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Never too soon to go sour - sour beer homebrewing ideas


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Brewing sour beer at home. From a presentation for the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild. Tidbits about Lambics, pLambics, Brettanomyces, 100% Brett beers, Pediococcus and sick beer, blending your sour ales, and more.

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Never too soon to go sour - sour beer homebrewing ideas

  1. 1. It’s never too soon to go sour (Modified slightly for a presentation to the SF Homebrewers Guild with scientist Steve Smith from the exciting new Bay Area yeast company, GigaYeast ) Steve Smith introduced the organisms involved, so that part of this slide deck was omitted for the event. I have added a few of my other slides back in to this version, and included some thoughts on Brett and souring organisms at the end. Gail Ann Williams Sour homebrewer since batch 3
  2. 2. Sample traditional styles  Young Lambic – taste history – Belgium only  Aged straight uncarbonated Lambic  Gueuze, carbonation through blending  Fruit Lambics: Oude Krieks and more  Flanders Red, a “modern” sour  Oude Bruin/Flanders Brown  German lactic wheat beers (Berliner & Gose) Savor these beers. Enjoy being here for early days of “American Wild” sours and the rarer outside-of-Belgium new “spontaneous” sour beers. Near SF we have great local examples of praise-worthy pseudo-Lambics!
  3. 3. It’s easy to go sour with the Steve Piatz method for (pseudo)Lambic wort Just do it: Create 5 gallons of wort from dry extract. OG 1.056; G <1.016; IBU 0?; SRM 3; ABV <5.2% 3.0 lbs (1.4 kg) light Dried Malt Extract 3.0 lbs (1.4 kg) wheat DME 0.25 lbs (0.11 kg) malto-dextrin* 3 oz (85 g) aged or oven-dried low-alpha hops Long boil, from 90 to 120 minutes, with hops * Makes up for mash temp and lack of unmalted wheat starches in real Lambics. Consider whole wheat pasta for easy gelatinized starches. Pop into fermenter!
  4. 4. Coolship wort cooling, as breezes waft Inoculation by air at Timmerman’s in Be. How do we do this at home?
  5. 5. Piatz pLambic fermentation tips In order to mimic the Lambic sequence of dominant organisms, Piazz suggests something like this: Use your kitchen as coolship room: 48 hours hotcooling-to-room temperature in your kitchen with the lid ajar * Pitch any clean ale yeast, add airlock 2 weeks later, add a blend of Lacto, Pedio, Brett, and possibly commercial Lambic dregs, all at once. Note that adding those cultures in various sequences is also practiced by some brewers, but save that idea for later. * Scary? That should be. Also, don’t use kitchen inoculation or bottle dregs when testing commercial cultures.
  6. 6. Not every batch turns out great My husband Steve Shapiro and I were thrilled to help at a brew day at Cantillion in Brussels. Alas,“bad bacteria” meant the batch was dumped!
  7. 7. “A beer must be sick to become strong” - Jean Van Roy, Cantillon brewer   Pediococcus (among other organisms) can organize an unfinished beer into coils of slime. Belgian brewers call their beers “sick” when these structures form. ◦ The English brewing term is “ropey.” ◦ Scientists say “exopolysaccharides.”     The beer will liquify again after 3 or 4 months. A beer can be sick twice. The old Belgian tradition of brewing in the winter, and then having the Lambic in the barrel for two summers, encouraged this pattern. A beer that has been “sick” and has recovered exhibits a deeper acidity and richer perceived mouthfeel. It’s harmless, and much desired as a step along the way, Sick beer only looks gross. (Unless it’s sick in the bottle!)
  8. 8. Fruit Lambics and pLambics        Finish out your pLambic, then taste it, and decide on a fruit. If your pLambic is mild, choose a more tangy fruit such as apricots. If you use the most traditional choice, cherries, consider sour, tart or pie varieties. Table cherries can be “flabby.” Fresh, dried, flash-frozen fruit all work better than bottled juice. Crush the fruit. You may also freeze it briefly. If you don’t, the Brett will get in there, but may take longer. Ripe fruit is better than semi-ripe fruit. Usually farmers market fruit is better than supermarket fruit. Smell and taste are more important than color in fruit selection. Typically transferring the pLambic onto fruit for 3 months will do the trick. At 3 months see if the flavors are there. One pound per gallon is a starting point. If your base beer provides less interest, use more fruit.
  9. 9. Don’t age the fruit sours!
  10. 10. Fruit used to go into barrels A messy second fermentation follows. Now most Lambic brewers transfer from barrels to stainless for the three months on fruit.
