Thursday, August 1, 2013

Modern Times Sour Beer Update

Box of Microbes
With only three weeks to go before I leave San Diego, we're really kicking the sour beer program into first gear. I've got 15 cultures growing, and another 20 waiting in he cold box. The newest delivery was from Jeff of Bootleg Biology. While some of his cultures are from the usual place (bottle dregs) he also sent microbes he isolated from kombucha, wild honey, and his backyard in Arlington, Virginia. They should add some nice biodiversity to our microbial holdings.

We're talking to a couple wineries and brokers about buying barrels, but haven't actually purchased any yet (that should be coming shortly). Ideally we'd prefer the place to be within driving distance so we could go, inspect the barrels, and drive back with them. Buying only as many as we need at a time for only one batch. We'll see if that happens. We've also got barrel racks on order (pretty reasonable at $36 each, including shipping).

Over on the Modern Times blog I have a post about the four initial base beers we'll be brewing, including complete recipes for each (although the Halltertau hops are just a placeholder for whatever we end up using). The post includes some basic thoughts on the sorts of strains we'll pitch into each, and how we might go about flavoring them once they are soured. Luckily getting all my hard work out of the way this trip, can't wait for subsequent trips to San Diego that will focus on the fun stuff: blending and adding fruit etc.

While the barrel-aged beers won't be ready for at least a year, we're considering a few stainless fermented sours that should be ready sooner. I have a couple cultures growing from the microbes living on malt (Lactobacillus mostly). These will go into a "quick" sour ala my sour-worted brown. We'll split the 20 gallon test batch of reddish wort to see which culture produces the best results (including a Wyeast Lactobacillus as the control). When the target sourness is reached, as determined by tasting and pH readings, we'll use heat to kill the bacteria before doing a 100% Brett fermentation. Should produce an interesting, tart, complex beer in not much more than a month.

23 comments:

Denny Deaton said...

You should really consider Coturri (http://www.coturriwinery.com) for barrels if they'll sell you some. They produce amazing wine up in Glen Ellen and the cool thing is, they are big fans of wild yeast. So that alone should offer more complexity and fun (could mean less control for you too) for your beers!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Thanks for the tip, sadly looks a bit far for a trip. If we strike out locally then we'll look into other options. I've just heard too many horror stories from brewers who bought barrels sight unseen and ended up getting barrels with issues. Might have to find a couple bottles of their wine though!

patrick said...

Mike I know that when doing the quick sour method one needs to make sure the ph doesn't drop too low(3.4??) as it will effect yeast performance and or health. Is brett more tolerant to a low ph environment than traditional brewers yeast??

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Chad Yakobson performed some tests as part of his Masters Thesis and found that Brett often had the best attenuation at a pH of 3.08 (of the trials he tested). Although it suppressed some ester production in some strains. Which is part of the reason we're doing some trials, to see if we get a pleasant character.

patrick said...

Awesome link and I'm excited to see how your quick sours turn out.

Cheers pat.

HolzBrew said...

Exciting progress for sure! Returning to pedestrian life in DC is going to be tough.

Brian said...

Hey Mike, very exciting... two quick questions for you. Would there be any adversity to just doing a sour mash instead of the quick sour and kill method? And what do you guy inspect with the barrels? I'm assuming you try not to get any that funky? Or is that you're just looking for ones in good condition?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I find almost all sour mashed beers to have an unpalatable (for my palate) cheesy-footy aroma. Some are are almost passable, but I find most of them undrinkable. If you don't mind the flavor of sour mashed beers, nothing wrong with do it for this application. Souring wort is much easier too, running off post sour mash can be unpleasant from what I've heard.

For inspecting barrels, you mainly want them to smell like oak and whatever was in them previously. No mold. No vinegar. No nail polish remover. Just clean and fresh. I don't care what they look like, as long as they can hold liquid!

Brian said...

Awesome, thanks!

BrewDemon said...

