Authors Note: I try to post a recipe a week (or a post about brewing once a week) but this week I’m posting two, this being the second behind the Chinook and Cascade IPA disaster. I’m doing this to minimize the impact of that bad beer post on this blog and to reduce my backlog of posts. I want to open and honest and share my success and failures and just keep records of what works and what doesn’t…but that IPA post just bums me out. The net result is two beer posts this week…this one is about one of my sour beers. I hope this post is better than the last. Also, sorry about the length…this one is a little longer than most.
This is the second post in a growing collection of posts about my small but continuous sour program. I already posted about these beers once before in the Unblended Lambic post, a beer I fermented with Cantillon dregs. That fermenter is one of three committed vessels for the production of sour beer. The other two started out as a Berlinerweiss (WLP630) and as “Sour Mix I” from Whitelabs (WLP655). I say “started out” because after a few years, all of these fermenters are growing closer together and becoming more sour. I am planning on restarting them all this winter. In the meantime, I’m going to drain them all and write up some of the recipes and results from these fermentation.
This post is going to be a little bit of an oddity. I was asked last spring to brew some beer for a wedding in Baltimore, MD. I reluctantly agreed, even though I have a personal prohibition against participating in people’s weddings any longer…there is just too much pressure to be perfect. I’ve played piano at weddings, been the best man, and now provided a large portion of the beer. Fortunately, the beer turned out well. Several months before the wedding, I had the groom come over and design the beer he wanted served. He wanted a Berlinerweiss style beer…just a straight one…no fruit at all. We sampled the three fermenters, the Cantillon beer (at the time it was in the Pediococcus “sick” phase) was discounted as not a contender. The groom thought the Berliner was too one dimensional and liked the Sour Mix I better. We decided to blend the two (to cut into the funk of the Sour Mix since it was heavily Brettanomyces forward) and the blend won the day. I brewed 15 gallons of the two beers and blended them for service at the reception. The beer was given a ridiculous name as a joke…but people still loved it.
I’m not going to do a full write up on the making of this beer…I’ll just hit the highlights and do a thorough review of the flavors of the beer and how this will influence my sour program moving forward. What I have is a 5 gallon keg of this beer. This keg has sat at room temperature, under pressure, for about 9 months. I hooked it up the other day (getting tired of drinking the coffee stout) for a summer refresher.
5 Gallon Keg (50% Berlinerweiss / 50% Sour Mix I)
Brew date: June 2013
Keg date: October 2013
Tap date: July 10th, 2014
Even though this is a blend of two beers, the wort was made at the same time for all of these beers. Mash was done in 5 gallons of distilled water at 146 – 152F over 90 minutes. Grain was sparged with 6 gallons of water at 170 F.
Wort was brought to 210 F and the gas was shut off. This is a “no boil” beer.
No hops were added (at all). Does that make this a gruit? Joking.
Wort was allowed to cool over the course of 8 hours outside on a brew pot with the lid on. There should be very little exchange of air into the pot (although obviously some would have gotten in. Once the beer was chilled to “room temperature” (less than 90 F), the beer was transferred into the fermenters with the yeast cakes on the bottom.
Fermentation of the WLP630 carboy started within a few hours. This has always been really aggressive as far as fermentation is concerned. It also makes the kitchen smell like farts. There is a definite sulfur smell to that fermenter. The other fermenters took a little longer to get up to speed. The Sour Mix I fermented nicely. These were left in the carboys for 4 months before being blended and the fermenters topped off again.
I don’t have a pH meter at home…but I do work in a lab so I brought some of the beer to lab to take a measure. Beer already has a lower pH in general, most commercial beers should be between pH 3.9 to 4.5 for food safety reasons…and I’m not talking about sour beers…Bud light is in that range, lemon juice is around pH 2 – 2.5. The pH of this Blended sour is 2.89, that’s pretty low for a beverage.
Beer is yellow and almost completely clear. Nice, soft, white head, small bubbles, decent carbonation but a little low…about 2.5 volumes. Head retention is OK but with these sours, it is hard to keep the head on top. Looks good.
The aroma of this beer is heavily lactic sour…strongly sour. There is some Brett funk that sneaks through…mild esters. The lactic / citric character is pretty in your face. The aroma on this beer from an intensity point of view is an 9 out of 10.
