secondary.

The third flavor variant will be with cocoa and a vanilla bean (both in secondary for about two weeks). Should be a tasty dessert beer for the approaching cold winter. The final gallon will be left plain to see how the base beer stands on its own.

Here is a post with pictures and more details on adding the various flavorants.

Breakfast Stout Riff

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 4.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 14.73
Anticipated OG: 1.091
Anticipated SRM: 57.2
Anticipated IBU: 46.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 78 %
Wort Boil Time: 120 Minutes

Grain
------
76.4% - 11.25 lbs. Maris Otter
8.5% - 1.25 lbs. Quaker Old Fashion Oats
4.5% - 0.66 lbs. Belgian Chocolate Malt
3.1% - 0.45 lbs. Carafa Special II
2.3% - 0.34 lbs. English Black Patent Malt
2.3% - 0.34 lbs. American Crystal 120L
1.9% - 0.28 lbs. English Roasted Barley
1.1% - 0.16 lbs. English Chocolate Malt

Hops
------
2.75 oz. Willamette (Pellet 4.50% AA) @ 60 min.
0.50 oz. Willamette (Pellet 4.50% AA) @ 30 min.
0.50 oz. Willamette (Pellet 4.50% AA) @ 0 min.

Extras
-------
1.00 Whirlfloc @ 15 Min.
0.25 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 Min.

Yeast
-----
WYeast 1056 American Ale/Chico

Water Profile
-------------
Profile: Filtered Washington DC + 3 grams of baking soda to the mash

Mash Schedule
-------------
Sacch Rest 75 min @ 154

Notes
-----
Brewed 11/07/09 by myself.

Made a 3 qrt starter 28 hours in advance, strong start.

Added 3 grams of baking soda to the mash to get the pH up and mellow the dark malts. The pH at room temp ~5.4 after the addition of baking soda.

First 30 minutes of the boil were off and on as the propane tank seemed to be running low and lost the boil.

Cooled to 66. Strained. 90 seconds of pure O2. Pitched about half of the starter, other half for Tim's Black Pils.

11/08/09 Topped off with 1/2 gallon of spring water to lower the OG and up the volume.

11/16/09 Fermentation looks about complete, but I still haven't taken a gravity reading.

11/18/09 Down to 1.020

11/23/09 Racked to secondary, 1 gallon each:
1. Plain
2. 1 1/2 oz Dutch Process High Fat Cocoa + 2/3 Moroccan Vanilla Bean + .5 oz bourbon soaked oak
3. 1 1/8 oz Dutch Process High Fat Cocoa + 1/4 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 ancho + 1/2 guajillo + 1/3 Moroccan vanilla bean
4. 1 3/8 oz Dutch Process High Fat Cocoa +1 1/4 oz of bourbon/maple soaked oak + 2 oz bourbon maple syrup + 2 oz whole El Salvadorian coffee beans

12/06/09 Bottled with 1/2 tsp per bottle of cane sugar.

5/12/10 Tastings of Plain, Canadian, Mexican, and Mocha.  All tasty, but all over-carbonated.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Smoked Doppelsticke - 1st Tasting

A smoked doppelsticke (mega-alt) was going to be the second beer aged in our bourbon barrel, but after the Wee Heavy went sour the batch I brewed became an orphan. I ended up bottling it in August after letting it age for a couple months in the carboy without oak (although a few bottle received maple syrup soaked oak cubes).

It was not what we set out to do, but this recipe ended up tasting closer to what I imagine the historical Adambier of Dortmund than my clone of Hair of the Dog's Adam did. That isn't too surprising as this beer was made from all German malts, and fermented with a German ale strain while the Adam clone relied more on ingredients from the England/Scotland. Both batches turned out well, each as a very different versions of the same concept of a lightly smoked malt bomb.

For more details on this batch check out the recipe post from a couple months back.

Double Secret Probation


Appearance – Dark brown (brilliantly clear when held to the light), with some amber highlights instead of the red highlights that you usually see in a beer this color. Nice, thick, off-white head with great retention.

Smell – Some soft-mellow smoke notes mingle with some oak (despite the fact that this beer wasn't aged on oak). Toasty malt, although not as much bready munich malt contribution as I would have expected. As it warms up from cellar temp it does start to put out a clean ethanol presence, not too surprising in a big beer at about five months since brew day.