I never tasted a sour beer before and I doubt it if I can drink one. Aside from the taste like that of a vinegar, will there be any flavors available? We do have different refills at www.brewdemon.com that you might wanna try.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The sourness in most sour beers comes from lactic acid, more like the tang of yogurt than the sharpness of vinegar(acetic acid). The Brettanomyces provides a huge range of aromatics, from tropical fruit, to hay, and lomay-earthy-funk. If you don't like acidity you, can search out beers (like Orval) that are fermented with Brettanomyces in the absence of lactic acid bacteria.

kcschmitt said...

Where did you located barrel racks for $36?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Our head brewer found them from a barrel supply place in Northern California. Looks like they'll end up being a bit more expensive, shipping prices rose before we ordered. If you have asked around and can't find a comparable deal, email me and I'll find out where we're getting them from.

Michael said...

I've done the lacto followed by 100% Brett technique several times now with great success (works great for fruited Berliners) but I'm a little hesitant to try it on a big scale as I'm hesitant to use Brett in our 15bbl system. What precautions are you planning to take to prevent contaminating your fermenters and especially brite tanks?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

We have a dedicated 30 bbl Brett conical, and we carbonate in tank (rather than introducing Brett into one of the brite tanks). Not exactly ideal, but it makes sure our clean beers stay clean!

Mark Taylor said...

Hi Mike,
enjoy you sharing your experiences. Can you tell me how you prep your barrels? Thanks

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

We still haven't filled any barrels at Modern Times yet, but at home we've never really done anything to prep them. My goal is always to avoid purchasing barrels until we are ready to fill them. Just open the bung, and rack beer in.

As some of the barrels we're getting for Modern Times will still have lees in them, we'll probably rinse them with cool water, but that's about it. For re-fills, we may be more aggressive with our cleaning, but that is probably a year away.

Anonymous said...

So how does heat kill off the souring bacteria? What temperature do you have to get it up to?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The wort was soured pre-boil, so that killed anything that grew during the first few days. You could alternatively just raise the temperature to about 160 F that is enough to pasteurize in less than a minute. I wanted to boil to reduce the "raw" grain aroma you get from beers that aren't boiled (like my Berliner weisse recipe).

I'll have a full write-up of the process eventually.

fogley said...

Hi Mike. Love the blog, excited to see your work with modern times develop.

What kind of variation have you seen in the sourness produced by different types of lacto... How would you discribe the differences in pure WL or WYeast cultures, lacto from grain, and lacto in secondary with age? I like the idea of bringing sour beer flavor/aroma from brett and short cutting the actual sour production.

Also I am intrigued by collecting dregs method with pressure canner... whats the procedure and timing necessary to build the bugs up properly? How long after collection until problems, Is refridgeration involved, what sizer starter/# of cells would you be aiming for to pitch into a 5 gallon batch?

thanks again your site is great resource !

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Grain/wild Lacto is hit or miss, but tends to produce more acidity than the commercial cultures. Wyeast is solid, while I've given up on White Labs entirely (produced nearly zero acidity alone, even after a year of working on a Berliner weisse).

I'd rather just add dregs directly to a 5 gallon batch. In this case I was just using sterile wort processed in the pressure canner as a quick way to have wort on hand, and standard starter would work just as well. The longer you give a mixed culture the more the balance will change. I'm hoping to pitch ~5% of the volume of soured beer to get each barrel going.

fogley said...

okay thanks for the info - when i try the quick sour method I will go with the grain or wyeast lacto.

I see what your saying about pitching directly into the 5 gallon batch I will implement that method whenever possible.

I was planning on using sterile wort processed in pressure canner to bring to bottle shares/ locations away from my house or brew.... after you put the dregs into the sterile wort do you have to grow it in a starter immediately? can it go in the fridge for a week and then into a starter or straight into a 5 gallon batch?

thanks

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The sterile wort would be the starter if you went the route, but I think you're better off just putting it in the fridge if you can pitch them within a couple weeks.

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