Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Solera Pull No. 2 - Straight and on Flowers

One of the great skills of the lambic brewers and gueuze blenders is identifying which barrels are best blended, fruited, dry hopped, saved, or served straight. It isn’t that the “best” beer is used for one application and the second best for another, they’ve learned what flavor work best for each application (or specific fruit). Instead of deciding on brew day what ingredients you’ll add to a batch of sour beer, try drinking a sample and imaging what flavors might enhance its positives and conceal its flaws (if either is required).

Here is a tasting of two versions of the second pull from the wine barrel solera in my basement!

Tasting the second pull from the solera Nathan and I started back in 2010!Solera Pull #2

Appearance – Slightly cloudy, appears to be yeast particulate (clearly I didn’t stop the pour early enough). Vibrant golden-yellow body. The white head is unremarkable, sinking to a thin ring after a few minutes of inspection.

Smell – Despite an additional pitch of Wyeast B. bruxellensis this wine barrel has consistently produced beers been less funky than most of my batches. It shares many similarities with Petrus Aged Pale rather than a lambic or gueuze. The vinous barrel shows through nicely, really the star of the aroma.

Taste – The flavor starts and ends with bright acidity. Very lactic, and firm while sidestepping harshness. There is a rounded malt flavor that compliments and even balances the acidity successfully. Fruity, faint Granny Smith? There just isn’t as much character here as I’d expect from the second pull from a solera fermented with ECY Bugfarm, I need some funky, earthy, citrusy something!

Mouthfeel – It has a medium-light body with moderate carbonation. Not light and spritzy enough for a lambic, which further enhances the Flemish-pale vibe.

Drinkability & Notes – A solid beer, but I think this one excels as a base for other flavors (with fruity dry hops for example it was transformed into one of my favorite beers). It doesn’t have the complexity that a sour needs to stand on its own. It’s probably passed time for another pull, or a decision that the solera has run its course.

While brewing the classics is always fun, I think most homebrewers enjoy venturing off the well-trod path occasionally. When Nathan (now a "savant" according to the WaPost) and I started our two soleras a few years ago we decided to use it to experiment with some of the more interesting concepts we could come up with: roasted butternut squash, cinnamon, and nutmeg; infused with elderflowers; aged on Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes etc.

This is the same beer as above, but this five gallon portion was aged on one ounce each of dried chrysanthemums and jasmine flowers. We racked out of the barrel in May, 2013 into a carboy with the flowers and bottled a few weeks later.

Flora Solera

Gorgeous pour of the solera aged on chrysanthemums and jasmine flowers!Appearance – A bit more careful on the pour on this one and it has a stunningly clear golden body (thank you protein-munching bacteria). Head retention is actually pretty good for a sour beer, better than the plain portion.

Smell – While it might look like a lager, it certainly doesn’t smell like it. The mums lead with their weird-floral-herbaceous character. I don’t pick out the jasmine distinctly, but I suspect it is keeping the beer more towards the floral than the herbal. Relatively straight ahead sour beer behind that, it projects a touch of acetic/vinegar.

Taste – Big acidity leads. No vinegar, but loads of lactic. The result is a firm acidity, but none of the sharpness I get in the finish from vinegary beers. The jasmine adds a juiciness to the mid-palate, while the mums contribute an interesting almost toasty finish. The flowers combined to add some interest to the relatively bland base.

Mouthfeel – Medium-light body, works well with the slightly elevated alcohol. Firm carbonation, but nothing disruptive.

Drinkability & Notes – Intriguing, but not likely an experiment I’d repeat. The jasmine and mums don’t blend harmoniously with the base beer, they stick out too much. So many interesting flowers available, this likely won’t be the last time Nathan and I brew something “weird” like this!


Charles R said...

When adding fresh wort to a Solara barrel, do you areate the new wort and add into the barrel? Or no aeration at all?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

We've mostly moved to refilling the solera barrels with already fermented beer. When we used wort there wasn't enough active yeast for a quick fermentation (in which case any oxygenation would only contribute to acetic acid production). Filling with beer instead of wort also reduces the amount of trub building up at the bottom, extending the usable lifetime of the solera before autolysis causes problems.

T said...

Did the barrel ever have yeast or only bugs? I have a barrel that I added some ECY mixes in, BugFarm and BugCounty. So I am curious if I will have to clean it out.

Charles R said...

cool. i completely thinking 100% barrel fermentation. as a solara, this makes better sense.

Unknown said...

How does one decide or find out what flowers are safe to use in their sour beer?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The primary fermentation was with a combo of Bugfarm and a saison yeast. All the details are in that original post.

Any flowers that are sold for human consumption should be safe in beer. These flowers were from an herbal shop (intended for tea).

Unknown said...

Interesting that you found the primary flavor is lactic acid. I have a solera going with bug farm 4 and have noticed the same thing. The first pull had a good acid level, but did not develop much brett character until about two years in the bottle (it was bottled after 19 months). Subsequent pulls have behaved the same despite the addition of bottle dregs.

Gene said...

Thanks for the idea to dry hop the solera pull. That never even crossed my mind. Lovely.