Monday, March 1, 2010

Sour Solera Beer Barrel

The past two weekends have been my most productive as a homebrewer, at least from a volume standpoint.  My friend Nathan (whose basement houses the two "group" barrels that I have posted about repeatedly in the past) suggested that we get a third barrel, to store at my house.  I contacted Chrysalis Vineyards (the same winery that we bought our first barrel from during fall 2008).  They still had a surplus of French oak barrels that had held red wine, and the price was still the same so I didn't bother contacting anyone else.  The day before the first brew we drove to pick up the barrel, when we got back we had to manhandle it through the snow and down into my basement and onto the simple barrel rack that Nathan had put together.  Originally we had planned to pick up the barrel two weeks earlier, but DC's "Snowmageddon" prevented us from heading out there two Fridays in a row.

165 qrt Cooler Mash TunThis time though instead of having 7-8 people involved (each brewing five or ten gallons on their own to blend and then age in the barrel), we decided to handle the brewing ourselves with two marathon 27.5 gallon brew days.  This audacious plan was only possible because Nathan has been piecing together a large scale brewing system from a 165 qrt  (40+ gallon) cooler mash-tun, and two 15 gallon keggles (this was his first time using all of it together).  Still we needed my burner, and pots (not to mention garage) to produce that much wort in one day.  The two brew days were surprisingly uneventful, taking about 11 hours each from the time I started to heat the strike water until we finished cleanup.

Barley Crusher in Action
We didn't have anywhere besides the barrel to ferment 60 gallons of wort so we decided to go with a Lambic-esque recipe (since that is the only style that is left to age/sour in primary).  We used mostly pils/pale with some unmalted wheat and oats (although more oats and less wheat than would be in a Lambic), as well as some malted wheat we had lying around.  Not perfectly traditional, but the raw grains will provide some starches for the long souring process, and the simple/clean malt bill should be a good base for some experiments with fruit/herbs/spices (it is too  much beer to drink all of it "plain").  I'll also say that it's a good thing I had a drill to turn my Barley Crusher, not sure if I have the arm stamina to crank through 65 lbs of grain (look at that grain fly!).

For yeast/bugs we used half of the 10 gallon batch of Bugfarm Sour that I brewed a month ago along with the slurry from the other half. It was fermented with a slurry from Al B which contained about 15 strains of Sacch, Brett, Lacto, and Pedio that he had isolated from a number of great commercial breweries.  The yeast and microbes took the first 27.5 gallons of the wort down to 1.015 by the time the second batch was brewed, so there should be plenty of cells to handle the second half of the wort.  We also tossed in the dregs from a couple bottles of Jolly Pumpkin that we drank during the brew days just to up the biodiversity even more.

Inside an Empty Wine BarrelWhat are the two of us going to do with our 60 gallons of sour beer?  Solera.  The solera concept is most commonly used in vinegar and sherry production (although Cambridge Brewing beat us to solera beer with a sour cherry beer called Cerise Cassée).  The general idea is that on a set timetable some of the liquid in a barrel in transferred out and fresh liquid is added to fill the barrel back up.  In some cases a series of barrels in employed with each barrel being successively smaller and containing an older blend.  Whether one barrel or many, the idea is to create a blend that has already aged together (from a practicality standpoint it also means that we never have to deal with an empty barrel).  We decided a solera would be a good way to tackle a two person barrel since neither of us really has a need for 30 gallons of sour beer at a time (on top of the other two barrels and our own batches).  For more talk about soleras check out the post about the interview Nathan and I did with Basic Brewing Radio a couple months back (or Wikipedia, where I learned the same system is called by the cooler sounding "Perpetuum" in Sicily).

It will probably be a year before we pull the first round of beer from the barrel.  The current plan is to take 15 gallons once a year (replacing it with 20 gallons or so to account for evaporation), this will yield a beer with an average blended age of 3 years after a few pulls.  We will make adjustments to the recipe if the beer is initially too sour, or not sour enough.

