Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Double Barrel Sour Brown Recipe

After aging two strong beer in each of my 20L Balcones spirit barrels I decided that was all I was willing to risk. With each refill the chance of an undesirable wild microbe taking up residence deep in the oak (especially while sitting in my basement) rose. There is still plenty of delicious oak character left in the barrels however, so their new calling is to house sour beers. As someone asks just about every time I post about these barrels, they are sometimes available from Adventures in Homebrewing, but they are currently sold out.

While our DC barrel crew has made some delicious beers by aging strong sours in a first use 53 gallon bourbon barrel (e.g., Bourbon Barrel Wee Heady – Imperial Oud Bruin), large barrels have low surface-to-volume ratios. A high surface-to-volume ratio, like the one these 20L barrels have, results in a greater amount of oak in contact with the aging beer gallon-for-gallon. Small barrels are often used by distilleries to allow shorter aging times, which leads to even more residual character for the beer to extract. Hopefully three months of aging clean beers, along with near-boiling water rinses after each, stripped enough oak character that the sour beer won’t be quickly overwhelmed. I find the low amount of residual sweetness in traditional mixed-fermentation sour beers accentuates oak tannins (not to mention other sharp flavors like roasted/smoked grains, hop bitterness, etc.).

The other major concerns with small-barrel-aging is the volume of oxygen they let diffuse in and high amount of beer they allow to evaporate out. This is not only the result of the high surface-to-volume ratio but also thinner staves compared to larger barrels. In fact many lambic producers prefer pipes, barrels more than twice the size of standard 53-60 gallon wine and spirit barrels. Many feel that these 126 gallon barrels allow for more graceful aging of their wares during the one to four years spent in oak.

My bin of vacuum sealed specialty malts.Levi Funk posted instructions/encouragement on his Funk Factory blog for coating small barrels with paraffin wax to slow both oxygen ingress and beer evaporation. However, for this first fill I wanted to leave the barrels as is; I may coat them if this batch begins to show signs of acetic acid (vinegar) production (which indicates excess oxygen exposure) too quickly. Assuming good results, my plan is to continue using these barrels to age sours. Hopefully in time they will each develop a unique resident souring culture (with the assistance of some bottle dregs).

To save time and take advantage of both barrels, I decided to brew a double batch of basic sticky reddish-brown wort. For the base malt I went with Vienna to provide a substantial malt backbone to compete against the residual spirit flavor of the barrels. That was augmented by a wide variety of crystal/caramel malts (cleaning up my specialty malt box). This is similar to the recipes for our barrel-aged group beers, with each person using the medium or dark crystal of their choice. A touch of Carafa Special II provided a deeper color, without adding much roast.

The three yeasts I pitched for primary, T58, S23, and WLP665Fermentation was a hodgepodge as well. I pitched a blend of dry yeasts (T-58 and S-23). The more complexity you build into primary fermentation the more interesting compounds there will be for the bugs that follow to work with. Speaking of which I also pitched the White Labs Flemish Ale Blend, their recently released answer to Wyeast’s Roeselare Blend. White Labs suggests pitching their blends without a starter or additional yeast, but with such a small cell count (~7 billion total) I worry that primary fermentation wouldn’t be adequately rapid or vigorous.

With the primary fermentation complete, I racked the beer from my BetterBottles to the barrels. At this point I also topped-off each with about a liter of bottled water to fill the head space. A under-filled barrel allows the wood at the top to dry, slowly opening gaps that allow faster oxidation and evaporation. A much more serious concern than head space in an impermeable fermentor. I'm leaving airlocks on them for the time being, but may eventually switch to the hard bungs that I used when barrel-aging the clean beers.

I try to never put sour beers on a schedule, but the basic timeline for these should be: three weeks in primary, four to six months in the barrels, then onto fruit until they are ready to bottle. I’m thinking of Audrey’s parents’ homegrown sour cherries for the Malt whisky barrel, and raspberries for the Rumble barrel (which will make for a beer that tastes and smells like outer space apparently).

Double Barrel Sour Brown

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 11.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 26.13
Anticipated OG: 1.060
Anticipated SRM: 17.5
Anticipated IBU: 15.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70 %
Wort Boil Time: 70 Minutes

76.6% - 20.00 lbs. German Vienna Malt
11.5% - 3.00 lbs. Flaked Wheat
4.1% - 1.06 lbs. CaraMunich
1.9% - 0.50 lbs. CaraRed
1.9% - 0.50 lbs. Crystal 75L
1.9% - 0.50 lbs. Special B
1.2% - 0.31 lbs. Crystal 120L
1.0% - 0.25 lbs. Carafa Special II

2.50 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfruh (Pellet, 3.20% AA) @ 65 min.

1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

DCL Yeast T-58 SafBrew Specialty Ale
Fermentis SafLager S-23
White Labs WLP665 Flemish Ale Blend

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch I - 15 min @ 152 F
Sacch II - 45 min @ 159 F

Brewed 12/8/12 by myself

Mix of crystal malts to use up, adds up to 11% of the grist.

No water adjustments other than carbon filtration.

Undershot my target mash temp, stepped up after about 15 minutes with additional boiling water.