Taste – Nice balanced smoke character, with a rich maltiness. Moderate bitterness, just a little more than it takes to counter the malt sweetness (but not as much as I expected from the 50 IBUs). The yeast adds a nice fruitiness to the beer. The carafa and caramunich just fill in the range of maltiness without adding any perceivable coffee or caramel. Certainly complex enough, while still balanced (and much mellower than you would expect for over 9% abv). By the end of the glass I've gotten used to the smoke and hardly notice it.

Mouthfeel – Smooth, creamy body works well with the rich, savory flavors. Good moderate-low carbonation, just what I like in a big malt forward beer.

Drinkability & Notes – Certainly could have been smokier, but it is in balance with the malt character as is. Turned out pretty well, shame it didn't get barrel aged. It will be interesting to see how this one ages, hopefully the smoke doesn't mellow out too much.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Brewing Sour Beer at Home

After almost three years of blogging about sour beer (among other things fermentational) I think most of what I have learned about brewing them at home is buried somewhere in the roughly 250 posts on this site. That said there isn't anywhere on the blog where the bulk of my opinions and experiences have been coalesced for easy reference. I did put up a lengthy post about Brettanomyces a year or so ago, but that covered just one aspect of sour beer production.

What follows is essentially based solely on my experiences, so I won’t talk too much about things I do not have first hand experience with (like biology, pH levels, traditional practices etc…). Enjoy the data dump and please let me know if I failed to cover any topics that you think should be covered here.



Base beer (brewday): In brewing sour beers and tasting many those made by the great number of American craft and homebrewers now trying their hand at it I have realized that you really don’t need to do anything special on brew day. Pretty much any well made base beer can serve as the foundation of a sour beer. The only beers to avoid souring are those that are aggressively bitter/roasty/spiced because these flavors will be exaggerated by the low finishing gravity of a sour beer.

I have brewed and tasted good sour beers based on numerous classic style, including: English Brown/Mild, Porter, Wee Heavy, Imperial Stout, Wit, Belgian Pale, Saison, Biere de Garde, Belgian Blonde, Dubbel, Tripel, Quad (Belgian Strong Dark), Gruit, and Old Ale. Not to mention the classic sour styles, Berliner Weisse, Lambic/Gueuze, Flanders Red, and Oud Bruin.

Completely off-style brewing is welcome for sour beers as well, but in general you want to make a beer with a reasonably high final gravity (to feed the microbes) and low hop aroma (hops will fade and oxidize over the long secondary fermentation). Some of the more out-there beers I have soured include: Honey-Peach Wheat, Orange-Rosemary Dark Saison, a blend of Saison and Biere de Garde, Bourbon Barrel Wee Heavy, Butternut Squash Brown, and Cherry Quadrupel. Not every idea is going to work out perfectly, but there are many sour beers out there to be made that aren’t found in the style guidelines.

You can use the same basic techniques during the mash/sparge/boil that you would for any other style; you don't need special procedures unless you are trying to replicate a classic/historic style (turbid mash for a lambic, no/short boil for a Berliner Weisse etc…). The only thing I would suggest in general is to try to mash a bit hotter than you would otherwise to ensure that there is plenty of residual extract left for the other microbes to chew on after the Saccharomyces is finished.

I have not found aged hops to be a necessity for any sour beers including inoculated-lambics. Since you are adding the microbes yourself you do not need to worry about protecting the beer from wild invaders as lambic brewers must when they are slowly cooling their wort in a coolship, exposed to the microbe-laden air. If you are looking to do a spontaneous/ambient fermentation then aging hops is something you should look into (several years before brewing...).

I do not do much with the water for my sour beers. Just enough to control the mash pH if need be. I do not see a need to mess around with the flavor ions (chloride, sodium, sulfate) in a beer that is already so complex.


Types of Microbes (bugs): Just like a regular beer brewer's yeast (Saccharomyces) is responsible for most of the alcohol production. The following microbes are responsible for the bulk of the souring/funking after that:

Brettanomyces (Brett) – The king of wild yeasts in the brewing world. It helps to breakdown dextrins (chains of sugars too long for Saccharomyces to ferment) and can add a wide range of characteristic esters and phenols to sour beers. These can range from nice ones like pineapple, apple, and pear; through ones that may or may not be appreciated like horse blanket and farmhouse/barnyard; to the vile smoky, Band-Aid, and fecal batch ruiners. These flavors depend mostly on the strain of Brett, but are also influenced by the types of acids and alcohols available.

