Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sour Bourbon Barrel Porter

If there is one thing that homebrewing has taught me, it's patience.  It is amazing that our (sour) bourbon barrel aged "wee heavy" has already been relaxing in its oaky resort for more than a year.  In that time it has gone from a rich caramelly fresh beer to a sour, oaky, aged delight (although clearly not what we originally set out to make).  In a couple days we'll be repeating the efforts of our Flanders Red bottling day to prime and bottle the ~50 gallons of strong-amber-sour-beer.  It will be interesting to see how it tastes with some carbonation (assuming we find a yeast capable of dealing with the considerable alcohol and low-pH).

Once the barrel is empty we will immediately begin filling it back up with a new beer.  This time around the vote was to do something strong and dark enough to nearly be an Imperial Stout, if it wasn't going to be sour and funky.  Jolly Pumpkin's Madrugada Obscura was a big inspiration for the idea, although we were not in any way trying to clone it as far as the recipe goes. 

The roasted character will be a bit restrained (9% dark grain), although if I was the recipe boss I would have reduced the chocolate/roast and added Carafa for a soft roasted character (I'm worried that the roast won't seem smooth once the resident bugs and critters lower the FG).  We also wanted to keep the IBUs low so the bitterness doesn't clash with the sourness.

We kept the recipe pretty simple (as we usually try to), with complexity coming from the different malts we each chose to brew our batches with (not to mention the bugs and the barrel):

Krausen Colored Walls?Sour Bourbon Barrel Porter (All-Grain)
84% Pale
7% Crystal (I used a combo of 55L and 150L)
5% Chocolate
4% Roasted Barley
Mash ~155 F (to hopefully save some body/sweetness even after souring)
OG ~1.080

90 minute boil with 25 IBUs of a clean hop near the start of the boil.

For yeast anything relatively clean was acceptable, American, English, Scottish, Irish etc... (I used Wyeast American Ale - 1056.)

This batch will get the same treatment as the Wee Heavy, clean primary fermentation by each of the brewers, followed by about a year in oak with the microbes now living int eh barrel, the specific time will depending on how the flavor and gravity progress.  Most likely the oak character will be lower in this batch than the Wee Heavy since the first beer probably pulled out a good deal of the wood's character.

3/20/10 Racked into the bourbon barrel in Nathan's basement on top of the last 2 gallons or so of  slurry from the wee heavy.

1/15/11 Bottled with 120 g of sugar per 5 gallons plus 2 packs of Champagne yeast for ~40 gallons.  Half my share went onto 2 lbs of sour cherries.  Gravity only made it down to 1.016.

3/12/11 Bottled the 2.75 gallons of the cherry portion 1.25 oz of table sugar.  Aiming for 2.0 volumes of CO2.  Added 1 gram of 71B-1122 to the bottling bucket.  Gravity back down to 1.016.

5/18/11 Despite its short time in the bottle it is already drinking well, great blend of coffee, vinous, tart, sweet.  Excited to see where it goes in another year or two.

6/27/11 The cherries add a wonderful secondary dimension to the vanilla of the barrel, really happy with how this one turned out.

5/7/12 The cherry version scored a 32 at NHC as a Fruit beer. Placed 3rd out of only 16 beers. Snippets of the judges' notes.


Anonymous said...

Looks like fun!

I agree with you, though. It seems like it may be a bit to much chocolate/roast. Only time will tell...

Scott said...

Really don't think this beer will be too roasty. Its very similar to my Ed Fitz Porter clone I have on tap. More chocolatey than roasty imo.

Kevin LaVoy said...

How is it that Carafa would be less roasty than Chocolate?

I'm always amazed by how much there is to learn about the seemingly insignificant subtleties of this hobby. Just when I think I have a handle on one thing, something shows me I'm only still scratching the surface.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Scott, the beer certainly isn't too roasty as is with a gravity ~1.020, my concern is over how it will taste with a gravity ~1.005 plus ~1% lactic acid?

The Carafas (and especially Carafa Specials) have a milder roasted character than their English/American counterparts. Think schwarzbier compared to porter.

Unknown said...

that looks tasty to me! I wanna try the soured wee heavey....

how many people split this?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The group is about 8 people, all brewing 5 or 10 gallon batches.

Marc said...

Wow, that's beautiful.

Noam said...

Hi Mike,
I'm putting together a local group for our own Barrel Project, our beer will not be a sour beer, and we're contemplating brewing a porter based on your recipe. the barrel is a refurbished wine barrel .
I'd really be interested to hear any thoughts or tips you may have on the subject.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Wine barrel porter sounds excellent. Sanitation will be your biggest worry, between the barrel and all of the batches there is some risk. Hopefully you trust all of the brewers to brew clean beer, and the barrel is really fresh (you might consider putting some star-san or campden tablets in the barrel for some extra insurance).

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

So it is normal for a bourbon barrel beer to turn sour? I made my first one, just got it out of the secondary tonight and bottled it. Tasted it first and it gave me some weird sour taste in my mouth. Kind of dry.
Do you know why it does this? What can you do about it?


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

This bourbon barrel had a variety of other microbes (Brett, Lacto, Pedio) pitched into it previously which is what caused the beer to sour. You could have had some wild microbes in your beer that caused the problem. It could also just be tannins from the oak, which are the same compound that give black tea and red wine that rough/dry feeling on the tongue. If it is just tannins then you need a bigger sweeter beer, blending this one would help. If it is microbes there really is no solution, you cannot easily sanitize wood.

Happy to help more if you post details on your process.

Mark said...

I know this is an old post, but which brett/bugs would go best with a soured stout? I have a stout in primary right now I plan on souring, but have not decided on a specific strain yet.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The problem with souring any dark beer, is that if it gets too thin/dry the flavors of the roast won't have anything to balance against. This barrel seems to have a strong lactic acid bacteria culture, without a lot of Brett, which worked perfectly.

If you can get their beers, Cascade has a really strong strain of Lactobacillus in their beers that would be perfect. If not, give Wyeast's Lacto a shot if you kept the IBUs under 10. If not you can go with something like Roeselare Blend, or a combo of Wyeast Pedio and Brett L.

Hope that helps, good luck!

Mr. Jammin said...


I know this is an older post, but there's so much to read/learn on your site. I'm thinking of doing a split stout/porter batch in which 3 gallons ferment with Wyeast Brett L, and the other half ferment with Yeast Bay Funktown and Goose Island Madame Rose dregs. You mention the thinning of the dark/roasty will impact the roasty balance. My question is if you added some flaked oats/barley to the mash would that help in holding up the body of the beer, or would the Brett end up eating that too? Again thanks for this blog it is an unbelievable amount of knowledge, and your book is now my bible!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Adding unmalted grains will boost body by contributing proteins, but won't help with the lack of sweetness. To retain sweetness you either need to have less attenuative microbes (like this batch) or stall/kill the microbes when the desired character is reached.

EscapeArtist said...

I know you have a Solera. Did you consider instead of waiting 1-2 years to get the beer ready to mix 1/2 from Solera with new beer ?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

For one, this was a group brew (and brewed right around when we started the solera). The bugs in the bourbon barrel were great for lactic acid production, but didn't ferment out the beer too dry. We also felt the dark beer would meld well with the more assertive character of the bourbon barrel.

In general, mixing clean and sour beer is fine if you'll be kegging, but a recipe for trouble if you are bottling. The Brett and Pedio in the soelra beer would tear up the clean porter, likely causing bottle bombs.