Beer is light in body, a little effervescent on the palate. It is super bright and really sour, it is a corner of the mouth sort of sourness…super tart. The tartness lingers a little after the beer is gone. There is a minimal aftertaste but it isn’t too distracting.
Overall, this is a fine (really) sour beer. It is definitely one of the more sour beers I’ve made…maybe I let it sit too long…or maybe it is just the right amount of sour. The Brett character could be higher but I’m happy that it isn’t completely drown out by the lactic acid. People like this beer…several compliments about the sourness and overall flavor. It is on the edge of intensity for me as far as what I can take from sourness. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with it, let’s keep this party going. Why not? Let’s add some syrup to it and see what happens.
Blueberry Syrup Recipe
1 cup of Blueberries
1 cup of water
1/2 cup of sugar
1 one inch strip of lemon peel
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
Add blueberries and half a cup of water to a sauce pot. Crush the berries as much as you can and bring to a simmer for 5 – 10 minutes. Strain the solids out through a mesh. Dissolve the sugar in 1/2 cup of water with the lemon juice and lemon peel added. Mix in the blueberry and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Cover and allow to cool. Remove the lemon peel and store the syrup in the refrigerator.
Tasting notes for the Blend with Blueberry Syrup (“Mit Schuss”)
Adding syrup to a Berlinerweiss is not odd at all. The first time I saw it done was in Paris, France on my honeymoon with my wife. I thought it odd but I was a novice back then. Traditional syrups for Berliners are woodruff or raspberry. I was at Tired Hands Brewing in Ardmore, PA (if you haven’t been, GO!!!) and they were adding blueberry syrup to their Berlinerweiss. When my wife told me we had to use the remaining blueberries before they went bad, the choice was simple.
I added a couple of teaspoons of syrup to the bottom of the glass before adding the beer, this was to ensure thorough mixing of the two. It immediately turned the beer pink, even the head was a nice pink.
The aroma of the syrup itself was rather mild and I wasn’t expecting it to affect the aroma of the beer too much but the lactic character was lessened and there was a nice berry aroma to it.
The sweetness of the syrup really takes the edge off of the sourness, which at times in this beer I found to be on the edge of what I like. The blueberry flavor ends up being a little mild overall but I really enjoyed this mixture. I want to try with raspberry and peach syrup now but I won’t bore you with the details of those experiments, this post is already long enough.
Possible improvements (for future batches):
There are a lot of experiments I want to try with the remaining sours I have in the fermenters. Primarily, I’m thinking about blending up some peaches / apricots and making some fruit sours. A few years back I took the Sour Mix and added a bunch of cherries I picked from an orchard in Northern Maryland. I tossed in a few of the Brettanomyces clausseni Ale bottle dregs for good measure. That beer is long gone now, but at the time it was a much appreciated beer in my circle. Now that I have a corker, I feel like I should be doing a lot more bottling / bottle conditioning of the sours. So adding different fruits are definitely on the table for some of these beers. As far as process / procedure goes, I want to do a sour mash / turbid mash for some of these in the future as well. I’ve been a little afraid of that in the past but I have a few friends that have had some success doing that…so I might as well.
Upcoming sour beers:
So, all three of these beers have been getting more and more sour as they sit in the fermenter. I have decided to “restart” them. There will be four (15 gallons total) fermenters in the basic sour program moving forward. First, Cantillon dregs beer…this beer is turning out great in my opinion and will be continued. One change is that wort going into this fermenter will be treat (brewed) in the same fashion that Cantillon makes wort. This process has been written about pretty extensively and I believe I can sort of reproduce it at home. Second, a Drie Fonteinen dregs fermenter…different lambic brewer, different spontaneous fermentation…worth a shot. Third, a basic Berlinerweiss beer, restarting the WLP630…because a simple sour that can take fruit without drama is important to have around, this will also be no boil wort. And finally, WLP630 (Berlinerweiss blend) with a bunch of Brett in it. I’ll just pitch pure Brett cultures on top of the WLP630, I haven’t completely decided what form the wort will take on this one but I’ll post what happens when I get there. I also plan on getting a 10 gallon oak barrel soon…this will be a dedicated barrel for some future blending experiments. Lots of great sours coming up.
“Let us be lazy in everything, except in loving and drinking, except in being lazy.” ― Gotthold Ephraim