Pediococcus (Pedio) – Produces most of the lactic acid in most sour beers. It often takes several months to really get working. Certainly strains can cause your beer to become “sick,” that is to become very viscous for a period of time (this has only happened once to me, but it passed after a couple months leaving a nicely sour beer). It can make your beer taste buttery for a time as well, but the Brett will clean this up in time (never use Pedio without Brett). Pedio also plays a role is the production of some traditional sausages.

Lactobacillus (Lacto) – The only time lacto plays a big role is in Berliner Weisses, the rest of the time the IBUs are high enough to keep it at bay (>8 IBU). It can sour a beer faster than Pedio, and is also the dominant player in yogurt production.

Acetobacter – Generally its role is kept to a minimum. It needs oxygen to convert the ethanol (alcohol) into acetic acid (vinegar). That should be some good motivation to keep your airlocks full and your barrels topped off. You can always add a bit of acetic character by adding some vinegar at bottling. 


There are plenty of other minor microbial players (particularly in spontaneous fermentation), check out Wild Brews for a more comprehensive listing and descriptions of them all.

I like to use a combination of commercial cultures and bottle dregs (the fresher the better). In general it seems like the cultures sold by Wyeast and White Labs are less aggressive than those from bottle dregs, but they serve as a good base since you can't be sure what you are getting out of a bottle. Getting a wild range of microbes into your beer will give you a better chance at a balanced character and a relatively quick aging period.  Here is a listing of beers with harvestable dregs that might be helpful.



Sanitation: These days I keep a second set of post-boil plastic (tubing, auto-siphon, bottling wand, bottling bucket, and thief) for my sour beers. There is no need to have a separate mash tun, boil kettle, wort chiller, or anything else that touches the wort when it is still hot. I do use the same pool of Better Bottles for fermentation and glass bottles for storage for all of my beers.

I clean all of my equipment with a long soak in hot tap water and OxiClean Free. Once it is completely free of visible debris I rinse it in hot water, then soak it in cold water and either Iodophor or Star-San (I alternate them to keep the microbes well behaved). I have had two infected batches over the five years I have been homebrewing, but these may or may not have been the result of sour beers (the first one probably was, but I suspect the second one was not).

There is no reason to segregate your fermenters into different areas during fermentation/aging. I have my clean and funky beers on different sides of the same room just to ensure I don’t disturb the sours while I am moving the clean beers around.




Inoculation:
I have gotten the best results adding all of the microbes at the start of the fermentation together with the primary Saccharomyces strain. I don’t generally make a starter for the bugs unless I am using pure cultures (for something like a 100% Brett beer). This is because the different microbes have different required conditions for growth. Yeast strains (including Brett) need oxygen, Pedio on the other hand can’t deal with oxygen. pH can also be an issue since the acid produced for bacteria can damage yeast cells (remember this when considering waiting to pitch a primary yeast to give the bacteria a head start).

Pretty much any standard yeast will do for primary fermentation. I have made great sour beers with American/English/Scottish/Belgian Ale, German Lager, and Saison strains. Some character from the primary yeast may remain in the finished beer, but most of the esters will be destroyed by the various other microbes (primarily Brettanomyces) over the long secondary fermentation. The biggest impact the primary yeast will have on the finished beer is the attenuation level (low attenuating strains will leave more sugars for the other microbes leading to beers with more sourness and funk).

I have not gotten enough sourness by doing a clean fermentation followed by microbes in secondary. This seems to work in barrels where the bugs are receiving some oxygen through the wood, but in a carboy the resulting beer generally lacks the sour assault that I crave. Adding microbes after primary fermentation is a fine idea if you just want some funk because Brett seems to be able to produce esters without a lot of gravity change.

I usually rack sour beers on the same sort of schedule I would a regular ale. I wait until primary fermentation is mostly complete and a good deal of the yeast/trub has settled out (2-3 weeks). Then I rack to a Better Bottle (or barrel), add the oak (if any), and slap on a stopper and airlock. Not much more to it than that.

If after 6 months or so the beer still has not shown any signs of souring I will often add the dregs from a few more bottles or sour beers to try to kick things off. As a last resort I may also add some malt extract to feed the microbes.

I would save ambient fermentation for after you get a good number of sours going. I have not tried it, so for the time being I don’t have much to say about it except that it is riskier than pitching known cultures either from a lab or bottle dregs. Even the best lambic breweries blend most of their barrels to reduce variability, if you try an ambient fermentation try to get several going so you have some blending options.