Perpetuum Sour
Sugar Beard

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
--------------------
Batch Size (Gal): 55.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 129.25
Anticipated OG: 1.058
Anticipated SRM: 4.0
Anticipated IBU: 10.5
Brewhouse Efficiency: 69 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 min

Grain
-------
42.6% - 55.00 lbs. German Pilsener                            
37.1% - 48.00 lbs. American Pale Malt
7.9% - 10.25 lbs. Oatmeal
7.0% - 9.00 lbs. Unmalted Wheat
5.4% - 7.00 lbs. Wheat Malt

And that is only half the grainHops
------
4.25 oz. Willamette (Pellet 3.70% AA) @ 60 min.
3.00 oz. Cascade (Whole 5.75% AA) @ 60 min.

Extras
--------
2.00 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
5.00 tsp Irish Moss @ 15 min


Yeast
-------
Al B's Bugfarm #3

Nathan Skimming Hot BreakWater Profile
-----------------
Profile: Washington DC (Carbon Filtered)

Mash Schedule
------------------
Sacch Rest - 90 min @ 156
Mash Out - 15 min @ 168

Notes
-------
Brewed the first half 2/20/10

Mashed a whole sack of Pils, plus 4.5 lbs each unmalted wheat and (flaked) oats.

Collected 12 gallons of first runnings @1.083.  Added 2 1/8 oz of Willamettes after 15 min boil. (996 Gravity Points)

Collected 8.5 gallons of second runnings @ 1.049.  Originally in a keggle, but poured into my 10 gallon pot since the keggle started leaking.  Added 2 1/8 oz of Willamettes after 15 min boil. (416 GP)

Collected 5 gallons of second runnings @1.034.  No hops, 60 min boil. (170 GP)

Added 6.5 gallons of sparge water.  Stirred, rested for ~15 min.  Collected the same volume back ~1.019.  (123 GP)

1705 Total GP collected.  Which works out to 1.057 in 30 gallons, assuming no losses to hops/trub.

Racked all of the wort to the Chrysalis red wine barrel (French oak from World Cooperage) trying to filter/settle our most of the hops/trub.

Racked in 4.5 gallons of Bug Farm Sour and the ~1/2 gallon of dregs from the other half.  Also added the dregs from a Jolly Pumpkin Bière De Mars.

Hit it with 2 min of pure oxygen.  Left in the basement at around 55.

The combined mixture in the barrel was 1.054, which means the rest would have to average around 1.060, since that is more that I calculated we are probably a bit under volume.

2/27/10 The first portion was down to 1.015 before we added the second half of the wort.
------------------------------
Running the wort into the keggleSecond half brewed 2/27/10

Used the rest of the malt (Pale, malted wheat, oats, raw wheat).

Switched hops to whole cascades to make removing them from the wort post-boil easier.

Divided the hops roughly between the three pots.  We were out of whirlfoc so we added some rehydrated Irish moss with 15 min left in each boil (5 tsp total).

Hit similar gravities to the first round, but both keggles worked so we got 11 gallons 1.086, 11 gallons 1.055, and 6 gallons 1.024.

Ended up a couple gallons short of a fill, so filtered/boiled/cooled 4 gallons of water and racked it into the barrel to fill it to the top.  Then I racked 5 gallons of the fully blended wort out to ensure there was adequate head space for the krausen.  Added the dregs from a Jolly Pumpkin Oro De Calabaza (which had just won a NYT Golden Ale Tasting). By the next morning the airlock was going crazy, bubbling probably 5 times a second.

3/13/10  Racked the 5 gallons back into the barrel.  Added 1 gallon of spring water to bring the barrel nearly up to the brim.  Time to wait.

9/17/11 Nathan and I spent the day Bottled 5 gallons. Racked 5 each onto 1 oz of elderflowers, 3.5 oz of Hallertau Tradition, and 1 gallon of Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes. We then refilled the barrel with freshly brewed, minimally aerated wort. It took nearly a week to start fermenting again.

10/5/11 Bottled Dry hopped and Elderflower versions with a fresh dose of champagne yeast.

1/17/12 Bottled the grape aged portion with 4.5 oz of corn sugar and some rehydrated champagne yeast. Great color and aroma.

2/23/12 Tasting of the Hallertau Tradition dry hopped portion. I think we overstuffed the hop bag and it didn't get enough circulation, hop aroma is minimal. Still a great beer though.

2/28/12 Tasting of the First Plain Pull. The dry hops added more than I gave them credit for, this version tastes more like Petrus Aged Pale than anything else, a bit too clean for my taste in sours (but the oak is terrific).

3/15/12 The Cabernet grape aged portion is terrific. The wine grapes come across as complex, raspberry, cherry, wine, and balance perfectly with the beer's character.

