Tag Archives: Sour beer

Saison Nine Ways.

Saison Brett Bottles

Do try this at home?

In my preparation for Homebrew Alley 7, I brewed a ten gallon batch of saison and split the wort into two fermentors.  One would be a traditional Belgian saison and one, with the addition of a can of cherry puree, would be a cherry saison.  I started with the Brooklyn Homebrew recipe kits for the Belgian Saison and Cherry Bomb Saison. The two recipes were not exactly the same, but I combined both grain bills since they were very similar and the kits included hops for bittering and aroma that were very close substitutes for each other.  I mashed lowed for attenuation (as is normally done for saisons) at 148F and proceeded to the boil.  I added one pound of Domino cane sugar and one pound of Belgian Simplicity Candi Syrup because it was included in the kit.  Both batches would test out the new Belle Saison dry yeast, although the recipe kits call for different yeast strains.

I chilled down to 63F, a little lower than I planned, but I also didn’t want to start fermentation too high like brewers tend to do with Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison.  (Fermenting warm, sometimes into the 90F range, is used to get the characteristic earthy and spicy flavors out of the yeast.)  I allowed fermentation temperatures to free rise to 75F where they stabilized for a day or so, and then I dropped them down to the ambient temperature of 72F.  I added the cherry puree after high krausen began to fall and fermentation picked back up again.  After about a week I checked the final gravity of each batch.  The plain saison was 1.003 and the cherry version was at 0.998 (!!).  The plain saison exhibited some cidery flavor I equate with using too much sugar and fermenting warm.  It seems other people have experienced similar results, so it may mean this yeast benefits from a slightly higher mash temp (150F+) or possibly an all malt grain bill (meaning no additional sugar added to the boil or fermentor).

I kegged and carbonated the cherry saison.  My first impression was that the beer had dried out too much, tasting a bit like wine, and the cherry flavor was almost undetectable.  I decided to bump up the body so I boiled 4 oz. maltodextrin with 400mL of water and added it to the keg to bring the gravity up to 1.003.  I also dosed it with some cherry extract (~1 oz.) and some lactic acid to give it a bit of bite.  So far these efforts haven’t increased its drinkability so I’m going to stash this one in the cellar for a few months and revisit it later on.

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Different Brettanomyces Strains (Not shown: Wyeast Brett Bruxellensis)

I made the experiment even more elaborate by using Mad Fermentationist’s idea and dosing the plain saison with seven different Brett strains at bottling.  I used all of the commercially available strains from White Labs and Wyeast as well as some bottle-isolated strains from BKYeast.  Choosing so many different strains may not have been the best idea because it only allowed me to have six bottles per strain (I bottled a few extra plain saisons for consumption/tasting).  This means I’ll have to schedule when to taste them and stick to that schedule.  My plan is to do 3, 6, 9, and 12 month tastings to allow the Brett character to evolve.  I will post tasting notes for all nine variations.

Here is the Brettanomyces strain breakdown:

WLT= White Labs Brett Trois (Slurry from Matt Chan)
WLC= White Labs Brett Clausenii
WLL= White Labs Brett Lambicus
WYB= Wyeast Brett Bruxellensis
BK2= BK Yeast Brett C2 (Cantillion Iris Isolate)
BK3= BK Yeast Brett C3 (Cantillion Iris Isolate)
BKBW= BK Yeast Berliner Weisse Brett (Wyeast PC 3191 Isolate)
 
The Help.

Got a little help corking and caging.

 
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Inaugural Thanksgiving Lambic.

Thanksgiving Lambic Brew Day 1

Homecooked Lambic Style Brewday

Sour beer is currently trending commercially and in the homebrewing world.  I will readily admit that I don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to tasting and brewing these styles.  I’ve had a few of the classic examples like Rodenbach and Cantillon, but not often enough to have a strong understanding of these beers.  In fact, in honor of Zwanze day (which I skipped to brew a split batch of Kolsch/Munich Helles) I tasted my first Cantillon Geuze ever.  I’ll be saving some wort from my brew day to get a starter going from the dregs of this bottle (and a few others) for my next Lambic batch.

One of the main hesitations in brewing sour beers for commercial and homebrewers is the amount of time it takes to “sour” a beer.  Most sour beers use a combination of saccharomyces, brettanomyces, pediococcus, and lactobacillus over the course of one to three years to achieve the correct balance of flavors.  For a homebrewer living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, a carboy taking up real estate for one to three years in order to sour doesn’t make much sense.  For this reason, I decided to start brewing sour batches at my parents’ house in rural Pennsylvania.  I go home every Thanksgiving and Christmas so why not brew a lambic or other sour beer while I’m there and let it age in a relatively stable environment.  The ultimate goal is to have several batches of young and old lambic to blend together into a gueuze.  I also noticed that every “clean” beer I brewed there (outside at least) turned out to not be “clean”, most likely infected by the microflora wafting over from the barn across the street.

I started the tradition this Thanksgiving.  Since the holidays can get kind of hectic, I decided to keep things simple and use only extract (4# wheat DME and 3# Pilsen Light DME) with a small dose (3.5 oz.) of maltodextrin to make sure the brettanomyces had some sugars to chew on for the long haul.  I used ~1.5 oz. French Strisselspalt hops (2.3% AA) to get to roughly 10 IBUs (there is quite a lot to talk about concerning aged hops in lambics, but that will be the subject of a future post).

 Mom's Lambic Pic

Hide your lambics away from your parents! Its fun! (photo credit: Mom)

Fermentation is the critical part of sour beers.  In a traditional spontaneously fermented lambic, the microflora (saccharomyces, brett, pedio, and lacto, etc.) floating in the air drop into the cooling wort.  The yeast companies sell proprietary blends of yeast and bacteria for attempting to replicate well known sour beer styles like lambic and Gueuze. Inoculating the wort with a pre-made blend of souring organisms is in no way the same as allowing spontaneous fermentation, but we’re not brewing in Belgium.  I have my first sour Flanders Red going as a split batch with Ray Girard using the Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend and the Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Ale Blend, so I wanted to try out another sour ale mix.  White Labs recently released WLP665 Flemish Ale Blend which seemed like a great choice for a lambic.

Several prominent homebrewers suggest first pitching a neutral primary yeast strain and then the sour mix.   With this method, the primary ale strain does the bulk of the fermentation and then the brett and bugs come in later and finish off the longer chain dextrins to give the beer that signature funk.  The results are much more consistent and controllable this way, but others contend that the beer never quite gets sour or funky enough.  I chose to skip the neutral primary strain and pitch just a single vial of the WLP665.  Lambic producers don’t pitch a neutral strain and I wanted to follow their process as closely as possible.  The beer may not be as consistent (too funky, too sour, too nasty) but that’s where the art of blending gueuze from different batches of lambic comes in.

I brewed the day after Thanksgiving this year, and when I left two days later, there was no visible fermentation activity. Pitching such a small amount of yeast (~7 billion cells in one vial) had me worried that the primary fermentation would be really ugly, but it can’t be any uglier than spontaneous fermentation.  The brett should clean up any off flavors and nasty byproducts from an underpitching the yeast.  Fermentation eventually took off (even in the cool 60F closet) and after bugging my Mom for days to tell me what was going on with it, she finally sent the above pic.  The krausen nearly knocked the breathable silicone stopper out of the carboy!  We’ll have to wait at least a year to taste the results, but I’m already looking forward to my upcoming Christmas lambic brew day.

 

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