You can and should repitch yeast cakes from sour beers. Each time you repitch you will get more funk and sourness because the bacteria will grow faster than the yeast. It does not have a huge batch to batch impact in my experience, but it is something you will notice if you do for multiple batches. I generally only repitch 1-2 times, but that is more because I only generally want to do some non-sours as well. I have a friend who has been repitching and saving the same mixed culture for years without any problem.



Wood/Oak: A classic component of sour beers is the wood (almost always oak) barrel. Ideally you would get a group of friends (or a big enough system) and brew enough to fill an entire used commercial barrel (50-60 gallons). Used wine and bourbon barrels are relatively cheap and easy to find (generally for around $100). While this may seem like a lot of beer and effort, in my experiences using full sized barrels can create sour beers with flavors that are simply not possible in any other way.

However I realize that this is not an option for everyone on every batch (including me). You should also consider:

Small barrel – I have not used these, but for better or worse they will let in proportionally more oxygen and lose more beer than a large barrel due to their higher surface area to volume ratio and thinner staves. The smaller the barrel the more this will be a concern.

Oak cubes/chips – Cubes/beans are your best bet because they take longer to give up their flavor due to their lower surface area. Around an ounce of cubes is a good place to start for a mild oak flavor. I boil them for about 10 minutes to removes some of the harsh fresh oak flavors that are usually stripped out by whatever is in the barrel before the beer. Sour beer can be pretty delicate and thin and it can be easily overwhelmed by harsh tannins or oak flavors. You can always add more after a few months if you want more oak character.

If you want to mimic wine/bourbon/port/brandy barrel aging you beer just soak the cubes in the alcohol before adding them to the beer (adding some of the alcohol of choice straight to the beer can also help boost this character). In general wine pairs best with sour beers, but a spirit can work well with bigger/bolder sours.

Wooden dowel, chair leg, peg - I played around with these for awhile, but never got results I couldn’t replicate with cubes. In my experience this setup can cause problems due to pressure build-up and cracked carboy necks due to the wood swelling. You can get around some of these problems by putting the oak through a stopper, but so far I haven't tasted a beer to make me think it is worth the effort.

Aging Vessel: If you aren't going to go with a barrel, there are several options to consider when deciding what vessel you want to age your sour beer in. Since the beer will age for so much longer than a standard beer things that wouldn't matter otherwise like the amount of oxygen that can diffuse through the material start to matter.


Better Bottle - What I use because they don't have the risk of breaking that glass carboys do. I also like the wider opening for getting fruit or hops in/out. They may let a negligible amount of oxygen in, but opening the stopper once will let more in than months of aging.

Glass Carboy - Just make sure you don't break one full of year old sour beer. The big advantage of these is that no oxygen can get in and they are easy to sanitize.

Bucket - I have yet to try aging a sour beer in one, but my friends who have do not seem to be getting objectionably acetic results as some people suggest (due to their high oxygen permeability). It may depend on things like temperature and specific microbe varieties. I also don't like the fact that you have to open them to look at the beer.


Conical/Keg - I don't use either, but the advantage of stainless is that like glass it is easy to sanitize and impervious to oxygen. If I had the money for a conical I probably wouldn't tie it up for several years with beer. A keg on the other hand seems like a fine place to do your sour beer fermenting if that is something you are interested in if you don't mind the obstructed view.


Aging: The longer you can age a sour beer in the fermenter the better, as they will almost always improve for a couple years. A moderate temperature is best in my experience (anywhere from the low 60s up into the 70s). A higher temperature will encourage more rapid souring, while a lower temperature will lead to a more balanced (less aggressive) beer.

A pellicle is a sign that there is oxygen in the head-space more than anything else. I have had fantastically sour/funky beers that never grew more than a light skin, and terrible beers that grew huge pellicles because too much oxygen was getting in. In general it is not something I would worry about too much either way (unless you are trying to brew a clean beer).


Just like any other beer you are best off aging sour beers where they get as little light as possible (I generally just use the boxes they come in or a pillow case with a hole cut to let the airlock through). It is also nice if you can keep them somewhere out of the way so they are out of sight and out of mind, making it easier to wait for them to age.