Collected 12 gallons of 1.058 runnings with a 175 F batch sparge.

Bagged the hops to prevent the pellets from clogging the pump.

Chilled to 65 F with plate chiller (recirculated hot wort to sanitize it first), shook to aerate, pitched un-rehydrated T-58, and S-23, as well as White Labs Flemish Ale Blend. Left at 64 F to ferment.

12/30/12 Racked to the two rinsed third use Balcones barrels. One in third use Malt Whisky and the other in the Rumble.

1/1/13 Topped off with ~1 L of water each to eliminate the head-space.

3/5/13 Barrel/spirit character is close, but with the fruit and additional age to come I want to overdo it slightly. Added dregs from a bottle of the Bourbon Barrel Sour Brown to both, hoping to boost the acidity without drying them out too much.

4/14/13 Racked 4 gallons of the Rumble barrel onto 14 lbs of Trader Joe's frozen (defrosted) raspberries. Racked 4 gallons of the Malt barrel onto 10 lbs of Audrey's parents' homegrown sour cherries. One gallon of each moved to jugs for future blending or bottling straight.

9/22/13 Bottled the raspberry portion after racking twice, the second time through nylon stockings to remove most of the seeds and chunks. Added 2 5/8 oz of table sugar to the 3.75 gallon yield, no bottling yeast. Good fruit character, solid acidity, barrel isn't aggressive.

12/4/13 Tasting notes on the raspberry portion. Loads of jammy raspberries, not complex, but delicious!

12/10/13 Bottled the four gallons of cherry with 2 5/8 oz of table sugar and a couple grams of rehydrated Pasteur. Bottled the two non-fruited gallons with 5/8 oz of table sugar each and a splash of Pasteur.

3/9/16 Tasting notes for the Cherry-Whisky half! Aged nicely, sour and integrated cherries without much funk.


Anonymous said...

"Smells and tastes like outer space" - haha that was pretty good. Interesting article too. I'd like to capture "outer space" flavor in a homebrew just out of curiosity.


pgrebus said...

With small volumes of beer, is it more appropriate to long-term age with oak spirals? I'm too lazy to do the surface area math, but it should be possible to approximate the comparative exposure to the oak.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Never having smelled the great void myself, I'm not sure how I'll evaluate it. I do live in DC, close enough to NASA, maybe I can get an expert opinion?

Correct. I age most of my sour beers in BetterBottles or carboys with oak cubes (I find them easier to deal with than spirals). This combination can give excellent results. However, there is something to be said for both the oak character you get from a well used barrel (compared to first-use oak of barrel-replacement-products - although they could be saved and re-used) and the micro-oxygenation of air passing through the wood and into the beer. At least in the case of our "full-sized" barrels I think the general quality has been better than the average of my non-barrel-aged sours. As this is my first time aging a sour beer in small barrels, I'm interested to taste if they are worth the added risk/effort!

SerJoe *In Birra Veritas* said...

Hello Mike, I'm planing to add into barrel for secondary fermentation Lactobacillus but wondering how it will affect or rather infect my barrel for next generations of my sour beers. Also can I add sediments from bottles into sec?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Lacto will certainly live in the oak, it is hard to get rid of any microbes added to a barrel. Although if you'll be using the barrel for sours that shouldn't be an issue. If you want to inhibit the Lacto you could always add 20 IBUs to your wort, that will stop most strains, and shouldn't clash with the sourness. Aged hops would be an option as well to stop Lacto without adding much bitterness.

Bottle dregs in secondary are certainly a great idea for added acidity and complexity!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,
I have a question about brewing/fermenting sour beer. I have a number of sours fermenting, and I've sampled three of them within the last few weeks, all of which are between 11 and 18 months old. All three (a sour brown, flanders red, and lambic-style) smell and taste great, but after swallowing, they all have a nutty aftertaste, and it's not a desirable flavor. All three still have a pellicle, and I'm wondering if the pellicle might be causing this flavor. Have you experienced anything life this?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Are they sitting in primary, or did you rack them off of the primary yeast cakes? I often get a "wheaty" or "cereal" after taste soon after bottling a sour beer, but haven't had it from a fermentor. Did you use the same yeast/blend for all of them?

Hard to tell much without tasting it or hearing more about your process. However, many flavors come and go, whatever it is might go away with more time.

bluukinen said...

I have about 5 gallons of flanders red and 1 gallon of lambic dreg-soured brown ale that I had previously aged for about a year, then racked onto 4 lbs. of dark cherries and about 2 lbs. of blackberries and raspberries. The beer has been on fruit for about 3 months, but I haven't gotten to adding oak. I have two 5 gallon whiskey barrels that I am keen to use - it would be third use for one of them. Do you see a problem in racking the beer off of the fruit and into the barrel to impart some oak character (i.e., reverse order of your preferred process)? This is assuming that the beer tastes like it "needs" some oak. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I prefer the fruit to be as fresh as possible at bottling, rather than the oak. A beer with the much going on may not benefit from the barrel anyway, I'd brew something else and start its souring in the barrel!

bluukinen said...

Brilliant. Thanks for the feedback and for being a great resource for sour beer (and "clean" beer, too!). I think I'll wait and brew something else into the barrels.