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

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

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

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

WYeast 3711 French Saison

Water Profile
Profile: Vienna Virginia Aquifer

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 90 min @ 154

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

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

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.

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

WYeast 3711 French Saison

Water Profile
Profile: Carbon Filtered Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 80 min @ 148

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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!

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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Which clear/white sugar works the best in pale Belgian beers?

Starting with the publication of Brew Like a Monk a few years back there seems to have been a shift in the way American homebrewers view the use of sugar specifically, and adjuncts in general in their beer. There was a time when it was assumed that adding any sugar to your beer was a betrayal of the principles that the home and craft brewing revolutions were founded upon (and a good way to make it taste cidery). Almost everyone now sees the value in using flavorful sugars like dark candi syrup, unrefined sugars, and sugars derived from things like dates, cacti, and palms. In addition many people even see the value of using a refined sugar to thin out the body of a high gravity (particularly Belgian) beer.

After doing two rounds of experiments with the more interesting sugars the question remains, which of the many plain/white/clear sugars available makes for the best beer? Most of the result will be determined not on the actual flavor of the sugar (pretty much every last molecule of each will be converted to ethanol by the yeast), but on the byproducts the yeast produce while fermenting.

Here is what visitors to this site thought about the question:

They all work fine - 44%
Clear Candi Syrup - 14%
Clear Candi Rocks - 12%
Cane/Beet/White/Table Sugar - 9%
Corn Sugar - 5%
Better to leave them out - 3%

I am planning on doing a third in my series of Belgian sugar experiments in the next few weeks using just those sugars. I'm not sure how it will turn out, but I suspect there will be some subtle differences between the batches. More details on the methodology and of course results to come in future posts.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sour Cider

After good luck with a relatively straight forward cider last year it seemed like it was time for me to give a cider with some funk a shot (I am the Mad Fermentationist, right?). Some traditional apple ciders do have a bit of a wild yeast character because they were made from unpasteurized apples (the peel of most fruit are covered in sugar loving microbes), and if it doesn't work out I'm sure I could put 5 gallons of apple cider vinegar to good use...

As always hard cider is one of the easiest things to ferment at home. Just dump the cider into a carboy, add some pectic enzyme (I've used 1/2 tsp per gallon in the past, but this time backed it down to 1/4 tsp to see if I could still get a crystal clear finished cider), and pitch the yeast about an hour or two later.

In this case though instead of a clean cider/ale/wine strain, I used some of the slurry from the Wine Barrel Flanders Red (it started out life as Wyeast Roeselare Blend and Lost Abbey Red Poppy dregs ~18 months ago, but I have no idea exactly what is in there now). When fermentation didn't appear to have started after 48 hours I decided to pitch some hefeweizen yeast left over from my Weizenbock. Hefeweizen yeast may seem like a strange choice, but it is a somewhat popular choice these days. The idea is that the fruit esters will boost the aroma of the cider, and you won't get much clove spice because apples lack the precursor needed for the yeast to produce it.

My concern with the general concept of a sour cider is that the sourness will seem too aggressive since cider ends up so dry. That said, because cider is so easily fermented there may not be that much residual sugar for the bugs to eat. Sour beers are generally brewed to have lots of complex sugars that the primary yeast strain can't ferment, but cider can easily get down close to 1.000 even with a regular ale yeast. We'll see how it turns out, if it ends up too sour I may blend it with a malty ale for further aging (New Glarus Apple Ale is the only similar beer I am aware of).

I probably won't really know the results of this one until next fall, but I'd love to know if anyone out there has tried something similar.

Sour Cider

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.00
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated SRM: 6.2

5 Gallons Pasteurized Kime's Cider

1.25 Tsp Pectic Enzyme

Flanders Red Slurry
WLP 300 Hefeweizen Ale Yeast

"Brewed" 10/25/09 with Audrey

Added 1/4 tsp of pectic enzyme to each gallon jug about 2 hours before pitching yeast.

Pitched 16 oz of slurry from the wine barrel Flanders red.

10/27/09 Not much activity, so I added ~8 oz of slurry from my Weizenbock. Good fermentation after 12 more hours.

11/07/09 Racked to secondary, still had some activity and sweetness, but that should be fine for the microbes.

1/16/11 Bottled with 4 oz of table sugar, gravity down to 1.003 (not as dry as I expected).

6/1/11 Carbonated nicely, although it took a couple months. Not much sourness, lots of complex funk in the nose.