3/19/12 Tasting of the Elderflower version. Nice fruity/floral character, that actually seems to have grown over the few months in the bottle.

5/7/12 The Cabernet version scored a 34 at NHC as a Fruit Lambic, but managed to placed 1st out of 28 beers. Snippets of the judges' notes.

5/4/13 Brewed ~24 gallons of 1.055 pale wort (Pils, wheat malt, and flaked oats). Fermented outside the barrel with Belle Saison, S-33, T-58, and US-05. Most of that in plastic, the rest in two 5 gallon American oak barrels. Shook to aerate, and left in the mid 60s to ferment.

5/16/13 Bottled 5 gallons with 2 g of rehydrated Champagne yeast and 4.25 oz of table sugar. Racked 5 each onto 4 oz of Sterling, 1 oz Nelson, 2 oz Mosaic, 1 oz Citra, and 1 oz each Mums and Jasmine. Topped barrel back off, probably 2 gallons short.

9/7/13 Tasting notes on the two dry hopped version from the second pull. The Nelson/Mosaic/Citra in particular is fruity and delicious.

7/30/14 Tasting of the second pull plain and on flowers. One is too weird, the other not quite weird enough!

35 comments:

James said...

I'm interested in the 140qt cooler mash tun. I have a few questions about it if you don't mind.

-Do you fly sparge or batch sparge with it?

-How does it do on efficiency?

I have been mulling over starting to put together a 1bbl system. A huge cooler would certainly be cheaper and more simple than converting a 55 gallon stainless drum or buying a 55 gallon BoilerMaker. Additionally it removes the need for a direct fired MLT.

explosivebeer said...

I came across your blog awhile back while researching Adambier and have been loosely following it since then. I also got some of Al B's most recent BugFarm so it's great to see you putting it to good use as well. Keep up the great work.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

We did what I call a modified fly/batch sparge. After mashing we added a mash-out addition ~7 gallons, stirred, drained it down to expose the grain, then fly sparged to collect most of the wort. When we were down to the last 7 gallons of sparge water we let the mash run dry (and this point we had enough wort to fill up the two keggles). We then batch sparged the final 7 gallons to run into my 10 gallon pot.

We were around 70% both times for efficiency, but that it at least partly because we were using some unmalted wheat without a cereal mash. Ideally we would have also been able to run more sparge water though since the final runnings were 1.024 the second time around (we just didn't have boil capacity).

Hopefully we'll get a chance to do a parti-gyle with the system sometime (we talked barleywine and capping with dark grains to do a mild).

Certainly seems like a worthwhile option for a bbl system if you don't plan on making any really strong beers.

Yeah, couldn't think of anything less risky than pitching such a nice variety of microbes.

Ryan said...

Wow! thats is quite an amazing amount of beer from 2 homebrewers in a weekend

You have become a posting machine lately, and I like it!

Ryan_PA said...

That is a cool project. I think I have traded thoughts with you on our similar project. I also think you guys managed to convince Stefin to not just drain the barrel the third year, but to keep feeding it. How long do you think the solara can go in a 60 gallon barrel before the sourness is too much?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

That is the fun of this, I have no idea! If it starts to head towards being too sour we'll start fermenting future beer additions with Sacch before adding them to the barrel, mashing low and using a high attenuating yeast if necessary. We could also step-up the pulls to bring the average age down, say 15 gallons once every six months.

I calm myself by thinking for the same price it cost for my half of the barrel and grain ($120) I could have only bought six 750s of sour beer from Russian River.

Kevin LaVoy said...

I'm trying to figure out why you guys were skimming the hot break, and I can't come up with anything. What is the rationale?

Thom Anon said...

Sweet read. Thanks, Madman!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I skim hot break mainly because it prevents boil-overs right when the wort reaches a boil, it also ensures that I get any tiny bits of grain that may have made it out of the mash. In this case I also wanted to get as much break material as I could out of the beer since we are letting it sit in "primary" indefinitely. Certainly not a necessary step, but something that is part of my SOP.

DesignedExtreme said...

what are your thoughts about yeast autolysis... Are you planning on removing the sediment at any point?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I hadn’t been too worried about it (Lambics are traditionally aged in primary for up to 3-4 years), but the article Will Meyers did in this month's New Brewer said that he had autolysis issues with his solera. Can't argue with a guy who had the good taste to mention both Nathan and I in the article.

