Monday, May 15, 2017

Oerbier Special Reserva-Inspired... Originally

De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva is a personal favorite. Strong, malty, funky, vinous, and each vintage is a bit different. I'm not usually a fan of vertical tastings, especially for precisely-controlled beers (I don't get much out of comparing ten vintages of Bigfoot!), but splitting bottles from all eight releases of Oerbier Special Reserva was a fun way to spend an evening a with friends!

Microbes isolated from De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva.I wanted to have my own lower-alcohol inspired-by stockpile of something similar. Without much to go on I sent a "Brewed In 2010" bottle to Nick at The Yeast Bay so he could revive De Dolle's house-Brett. Normally I'd just pitch dregs, but I didn't have much hope given the alcohol and age. I then built-up Wyeast’s supposed isolate of De Dolle’s brewer's yeast (3942-PC), soaked oak cubes in Port, and ordered ingredients for a rich-malty base beer (my recipe) - that recipe was a draft for what eventually became Modern Times Empty Hats.

That's about when things started going wrong:

The 5 L flask filled with Saccharomyces fell off the stir-plate and shattered.
    Luckily I had T-58 on hand (a cache of dry yeast is invaluable).

The two isolates Nick pulled from the old/strong beer didn’t seem to do anything over a year.
    Empty Hats dregs to the rescue (which seemed appropriate).

Even with dregs the beer wasn’t developing interesting aromatics.
    Tart cherry juice concentrate thanks to King Orchards.

Bad beer happens. If you've never brewed an off batch, either you have and can’t taste it or you're the world's best and most boring brewer! One of the keys to brewing sour beer is learning which bad beers are worth trying to save, and which should be dumped. I’ve had a few of both. If a beer is OK the easy solution is to add fruit or hops for intrigue. If the beer just isn’t coming along, aging with additional microbes is my usual route. If you detect off-fermentation character (e.g., nail polish, vinegar) there isn't much hope other than blending.

Three-and-a-half years later a train-wreck has become something weird and interesting! Glad to be a homebrewer with some extra storage space and no deadline. If you want to hear more about the batch, listen to my interview with Drew Beechum on Brew Files episode #3.


Smell – Rich savory cherry (think venison roasted with cherries and spices). Salivary-inducing acidic aroma. Hint of praline. Clean coconut-ethanol high-note as it warms. Subtle earthy Brett.

Appearance – Clear brown with ruby-amber highlights. Thin off-white head, decent retention for a sour beer (returns on a swirl after it falls).

Taste – Toastiness of the malt is still there with mushroom-earthiness, and the dried cherries. Spice from the oak. Bare butterscotch diacetyl (or more likely oxidized caramel malt?). No sign of the alcohol, but at "only" 8.5% that isn't too surprising. Port-like with acidity in place of sugary sweetness.

Mouthfeel – Medium-low carbonation, nice for a big/dark/sour beer. Pretty good mouthfeel thanks to rather moderate attenuation (FG 1.011).

Drinkability & Notes – A sipper, but that isn’t surprising giving the intensity and variety of flavors. Big, bold, sharp, weird character from malt, microbes, wood, and fruit that mostly work together.

Changes for Next Time – Impossible to replicate this one, but it turned out well despite all the twists and turns. 16 oz of sour cherry concentrate did well in a complex beer that I didn’t want to dilute.  I finally gave Nick a bottle of this batch as a thanks when I visited him in February.

Nick giving me a tour of his home-lab.


CRUSADER1612 said...

I actually have a Sour Red I brewwed a week and a bit ago (the intention was to get the primary fermentation out of thae way n the first 2 weeks then age in my now cold garage. What happened was totally different, i pitched 10 tablet of plantarum to kettle sour at 35deg C and left for 48 hours and nothing, i then monitored until the weekend (6 days in total) and i couldn't taste alot of souring, so racked into mycarboy and added 200ml of thick slurry from a saison blend. I fugured I could get week one of my primary fermentation done, and move for bulk aging from there. 7 days later 10 points had dropped (fermentation at 22Deg C). so what I will end up with, I have absolutely no idea. I've moved to the dark area of my cold garage and i'll forget about it for about 3 months or so. from there, i'll decide if its worth keeping of not and if so, forget about it again, or add dregs as you say.

can't say im too surprised, as its one of those fun beers you have high hopes for (flanders base, 4IBU at 60min kettle soured, then saison brett house blend and aged. from there, i was planning on adding cherries and aging further, then finally dryhopping with something spicy like styrian and kegging/bottling) so who knows what the hell will happen now.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

There are times mistakes make the best beers, most of the time you're luckily if they are drinkable. Here's hoping yours turns the corner eventually!

Taylor said...

This is a really cool discussion of how to improve a beer that didn't turn out the way you wanted it to. I feel like I'm finally starting to get to the point where I feel comfortable enough to identify a homebrew that is just ok vs. great. This has come with around 100 batches of homebrew, 10+ brewing-related book readings, and 7 sweet, sweet years of homebrewing experience. In retrospect, my capability to do this may have come earlier had I taken more time to sit down and evaluate each of my batches. I may have been a bit preoccupied with "oooo, what do I make next?" but that's the joy of homebrewing.

Rob Neuhaus said...

Any comments on the tart cherry juice vs sour cherries? I put 32 oz of tart cherry juice split into about 7 gallons of sour beer, hoping it turns out well.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, i'm just boring, but I have never dumped beer. There have been a few ho-hum not so goodones but none i have had to dump. Having said that there are some which I hAve had to use the 'give it another few months' tactic though!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

That is one of the great things about writing a blog, I'm forced to evaluate and record my thoughts on each batch. It helps to have a bunch of friends who let me know when a batch isn't up to snuff (and who share fantastic beers for comparison sake).

I think more "processed" fruit does well in beers where it isn't the star. The concentrate added a nice cherry flavor, but I'm not sure how it would hold up in a pale kriek-like sour where cherry was the star. I'd use dried cherries in a similar way.

I probably dump a batch every other year or so. Most often it is the last few gallons of a keg that I've just lost interest in. I can only think of a couple beers that I've dumped before packaging (e.g., guanabana sour).