Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sour Beer Update

During my Christmas week in Massachusetts I had a chance to inspect and taste several of my long aging sour beers.

This was my first real taste of my Flanders Pale Ale (left), which was coming along nicely with a mild funky Brett aroma, but not much sourness yet.

My lambic had a rather strong fruity flavor and a nicely developing sourness, although nowhere near as strong as a commercial lambic. This beer is still in primary to take advantage of the autolysing yeast cake and looks about the same as it did the last time I saw it (bits of detached pellicle).

I bottled the second half of my Flanders Red which had been aging on 4 lbs of blackberries (left). I was pleasantly surprised that the fruit flavor was not as intense as I expected. The acids from the berries and the extra fermentation time with the fruit sugars added a good deal more sourness, with the fruit giving a nice winey complexity. Look for a full review in a couple of weeks when the beer is fully carbonated.

I also dropped off my Cable Car clone (left) for its year of souring. As you can see I got a full 5 gallons out of the 6 gallons I put into the three primary fermenters. The flavor going into secondary was excellent, a fruity combination of peaches, apricots, and oranges. I can't wait to see how this one tastes in 12 months after the Russian River bugs have their way with it.


Josh said...

Is that mold on top?

Why is there mold in a helpful layer of CO2?

I'm taking notes for when the Mad Elf Clone stops fermenting and is ready for fruit. It's been over a week and it's still bubbling maybe once every 10 minutes.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

That is not mold it is a pellicle, essentially the cells and excretions of various bacteria (primarily Pediococcus) and wild yeast(primarily Brettanomyces). It is a natural defense against other microbes (including Acetobacter) and it protects them from any oxygen in the headspace. Even in a glass carboy some amount of air will get into the headspace through the rubber stopper. If you are brewing a sour beer a pellicle is a good sign that your microbes are at work.

In your case adding the cherries to the Mad Elf clone will kick off fermentation again and you will probably see a krausen reform, but you shouldn’t see anything that looks powdery or ropy.

If your beer is only putting out a bubble every 10 minutes it is almost certainly done fermenting. Even after the yeast starts dropping out residual CO2 will keep coming out of solution. The only way to make sure it is finished though is to take a gravity reading. On a beer that big there is always a chance that some extra yeast might be needed to finish off the job, or you may need to boost the temperature. Always better to know where fermentation stands before you transfer off the yeast.

Travis said...

I'm also doing the mad elf clone. What should one look for in a gravity reading to know that it's time to transfer off of the yeast for secondary?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Just let the yeast ferment as far as it can before you move the beer to secondary. Once it looks done (krausen drops, starts to clear) check the gravity and it should be around/below 1.020, but the exact reading depends on your system and the yeast you use. If it is much higher than 1.020 you should consider warming up the fermenter, rousing the yeast off the bottom, or pitching a more alcohol tolerant strain to finish off the fermentation.

There is no need to let the beer sit in primary too long because any clean up work that is done will be undone by the renewed fermentation on the cherries. There is also no reason that you couldn’t add the cherries directly to the primary after the fermentation dies down if you use a bucket or another type of fermenter that would make that an easy proposition.

I’m excited to hear how these batches come out, keep me in the loop (and if you’d like to send me some pictures and tasting notes to put up please do!)

Good luck.

Travis said...

Added cherries tonight, no mold on top (good!), nothin else either. it's cloudy. current gravity is 1.02 (adjusted). I added 84 oz of cherries total, 42 oz of "normal" pie-making cherries (from the can), and 42 of the "dark, sweet" cherries. I thought the normals would be a little sour, or tart, this is going to be a sweet beer, both were on the sweet side... also syrupy. The gravity sample was mildly to moderately astringent, I look forward to tasting this after it's been bottled and had a chance to condition.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I would generally recommend against the cherries packed in heavy syrup (I have used cherries packed in water with good results), but since they are already in the beer I doubt it will be that much of an issue. I’m just weary of all the corn syrup and whatever else is in the thick/sweet syrup.

The beer should continue to dry out, and carbonation always really changes a beer. Glad to hear that it made it down to 1.020, hopefully the yeast is still kicking strong.

Travis said...

I went with the liquid WLP 500 belgian tripel yeast, I threw the cherries in last night, and it's bubbling again this morning, so the yeast is still kicking strong. I'm really looking forward to see how this comes out!

Anonymous said...

I have been keeping a 15 gallon French oak barrel of Flanders style Red for many years now (take off 5g and put 5 fresh back in)...

Recently I had a friend bring from Mich 12 lbs of Balaton (SP?) IQF cherries out to me ... added a bit of fresh yeast and dumped the 5 gal Flanders on top...