We may try to suck some of the trub out when we take our first pull in 6 months or so. It’ll probably suck up quite a bit of beer as well so we’ll let it settle to recover any beer we can.

Hope that helps.

Ricky said...

I am wanting to start a solera in a 13 gallon American oak barrel. I am planning on making a Flanders Red and pulling about 5 or so gallons every six months to a year. My main area of concern is that the beer will end up being way over oxydized due to using a small barrel. I was also curious if the Roselare yeast blend will eventually make the beer coming out of the barrel to sour to drink as the culture of lacto increases. Thanks for any help.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Is it a new oak barrel? If so my main concern would be getting too much oak character initially. Flemish reds tend to have some acetic acid, so a little extra oxygen may not be a bad thing. Eventually you may want to reboot the solera if it starts getting too sour/oaky or if you start to get some autolysis. We’re doing the first pull from our solera this weekend. If it starts to get too sour you could also ferment out the beer before racking it into the barrel, and make sure it is highly attenuated to leave less food for the bugs.

Good luck!

Ricky said...

Yes it will be a new barrel. My plan was to essentially 'burn' some of the oak character off by using a barrel cleaning solution maybe a couple of times. Then if the beer is to oaky I will rack out of the barrel and into a carboy onto some fruit maybe, and let the beer age the oaky flavor out. I would then continue this every six months or so until oakyness goes away.

ET said...

Been doing a sour brown ale solera for a year now, since seeing it on your blog. Really happy with the results so far. Just bottled my second pull today, and it's tasting excellent.

My one question is, what is your policy on topping off? I came up short this time, as I got way more evaporation through the summer than expected. Now, I could top off with water, as that is what I lost ultimately, or I could brew another batch. I'm concerned though, that if I top off with beer too often, I'm going to end up with a way stronger beer over time, than I want. That said, I really like the flavor of the new batch, and don't want to thin it out.

By the way, fantastic blog! It's been an inspiration to me and several fellow brewers. Cheers!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

We have not been topping off, and have not had an issue with acetic acid production. However, our other barrel has some acetic character, and so we brewed a few extra gallons to do occasional top-offs (every other month or so).

Alcohol will evaporate easier than water, so I don’t think you’ll make a stronger beer by topping off (it will concentrate sugars, but in a sour that isn’t a major issue). Feeding with beer does add unfermentables that could cause issues if it was done too close to bottling. Ideally you’d have the same beer souring in glass that you could use, but a dry version of the beer or even water with a bit of honey could work.

ET said...

Makes a lot of sense. I think I'll just brew another batch to top off. Thanks!

Duffbowl said...

Great inspiration with the solera. Just picked up two 100L / 26 gallon shiraz barrels for a pretty reasonable price, and looking forward to busy New Year. Still in two minds whether to have two different soleras (one Belgian, one English Old), or the cascading model.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I'd go for variety. Our eventually plan is to time the refills so we can do some blending of the two batches together.

ChanakaD said...

Thanks for the great write-ups. You've inspired me to try my hand at some sours. I have a couple of questions about barrel choices. If you could choose between a wine or whiskey barrel which would you prefer and why? Also, what's a fair price to pay for a barrel?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The softer flavor of a wine barrel is certainly the more traditional choice. Especially first use spirit barrels are strong enough that something big and dark is needed to balance their oak/booze. I've been happy with all out barrels (red wine, bourbon, apple brandy) each just takes the right beer.

We've pair $60-120 depending on the source. Worth paying a bit extra if it gets you a better barrel considering these days $120 won't get you a six bottle case of Cantillon.

Good luck, and let me know if you run into any other issues.

Heraclitus said...

How would you go about christening a new wine barrel?

I hear that buckets are closer to barrels than carboys so I'm thinking of pitching my ECY20 to a 7 gallon batch in one and then stepping it up to a barrel after a few months.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I think the risk of a poorly sealed lid make buckets a poor choice for long term storage of sour beer. Fine for primary fermentation when CO2 production is high, but I'd go with a carboy or BetterBottle for longer term aging.

What do you mean by christening? This was a new barrel, so you can see how we went about starting a beer in it. In other cases we've blended 5-10 gallons of 6 month old sour beer with enough clean fermented beer to fill it.

Heraclitus said...

