Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hoppy Golden Solera Tasting

Hoppy Golden Solera with barrels in the background.
Having 115 gallons of souring beer split between two barrels in my basement is a bit of a risk. I mean even the best brewers blend their beer, and on occasion are forced to dump barrels. However, when I remember that it cost less than $250 to buy and fill each one, and that cost was split with my friend Nathan it doesn’t seem so bad. The fact that our two "group barrels" in his basement have had such a good track record provide additional reassurance. More than the money, it is the huge amount of time and effort it required to produce that volume of wort using our undersized gear that would be wasted if the two beers don’t turn out well.

The wine barrel golden sour was brewed about two years ago. Primary fermented in the barrel with Al's (pre-East Coast Yeast) Bugfarm III. After 20 months we pulled 20 gallons, refilling with similar wort. We plan to continue this periodically, essentially creating a single vessel solera which will evolve with each pull. For more information on solera, read Will Meyer's excellent article La M├ętodo Solera.

We split the beer from this first pull evenly four ways: plain, dry hopped, aged on elderflowers, and aged on Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. This resulted in about a case of the four varietals for each of us. I decided to do the tasting of the dry hopped (Hallertau Tradition) first since those hoppy aromas are already fading. Sadly I took most of my share of the dry hopped portion to serve on tap, but the keg immediately turned sharp and highly acetic despite the fact that I double purged with carbon dioxide.

Golden Solera - The Hoppy

Appearance – Looks like Pilsner Urquell, with a brilliantly clear, golden-yellow body. The stark white head is thin, but remains at that level until the beer is finished.

Smell – Big sour fruit, hard to pick out exactly what the fruit is… Plum? Pear? The hops add a nice herbal note, but it is secondary to the wild fruit. The hops were never as bold as I had hoped they would be, and they have faded a bit since it was bottled a few months ago. Luckily I don’t find faded European hops offensive like I do citrusy American hops. There is also just a hint of chalky aspirin.

Taste – Solid lactic acid with some sharpness from acetic. It gets me right in the sides of the cheeks. The flavor is similar to the aroma, a complex blend of fruit and rustic farmyard funk. The flavor is more decidedly winey, with a big contribution from the red grape juice that once filled the barrel. The oak is subtle despite the 20 months in the barrel, spicy and nothing like the lumber many “aged on oak” beers end up with. There is still a touch of residual sweetness to help balance the sourness, but nothing like the really sweet/sour beers like Duchesse De Bourgogne.

Mouthfeel – Light body, with moderate carbonation. The carbonation could be slightly higher. Slight tannic roughness on my tongue from the oak. The acidity makes it seem fuller than it actually is.

Drinkability & Notes – Considering this was the first pull it will be interesting to see if the funkiness of the Brett is able to assert itself more in subsequent years. I would have liked more character from the nearly 4 oz of dry hops, but I think we probably loaded the hop bag too full to allow for adequate circulation.

11 comments:

Shawn said...

Unrelated to the whole brewing experience, but love the picture.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Love my new Cannon, the problem is now I sit around taking pictures for 10 minutes before I start drinking the beer...

Romantic Bed and Breakfasts Luray VA said...

After my heart problem I've quite drinking that's why can't taste but from giving picture, its looking good.

Anonymous said...

Great pics, congrats on the new camera. Any thoughts on why the keg turned "sharp and highly acetic"? Oxygen exposure or...? I've had similar experiences with oak aged beers in the past...

jaymo said...

We had a similar experience with a barrel beer fermented with Bugfarm III. It was nice coming out of the barrel, but several (well-purged) kegs went quite acetic quickly after pulling from the barrel.

I've had better luck getting balanced sourness from both Bugfarm IV and the Flemish blend, although the latter is slow to sour compared to any generation of BF I've used.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I probably should have purged the keg before filling, not just after to further reduce oxygen exposure. As far as I know oxygen is a prerequisite for acetic acid production, regardless of the microbe. My only other thought was that somehow I left a gallon of Star-San in the keg…?

The Bugfarm IV we have in the other barrel went sour much more rapidly, but that barrel sat empty for a month before filling and smelled a bit acetic. So many variables, hard to make definitely statements on a trial or two. Still waiting to figure out the Flanders Red Blend, but so far the sourness is lower than expected.

Jazzafish said...

Looks great... Awesome project too. Is it too acetic to enjoy? Worth exploring some blending options?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

This barrel is not too acetic by any means, the other solera barrel is pushing it though. We did you the other one for blending at a session and the results were very nice.

Anonymous said...

Good entry. I've made most of these mistakes.

In addition to inferring too much from the airlock, I would add that using a time table (e.g., 5 days in primary, 12 days in 2ndary, etc), as is often included in kit instruction, is a bad idea for the same reasons. Taste and gravity should guide the end-game.

I'll add that the little pack of Burton salts that came with my first extract/steeping kit was a bad idea.

Ben said...

Do you have as much fun naming your beer as most homebrewers I know? I've had friends that have designed mulitiple recipes around a funny beer pun they thought of. The only reason I thought of this was because you post your beers by their types: Golden Solera, Vienna Half IPA & English Oatmeal Porter. Are you hiding hilarious names for all of these, or are you just brewing too much to make names and labels for all your brews?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I used to name and label all of my beers, but I gave that up years ago. Just too much effort to design, print, and then remove labels. As for names, some beers get something more interesting, but I think in a blog it is easier to have post titles that are more descriptive. Sometimes my beers in the kegerator get more creative name on the chalkboard (my current dubbel is named 6-4-3 for example). The English Oatmeal Porter was done for an event about the Battle of Britain, so the big half is Churchill and the small is Chamberlain. Someone actually did make labels for them, and I should be posting them eventually.

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