Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Blackberry-Mulberry Sour Ale Tastng

Tonight seemed like a good one for the final of the four tasting from the first pull of our apple brandy barrel aged solera (previous tastings: plain - hops - spice). For this version Nathan and I aged five gallons of the sour beer on lots of blackberries, and a little mulberry. Back in late-2010 before we had a chance to fill it, the barrel spent a month empty (other than a gallon of beer at the bottom...) and as a result has a relatively sizable resident population of airborne oxygen-loving Acetobacter. The result is that all the beers from the first pull are sharply sour, although luckily within a range I still enjoy drinking them.

A glass of Blackberry-Mulberry sour beer.Apple Brandy Solera - Fruit

Appearance – Brilliantly clear, ruby-magenta-purple body. Very pretty looking contribution from the fruit. The head is thin and white, with poor retention.

Smell –The nose has lots of blackberry, jammy, with a noticeable acetic component. Luckily it has not ventured into the ethyl acetate, nail polish remover, side of things. It is a bright/sharp nose without earthy balance.

Taste – The flavor isn’t as sharp as the nose suggested, juicy berries, firm acidity, and a hint of sweetness. There is a tickle of acetic acid on the back of the throat, but no more than most Flemish reds. There isn’t much contribution from the Brett (East Coast Yeast Bugfarm IV), the fruit and acid dominate. Not sure if it is the barrel, or the combination of flavors, but there is an apple-cidery note as well.

Mouthfeel – Bright, snappy but not thin or watery. The body does a good job supporting the bold flavors. The carbonation is moderate, about right.

Drinkability & Notes – I’ll call this a fine sour-fruit beer, but not my best effort. The acetic is higher than I’d prefer (a valuable if painful lesson), and that keeps it from being a really terrific beer. Drinkable to a point, but it doesn’t have a flavor that calls for me to refill my glass.


Heraclitus said...

What would you do in the future to reduce acetobacter in a barrel? Store it full of water from the time you get it, and rinse with boiling water before use?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

We should have checked/asked if the barrel had been rinsed. The bung was inserted, so we just left it like that assuming the brewery we’d purchased it from had emptied and rinsed it before we took it. Taking 5 minutes to rinse it with hot water when we got it would have done a world of benefit. Filling with a holding solution of citric acid and meta-bisulfite or burning a sulfur wick would have been good insurance, but considering it only sat for a month in my ~50 F basement, probably unnecessary. Before filling we did rinse the barrel, and sloshed around some Star-San, but by that point the microbes were too deep into the wood to get rid of them.

To help this barrel now, we have been more aggressive about topping it off, and keeping it temperature controlled. No matter how much Acteobacter you have in a beer, it needs oxygen to create acetic acid. We’re hoping as we solera, and treat the barrel right, we’ll be able to dilute the vinegar character in there from the first fill! Blending with low-acetic batches is another option we’ll explore as well.

Kyle said...

Sounds like a great beer!

Any ideas on why the fruited portion has less brett contribution than the others? You would think the increased acidity and sugar contribution would boost brett activity.

I've got the same thing going on in one of my sour beers. The fruited version has significantly less brett character than the plain version.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I'd guess it was just flavor competition, the aromatics from the fruit hide the Brett's contribution, even if there actually are more esters/phenols produced. It's one of the reasons I tend to like my lambics without fruit, the perceived complexity of a great gueuze actually decreases when you add fruit in my opinion.