Fruit: Pretty much any fruit can work in the right sour beer. That said berries (sour cherry, raspberry) and stone fruits (apricot, peach) are the classics. They have a good balance of acidity, sweetness, and flavor. For the most part I like getting fresh fruit from the farmer’s market, but whatever is the most cost effective and tasty for you will work. For small fruits/berries I simply freeze them (which breaks their cell walls) until I am ready to add them to the beer. I let them defrost in a fermenter before racking the beer onto them. For larger fruits I will generally slice them up, then either freeze them or give them a bit of a muddle with an auto-siphon before racking a beer onto them.

In addition to adding a distinct flavor, fruit adds sugar, and acids as well. Most of the sugars added by the fruit are eaten by the bugs and critters which in turn cause them to produce more acidity and boost the production of other flavorful byproducts. The acids add a different character to the sourness since they are either malic or citric, both of which are a bit sharper than the lactic acid produced by the microbes in beer (malolactic bacteria will convert malic to lactic acid, so that is something to consider if you do not like the acid character of a fruited sour beer). In addition to their main constituents fruit also adds anti-oxidants, that’s right the same compounds that help prevent damage to your DNA from free-radicals also prevents oxygen molecules from creating off-flavors in your beer as it ages.
< The acid of the beer really helps to make the fruitiness pop in a way that most "clean" fruit beers do not. The actual amount of fruit you need will depend on the variety of fruit, quality/freshness, base beer, and amount of fruit flavor you are aiming for. In general .5 lbs per gallon is the low end (good for assertive fruits like raspberry), and 2.5 lbs/gal is the high end for more subtle fruits, or if you have a bigger/darker base beer.

You will not get a sweet-fruity sour beer unless you kill the yeast and bacteria present using heat/chemicals/filtration before adding the fruit (this is what Lindemans does to make their lambics). If this seems too difficult you can add fruit juice to a plain sour beer in the glass (this is a good way to soften the beer for people who do not like something so dry and sour).

I generally like splitting a batch leaving half plain and adding fruit to the rest. This way I get two beers for the effort of one. It also makes for some interesting comparisons. Sometimes I like the fruited half more, other times the plain portion does it for me. I usually wait for at least six months before adding fruit, this gives me a chance to taste the beer and see which fruit I think would work well with it and it give the bugs a chance to get established so they are the ones fermenting the fruit sugars and not the primary yeast.



Bottling: Before bottling I wait until airlock activity has ceased, the gravity has not changed in at least a month, and the flavor is where I want it. I have never had an issue bottling while my beers still have a pellicle, but it can be an indication that something is going on. I would also be cautious bottling any sour beer with a gravity over 1.010 (unless it has a high ABV, or had other extenuating circumstances).

I generally reyeast with wine or neutral ale yeast at bottling. 2 grams of dry yeast rehydrated in 90-100 degree water is my standard rate for 5 gallons, but a little extra won't hurt anything. This ensures timely carbonation and not much change in flavor immediately after bottling. I generally use cane/beet/table/white sugar, it is cheap, effective, and doesn’t impart a flavor of its own. Candi and corn sugars are also fine choices, but tend to be a bit more expensive. I try to avoid using any variable agricultural products for priming like honey, maple syrup, or malt extract since it adds some guesswork (particularly when you are talking about a multiple microbe culture).


Some sour beers, particularly those aged in wood barrels or with the oak dowel/peg can be completely flat at bottling time. This is different than the usually assumed .5-.8 volumes of CO2 most priming calculators assume the beer is holding onto. As a result if your beer tastes wine flat you should consider adding some extra priming sugar (or be willing to accept a lower carbonation level than the your calculations might predict).

The carbonation level is up to you. Higher carbonation tends to increase the sense of acidity (dissolved carbon dioxide is carbonic acid) and give you the impression of body in very thin beers. In general I aim for moderate-low carbonation, but that is the way I like most of my beers. In the end it is just about what you think would taste good for your beer.

In my pale sour beers (especially those with wheat) I often get an odd cereal/cheerio finish for a few months after bottling that wasn’t there in the bottling bucket. It fades with time, but it is annoying while it lasts. In general if a sour beer doesn’t taste good give it more time (recently the brewer at Bullfrog Brewery told me how terrible his Gold Medal winning Beekeeper Honey Sour Saison was for several years, to the point he considered it lost, before it turned the corner).

Once the beer is bottled it will age like any other. Lower temps will slow aging, while higher temps will produce faster changes in the flavor. It is worth hanging onto bottles for many years. Most of my sours seem to be getting better and better as time goes on, some are now at nearly three years in the bottle.