Buy christening I meant to ask how you would go about breaking in a new wine barrel. I realize that there are all kinds of microbes in the wood already (and you can't get them all out), so I want to make sure that I had as much of the ones that I chose as possible. I'd like to make sure that the mix was mainly ECY20 so that becomes the dominant force.

I guess I'll just use a couple of carboys and plan on barreling that in 6 months or so along with enough fresh wort to top it off.

Bryan Reeves said...

This page is very helpful - Thankyou. I just purchased a 15 Gal rye whiskey barrel from Dad's Hat (PA). After aging an IPA in this barrel, I am leaching it so I can fill with lambic this March. Much easier to deal with myself than a full-sizes barrel...

I have it wrapped in seran wrap except for the two heads. Is wax a better option to minimize evaporation?

Thanks!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Not sure how much the plastic wrap will do. I assume you went around a few times applying some pressure?

Levi Funk has played with paraffin waxing a barrel with good results: http://www.funkfactorygeuzeria.com/2012/02/paraffin-waxing-barrel.html

Bryan Reeves said...

Yes, it is tightly wrapped but I am seriously considering the paraffin treatment (the heads will remain "naked")...

Mike: Another question, if you will indulge me...

From my 15 gallon solera, I plan to pull five gallons each year and replace it with (what?) I was assuming I would ferment my five gallons separately until 4 months when the bret is dominant.

I see you add wort directly to the barrel, but that is 5 / 55 gallons and not 5 / 15.

Suggestions?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

We're pulling 20 gallons at a time (usually takes ~25 to refill to account for evaporation) so really not that different for you in terms of percentages. You can either use wort, clean beer, or sour beer. I'd adjust based on the flavor of the solera, and what direction you want to push it in.

Bryan Reeves said...

Thanks! I am applying the beeswax tomorrow on the top half of the 15 gallon barrel. I have another week of baking soda solution to finish leaching them a few days of citric acid... The big brew date will be April 13th!

Bryan Reeves said...

Question: What is the best way to extract 5 gallons from the barrel at Y1? Will there still be a pellicle on top and if so how do I avoid sinking it. Does it matter? Thanks!

Bryan Reeves said...

Can't wait for you book! I have it pre-ordered on Amazon...

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Just stick an auto-siphon in and rack out. You can rack in the new fill too to minimize disruption. I wouldn't really worry about the pellicle though, it'll reform (although there won't be much room for it initially as you should be filling the barrel completely).

Cheers!

Bryan Reeves said...

happy to send a pic of the ferment in action if you wan to post

kurineru said...

After reading your post here and your BYO article, I think I'll give this a try on a small scale. I have 5 gallons of a sour stout aged on dried cherries that's just about ready to bottle. I based it on Tart of Darkness and fermented it with Wyeast Roselare. Instead of bottling the whole thing this summer, maybe I'll pull 2.5 to 3 gallons and replace the rest.

It seems like the easiest way to get started would be to just bottle the amount that I pull and replace it with a fresh wort, letting the sacc, brett and bugs left in the solera go to work.

On the other hand, if I decide to blend the first pull, what should I be thinking about in terms of gravity? If I blend my sour that it just under 1.010 with a newly fermented oatmeal stout, am I going to have problems with overcarbonation?

I also really like the subtle cherry flavor that the dried cherries have imparted to the sour. In order to keep that going without flavoring the wort, should I pull off some of the old, spent cherries and replace them with new ones when I take a pull from the solera?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Blending in clean beer at bottling certainly presents a strong risk of over-carbonation. If you brewed a beer identical to the original base you could guess that the gravity of the blend would end up back where it currently is. To carbonate a sour stout, I'd only want a drop of .002 (.003 at the most). That's a risk I wouldn't take especially because it could take a year to reach full carbonation without any substantial benefit.

You could always rack the remaining beer to a new fermentor and add a fresh dose of dried cherries. I also think you'd be fine just leaving the spent cherries in there and adding more as needed.

Your plan/beer is actually similar to the what Bullfrog did for Black Cherry Bomb. It was a barrel of sour cherry stout they'd pull from before topping-off with more house stout and cherry juice.

Adding fresh wort can be tricky, the yeast in the solera may not be in great shape by this point, and aeration is risky. Have some dried yeast on hand to rehydrate and pitch if you don't see activity within a couple days.

Good luck!

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