Monday, August 15, 2011

Sour Braggot (Red Wine Barrel)

You can really see how much yeast/trub was left in the barrel after bottling.Sour beer is by its very nature unpredictable.  To make one you must rely on multiple strains of wild yeast and bacteria that haven't had the benefit of several thousand years of domestication as brewer's yeast has.  After our first red-wine-barrel-aged-beer, a Flemish Red, took one year to ferment we expected a similar performance from the following beer into the barrel.  After the red was bottled we refilled the barrel with Belgian Single (a recipe cribbed from Russian River Redemption/Beatification) without washing or even completely draining it. That was 20 months ago.  We were hoping to bottle sooner, but it took longer than expected for adequate sourness to develop.  A good reminder that you can't put sour beer on your schedule, you have to be patient and wait until the flavor is right.

I'm surprised how much color the wood still had after holding beer for almost three years.As always, we used a high capacity postal scale to precisely measure each five gallon bucket of beer we pumped out of the barrel.  For our priming calculations we assume .4 volumes of residual carbonation at bottling (about half of what a non-barrel-aged-beer retains), which has given us good results on our previous batches.  In this case we wanted 2.6 volumes of carbon dioxide, which worked out to 5.9 ounces of corn sugar for each 5 gallon bucket (plus a small dose of rehydrated wine yeast).  One gallon of my share went onto two pounds of over-ripe white nectarines, which should be an interesting experiment.

Before refilling the barrel we gave it a quick rinse with cold water to remove the spent yeast and trub left from the first two beers.  I've heard several professional brewers suggest that a high temperature rinse is crucial for preventing acetic acid production in subsequent beers, but I think their issue is a result of the days or weeks that the barrels sit empty before refilling (Acetobacter thrives in unwashed air-filled barrels).  In our case the barrel sits empty for less than an hour, and as a result we have yet to experience a vinegary beer.  After rinsing our bourbon barrel before the most recent fill we have not noticed the sourness taking any longer than usual to develop (the microbes live far enough into the wood that it almost impossible to kill all of them even with scalding water).

I really had to push the limit of my system to make 10 gallons of wort.A couple of months ago, after determining that the Single was finally ready to bottle, the group decided that for the third beer into the barrel we wanted a recipe that would be a bit more unusual.  The winning idea was a golden braggot with honey malt and carapils.  I've already heard some grumblings on my Facebook and Twitter profiles that the ~25% honey we are adding isn't enough to qualify it as a braggot, but I haven't found a reliable set of guidelines that put a firm number on the amount of honey required for the "style."  My first honey sour beer had a similar percentage of its fermentables from honey and has plenty of waxy/floral honey character in the aroma.

With all of the beer racked into the barrel we still had a few gallons of head-space, but that was no real problem as we still had to add ten pounds of light honey (clover and wildflower) which will most likely be followed by another ten pounds.  In past batches we have had a member contribute fresh wort to the barrel to give the microbes a dose of simple sugars to work on, but in this case the honey filled that role.

Bottling assembly line in action.Wine Barrel Braggot

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 10.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 26.75
Anticipated OG: 1.071
Anticipated SRM: 4.6
Anticipated IBU: 24.4
Brewhouse Efficiency: 66 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

78.5% - 21.00 lbs. German Pilsener
3.7% - 1.00 lbs. CaraPils
3.7% - 1.00 lbs. Honey Malt
14.0% - 3.75 lbs. Honey (added to barrel)

1.50 oz. Galena (Pellet, 8.50% AA) @ 90 min.

WYeast 1214 Belgian Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 158
Mash Out - 15 min @ 165

Brewed 7/10/11 by myself

Collected 9 gallons of 1.064 runnings.

Chilled to 70 F, pitched onto a yeast cake from Summer in Brussels. Added 2 gallons of chilled water. Shook to aerate. Left at 65 F to start fermenting. Solid fermentation within 18 hours.

7/24/11 Racked to two kegs, just about full on both of them. Topped off with CO2 and left to age until barrel day.

8/7/11 Racked into the red wine barrel. Rinsed out with cold water to remove yeast trub before refilling.


Eric said...

Great post. I appreciate your thoroughness. Helps in understanding the thought process when it comes to sour beer.

About to pitched harvested Cantillon Gueuze dregs into a bretted Redemption clone. Very excited - my first attempt into this.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

In general I think there is too little specificity when it comes to brewing sour beers. I'm not sure whether some brewers/homebrewers aren't sure of their techniques or if they want to protect their hard earned knowledge.

Sounds like a great batch, good luck!

Unknown said...

For what it's worth, since a braggot is a mead I've always considered the minimum honey contribution to be at least 50%. The braggot's I've done are typically 80% honey with the rest specialty grains and some base malt (I use Maris Otter since braggots are Welsh in origin) for mashing. If I do a beer with < 50% honey I consider it a beer with honey added and not a braggot.

That said, it is a drink of ancient origin so amounts are often ambiguous. If you're brewing to a style guideline, the BJCP doesn't give an exact proportion and just says "Products with a relatively low proportion of honey should be entered in the Specialty Beer category as a Honey Beer."

Sounds like this batch is going to be quite tasty. I've found that the sweet and sour in some braggots (although I've never soured with anything more than acidified malt) is nicely complemented with a month or two on some spices, especially cinnamon and allspice.

Jim said...

I admire craft beer makers, love making beer myself, but I have had the hardest time getting into sour beers... Is it an acquired taste? Haven't found one that I've been particularly fond of.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Interesting stuff, eventually I'll have to brew a real/clean braggot (although I'm not a big fan of the sweeter meads/beers). The ones I've enjoyed most have been based on stouts. With 10 gallons of this batch coming to me, some spices don't sound like a bad idea.

It depends on the person, some people love their first sip, but for others (like me) it takes some time. I'd start out with some mildly tart/funky beers, things like Orval, 1809, Jolly Pumpkin Bam Bier etc... Is it the acidity or the wild aromatics that you don't care for?

There is no shame in not liking it though, I have beer nerd friends who don't like hoppy beers, strong/sweet beers, and sour beers. If you don't like it there is no point in forcing yourself to drink it (not like it is particularly healthy for you).

Unknown said...

Whatever happened with the brew? I'm looking at brewing a sour braggot next weekend, with about 35% of the fermentables from tulip poplar honey. Planning to pitch roeselare slurry and a high tolerant belgian strain, I'm wondering what sort of sour character I can expect.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Sadly still sitting in the barrel. We all got too busy with kids in some cases and professional brewing in others. Nathan said it's turned acetic. The barleywine with Brett in the bourbon barrel tastes like sherry, but hopefully still worth bottling soon.

I've done sour beers with honey before, and it comes out like you'd expect (acidity with a nice floral/waxy aroma).

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

That sucks, I hate to hear about good beer (and good barrels) gone bad.

After more research, I plan to brew the beer and mead separately, and then blend after six months.

I was planning to brew a flanders anyway, so I'll just increase it to a 9 gallon batch and keep 3 for the sour braggot. What sort of fresh yeast would you recommend pitching alongside Roeselare slurry? Would a single smack pack be sufficient in this case, or should I add some S-04 or another source of Sach?

Unknown said...

Great info, I am planning a Flemming Red as a sour braggot very soon.