General Tips: Be patient. Try to avoid taking samples too often, it introduces oxygen and steals good beer from your future self.


Get a new sour beer going every few months to build up a pipeline if you can. It is easy to look forward a few months to the next beer that will be ready, but it will drive you insane thinking about the fact that the beer you just brewed won't be ready to drink for at least a year. If you have a big enough system it just steal 5 gallons (or even less if you have some smaller fermenters) of wort now and then to sour. Having plenty of beers souring also opens up the world of blending (which pretty much every good production sour brewery does) when you have multiple batches ready around the same time.

Don’t skimp on ingredients. Spending a bit more now is worth it in the end, especially when you are investing such a huge amount of time/effort/thought into a beer. This is especially true of things like fruit, spices, and sugars, go to places that specialize in the ingredient, Ethnic Markets, Spice Shops, Farmer's Markets etc...

Make friends with other homebrewers interested in sours, particularly those who live near you. Try their beers and have them try yours, some of the best sours I have had have been fermented in the basements and closets of other homebrewers.

Try as many commercial sour beers (for inspiration and microbes) as you can and ask questions of any commercial brewer who makes sours you enjoy. Most of them are very passionate and happy to help an equally passionate homebrewer. Asking about technique rather than recipes will generally get you more useful information.

Take as many notes on your beers as you can. These will help you to avoid mistakes or recreate successes in the future. With sour beers your technique evolves slowly since the feedback loop takes years instead of weeks like clean beers. My sours have steadily gotten better, but I still have beers aging that I made mistakes (or miscalculations) on that I have fixed in more recent batches.

If you want a hoppy sour beer, go with dry hops right before bottling (or in the bottle or keg). This will give you the mature acid/ester profile with the fresh hop kick.


For much much much more on how to brew sour beers, read my book: American Sour Beers!

Recipes:
Beatification Batch 001 Clone - Wine Barrel Sour Pale based on Russian River's beer
Big Funky - High Gravity Sour
Bourbon Barrel Wee Heavy - Unintentionally Sour, but still tasty
Brett Pale Ale - 100% Brett A American Pale Ale
Deviant Cable Car - 10 gallons of pale oaty sour beer with Al B's Bugfarm
Cable Car Clone - Soured blend of Saison, Bier de Garde, and Lager
Bourbon Cherry Brett Dark Belgian - Inspired by Cuvee de Tomme
Flanders Pale Ale - Flanders Red without the Red, half aged on Pluots
Flanders Red Again - My second attempt at the style, starter for the wine barrel
Funky Dark Saison - With rosemary, orange peel, and caramelized raisins
Funky Dark Saison #2 - With black cardamom, and caramelized dates
Funky Flower - Honey, chamomile, wheat based sour
Funky Rye Mild - English mild with rye that took an unexpected turn
Inspired by Sebastian - 100% Brett C table saison
Inspired by Sebastian - 100% Brett A table saison
Lambic The First - My first (terrible) attempt at a Lambic
Lambic Mrk 2 - Me second, too strong, attempt at a Lambic
Lambic 3.0 - My first attempt with the traditional turbid mash
Mo' Betta Bretta Clone - 100% Brett C beer based on the Pizza Port beer
Mo' Betta Bretta Clone #2 - 100% Brett A beer based on the Pizza Port beer
No-boil Berliner Weisse - My first attempt at the style
No-boil Berliner Weisse 2 - Half with Cabernet juice
No-boil Berliner Weisse 3 - Half left at a Lambic OG, the rest watered down to the usual 1.033
Perpetuum Sour - A pale sour, solera aged in a red wine barrel
RodenTons - My first attempt at a Flanders Red, half aged on blackberries
Sour Bourbon Barrel Porter - A strong porter aged in a second use Bourbon Barrel
Sour Squash - Lightly spiced, sour, butternut squash, brown ale
Temptation Clone- Chardonnay spiked pale sour based on the beer from Russian River
Wine Barrel Flanders Red - My first truly barrel aged beer

Sour Beer Links:
A Liddil Lambic Lesson: The Cult of the Biohazard Lambic Brewer Jamil Show
Brewery Rodenbach: Brewing Sour Ales
Brewing Sour Beers at Home Using Traditional & Alternative Methods
How to Make Sour Ale: an inquiry
The Jamil Show
The Homebbbrew Board
Brettanomyces Masters Project

Please post any additional suggestions/tips that you have discovered for brewing sour beers at home.

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