  11. 11. Red beers are “sour,” not wild Flanders are a “modern” take on ancient sour beers. Brewers make a dry, bland, low-hopped and fully attenuated lager or clean ale, rack it and then inoculate it with Lactobaccilus and perhaps Pediococcus. Brett that lives in the barrels is the clean-up team for these beers, not a dominant driver of the process. There is typically some acetic acid tang from Acetobacter. You may want to dose with vinegar. The classic examples are often stabilized, (filtered or flash pasteurized) then have sweeter beer blended in. Duchesse De Bourgogne even uses saccharine or aspartame to become both sweet and intensely sour.
  12. 12. Rodenbach barrel room, Roeselare, Be.
  13. 13. Acetic beers may not age as expected “Brett has an affinity for taking acetic acid and ethyl alcohol to create ethyl acetate. In very low concentrations, ethyl acetate can be a nice ester that is said to be lightly fruity. But what happens is that quickly continues to go, and ethyl acetate becomes more solventy and eventually becomes a nail polish solvent aroma. You may find a little acetic acid in a beer that tastes nice when you blend it, but as that beer ages you get a potent off flavor.” - Chad Yakobson Crooked Stave & The Brettanomyces Project
  14. 14. The beer is ready when it’s ready.  Patience is the most important ingredient. Give your pLambic projects privacy for 3 months and then taste at intervals, not daily.  You are not the master of this brew. (You are more like the midwife or coach for the birth of a beer).  Jean Van Roy: “You need passion, the best ingredients, and time.”  From Lauren Salazar, “The beer must die first. Then it’s reborn”  From Vinnie Cilurzo: “If you are just starting out making funky beers, making a beer that is palatable will be considered a success.”
  15. 15. Blending “A blender must envision what the end beer will taste like after blending and after it is carbonated” - Vinnie Cilurzo. At Russian River Brewing they keep some highly acidic beer that is used for blending to bring up the acidity in a beer. They also keep a “more mellow” dry, finished Brett beer to blend down acidity. Consider blending with tasty water before carbonating Belgian blenders speak of blending more and less bitter batches, and of three year olds with one year olds. Lauren Salazar of New Belgian speaks of Users, Blenders, Waiters. The Users are the stars.
  16. 16. 100% Brett fermentations       Increasing the oxygen increases cell counts and decreases the overall character of the Brettanomyces: More O2 early makes “clean” Brett. An all Brett fermentation will have a long lag phase. It takes an extra day or more to go into vigorous fermentation Lower cell counts up the “funkiness” of a 100% Brett beer. On a 1.060 original gravity wort, once active, a 100% Brett fermentation will ferment to 1.020 in about 10 days. RR says that it takes about 8 full weeks for the beer to drop further, to a bottling SG of 1.010. Beware bottle bombs! All-Brett beers without acidity from lactic acid bacteria tend to lack body, as Brett does not produce glycerol at the levels Saccharomyces can.
  17. 17. Cleaning and Sanitation     Boiling 15 minutes is a solid approach. Fermenting in a metal keg that can be boiled works, though washers and other rubber parts must be replaced. Sanitizers will kill Brett off a non-porous surface like glass. Plastic should be considered uncleanable because it is porous. (Unless you have boil-proof plastic items) Have two of everything that is not glass or steel, including all plastic bottling equipment parts if you bottle. Even if you brew an all-funky beer line-up, you may not want to not risk the luck of the draw of what lives in your carboy hood, etc. You may be brewing with one mix of bacteria and Brett, and not want other species in there too.
  18. 18. Bottle conditioning & carbonation       An aged Lambic or Flanders Red inspired beer will have nearly no dissolved CO2 left in it. The Bruery uses a 1.5 multiplier to estimate priming sugar. It can take months to become carbonated by the Brett. You can add a dry red wine yeast that is acid tolerant to the beer, then add priming solution. The new fermentation may make a pellicle in the bottles is there is O2 present. Belgian Gueuzes are classically carbonated with young and old Lambics mixed together. This is done by taste! Fruit juice can be an excellent priming solution. Make a small amount of usual priming solution and take a gravity, then match that gravity with your fruit juice addition. (Add sugars to the juice to meet the gravity needed.)
  19. 19. Next read Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow More ideas  My inspiration for these slides. Nice!   Articles & recipes  Supergeeky great information! Early info, fun to explore   Bonus thought: How can bacteria and yeast cells collaborate?  I blog some at and will put a link to my portion of these slides up there. Feedback appreciated!
  20. 20. P.S. - six more slides… Steve Smith of GigaYeast had provided a list of organisms in his slides, so I omitted the following pages on some of my favorite “bugs” in the presentation. Here they are, in case it’s useful to you.