Question is .. how long do others keep the beer on the fruit? noted some scum on top but it may be the pellicle and not mold ... It's been a bit over a month .. sweetness has fermented out and the cherries pretty well macerated but still whole ... is it time to rack

... I do remember seeing at Cantillon and Drei Fontain piles of mush w/ no definition when finished

.. What do others do for clarification ... cold drop??
how about carbonation for bottles?? (most of my other flemish style goes in keg w/ pressure)

Travis said...

I left my cherries in for 2 weeks, all fermentation ceased after about 1.5 weeks. I didn't do any clarification. For carbonation in bottles, I put in the priming sugar I had left from an earlier batch of Tripel, it came out to about 45g of priming sugar, and is half of the amount of sugar recommended for the tripel. When the sugar hit the beer, it started fermenting again, violently. I mixed it, and bottled it, and will probably try a bottle tonight, to see how it is. I bottled it a week and a half ago, so it's probably going to be pretty young, but it was AWESOME when I bottled it, I just wanted to let it sit in the bottles for a little. I'll let you know how it is after I taste it this evening.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

You certainly could back, but many brewers of sour beers leave the fruit in their beer for many months. The blackberries were in my Flanders Red for 4 months, but I have gone as short as a few weeks on some beers. You can taste it periodically if you want, but I think the longer a sour beer sits with fruit the more flavor you will get out of the fruit and the more certain you can be the fermentation is complete.

Here is a priming sugar calculator that will help you figure out how much priming sugar to add based on the style, amount of beer, and the temperature of the beer (which effects how much CO2 is saturated in the beer). http://www.tastybrew.com/calculators/priming.html

Cool idea on the solera barrel, how much does the character change between each batch you pull out?

LwnGnmHtMn, if the foaming was immediate I would guess that wasn’t violent fermentation, but simply CO2 being released because of the nucleation sites on the sugar granules (like mentos and diet coke). Next time try dissolving the sugar in some boiling water before you mix it into your beer.

Anonymous said...

{Cool idea on the solera barrel, how much does the character change between each batch you pull out?}

I have been using this barrel for 4+ years now ... still getting some oak character but receding a bit each time and will perhaps do a bit of oak bean in future batches using an insert ... the barrel concept is more for micro poristy to support the redox reactions that these critters require

... the acidity is pretty much on par with each batch but the complexity seems to improve w/ time

PS ... I am the tech guy at cheesemaking.com and so have a rather complex micro community in my cheese/wine/beer lab (a 150 year old stone cellar here in MA)... needless to sat I no longer brew between May and Nov when temps are above 68

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Glad to hear the system is working long term for you, I have been considering starting something like that as soon as I get the room/stability for it. The only thing I’m worried about in the long term is the fall off in O2 permeability as beerstone builds up on the wood (I know Rodenbach scrapes the inside of their tuns down to raw wood before each use).

I was actually considering going to New England Cheesemaking Supply when I was up visiting my parents in Massachusetts, but didn’t have time. I did just get Ricki’s book but have yet to put it to use.

Anonymous said...

{Rodenbach scrapes the inside of their tuns down to raw wood before each use}
... and that is why their beer sucks these days .. before palm took over they would only take a Tun apart every several decades ... Rodenbach was a great beer

The best flemish red these days is made by Renzo (Panile Barrique) in Parma Italy .. spent a few days there this spring ... he goes to great trouble keeping his bugs in the wood

My solution will be to use some rough old chains rolling around to cut the surface a bit but not for a few years ... I remember seeing Jean Pierre's antique barrel cleaner/scraper at Cantilon a few years back .. I figure about every 5-8 years should do it.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

“... and that is why their beer sucks these days .. before palm took over they would only take a Tun apart every several decades ... Rodenbach was a great beer”
According to: http://hbd.org/brewery/library/Rodnbch.html which was written in 1996, two years before Palm took over in 1998:
“Beer stone forms at the inner side of the oak barrel. It is only partly the beer stone (Calcium-oxalate) as brewers see in their tanks. This beer stone can lead to a partial or total blocking of the oxygen diffusion. So on an average of two filling times, decided by visual inspection, the inner surface of the barrel is scraped. The vessel is cleaned and sulfur is burned in it. For refilling the barrel, 10% of beer of two years old is added as an inoculum, to restart the vessel.
Approximately every 20 years a barrel is, stave by stave, complete taken into pieces.”
I agree though that the less vigorous your cleaning the funkier your beer will be, particularly with a smaller barrel getting a bit less O2 into the beer isn’t much of a concern since the smaller barrel has a higher surface to volume ratio than a larger barrel. Panil certainly does make a great sour beer, so I agree that they certainly are a great example to follow.