  21. 21. Bugs: A Lambic cast of characters  Brettanomyces species (wild yeasts)  Lactobacillus species (Lactic Acid Bacteria)  Pediococcus species (Lactic Acid Bacteria)  Acetobacter species (Acetic Acid Bacteria)  Minor organisms, such as Kloeckera apiculata  “Kitchen” flora? Backyard contributions?  Don’t forget Saccharomyces (ale and lager yeasts) The microorganisms are in communication through quorum sensing. They take turns and behave differently in a mixed group. In the ambient coolship environment in Belgium there could be as many as 200 species chattering away.
  22. 22. The Brettanomyces Family “British fungus” isolated from British stock ale at Carlsberg in 1904  There are many species and strains of Brettanomyces aka Dekkera The most commonly available species (With many strains) are: B. bruxellensis “Brett b” out of Brussels B. claussenii “Brett c” with Anglo ancestry, may also be the same as what has been called B. anomalous   There are many, many Strains of B. bruxellensis (including Lambicus ™ from Wyeast), all over the world  Strain-dependent flavor characteristics are worth considering: Tropical fruit, Citrus, Leathery, Apple, Stone Fruit Horse blanket, goaty, mousy, wet dog, sweaty, poopy, etc. can be accepted in minor amounts, but if dominant, may just mean more time is needed for Brett to transform compounds into something delicious! For more on the specific compounds and how they transform, see Chad Yakobson’s thesis work at the Brettanomyces Project
  23. 23. More on Brettanomyces        Brett will slow at 3.4 pH, which is quite sour. Brett forms a pellicle - a thick white biofilm that blankets the top of the beer in fermentation. The yeast cells and sometimes a mix of species form chains that make a floating on the top of beer. The pellicle guards against oxidation, allowing just enough through during aging. The pellicle also guards against acetobacter, which uses oxygen to break down alcohol Leave the pellicle intact, if you can. (Vinnie nail, ported carboy) Oxygen at bottling can lead to a pellicle ring forming in the bottle. Brett can ferment sugars (cellobiose) from a toasted oak barrel. Brett can ferment dextrin and starches, it’s “super-attenuating” and in a mixed culture, it can pull the gravity down close to 1.000 Brett can even shift gears and metabolize alcohol like acetobacter if it has enough oxygen to utilize. Luckily this is not usually the case!
  24. 24. Lactobacillus doesn’t just like milk         Lactobacillus, the yogurt, cheese and sourdough family of souring bugs, plays a major role in Flanders beers, Berliner weisse, Gose and the American sours from Cascade Brewing, for example. L. prefers reduced levels of oxygen, close to body temperature. L. makes a gentler sourness than Pediococcus does. The Lactobacillus commonly used by brewers, L. delbrueckii produces lactic acid as well as carbon dioxide. Usually Lactobacillus will cease to function at a pH of ~ 3.8 L. dislikes hops. 10 IBU is a rule-of-thumb ceiling for lacto-soured beers (strain specific, however.) True Lambics derive little acidity from Lactobacillus. May still matter, in dropping pH and influencing early behavior of Brett. There are many methods around. I like the kettle-soured, no-boil Berliner as a first endeavor for an ale yeast and lacto beer.
  25. 25. Pediococcus, Dammit!        This is the “sick” and “ropey” temporary texture maker. Pediococcus is responsible for the clean lactic acid intensity of Lambics and most contemporary sours Somewhat hop-tolerant bacteria Pedio ferments sugar into lactic acid, but produces no carbon dioxide. Can make a “brain surface” pellicle. Pedio produces heavy amounts of diacetyl. Comes off as muddy, almost peanut butter notes. Brett cleans up! Pedio is retarded by oxygen, or by rising alcohol. Pedio grows slowly. Likes an apple or tomato juice starter, and if you want to encourage it in a blended product, use juices and no oxygen to grow it up.
  26. 26. Acetobacter, for that Balsamic quality       Flanders Red beers usually have an acetic quality. The classic examples are blended then stabilized, so they do not go further towards vinegar in the bottle or under the cork. Acetobacter works with oxygen and ethanol to make Acetic acid, as found in vinegar. It wants to eat all the alcohol. Your other organisms want little or no oxygen as they finish the beer up for you. Fruit flies – historically known as vinegar flies - can carry acetobacter. Probably why the spider is a Lambic mascot! Dry airlocks admit both fruit flies and oxygen. “Neglect” your beer, but check that there is liquid in the airlock, etc. The organism is never pitched. (You could blend in vinegar if none evolves from contamination by what is in the air)