Brewing Sour Beers

Sour beer is scary for many homebrewers.  They worry about “infecting” their clean beers.  I started brewing sour beers back in May of last year (2014).  I had made a business trip to Bend, Oregon.  While there, I stopped in at Crux Fermentation Project.  I had their Freak Cake.  It is a Flanders Brown ale, with the fruits that are used in a holiday style fruit cake and then aged in Pinot Noir barrels.  I couldn’t believe how much I liked a sour beer.  I found it fascinating and decided to make the plunge into the world of sour beers.  I researched the beer the best that I could and came up with a basic Flanders Brown (Oud Bruin) recipe.  I made the base beer then added a blend of fruits (Sour Cherries, Raisins, Cranberries, Figs, Dates and Black  Currants) and added a quantity of 3/4 pound of each fruit to it in the secondary.  I also added Roselaire yeast at this time, to get the souring.  After 6 months it was quite fruity in flavor (I was happy with the fruit), but wasn’t getting sour.

I was able to get some advice from Michael Tonsmeire, the author of the book American Sour Beers.  I strongly recommend getting a copy of Mr. Tonsmeire’s book and reading through all of the articles on this site.  If you want to learn about sour beers, it is definitely the place to begin your journey, in my humble opinion.

So, continuing on to my adventure into the world of sour beer.

I made up a 5 gallon batch of Flanders Brown in November 2014, with the following changes.  I cut the starting gravity from 1.085 down to 1.060 and I cut the IBU’s down from 21.2 to 6.9.  I then split the batch into two fermenters.  Into one I pitched Roselaire yeast (Wyeast 3763) and in the other I pitched Lactobacillus Brevis and the dregs from two bottles of Jolly Pumpkin La Roja.  The Lacto/Jolly Pumpkin batch soured quickly forming a large pellicle.  In March, I had a tasting of the original “Freak Cake” clone and of other beers that I had for souring (A Belgian Dark Strong and a blend of Russian Imperial Stout and Belgian strong on Syrah Grapes), along with the two split batch sours.  I had four homebrew friends over to assist.  We ended up making three blends as follows.

  • 4 gallons of Freak Cake Clone + 1 gallon of the Lacto/Jolly Pumpkin sour.
  • 4 gallons of the RIS/Belgian Strong on Syrah + 1 gallon of the Lacto/Jolly Pumpkin sour
  • 1 gallon of the Freak Cake Clone + 1 gallon of the Belgian Dark Strong + 1/2 gallon of the Lacto/Jolly Pumpkin Sour
  • I left the Roselaire Sour for more aging, as it only had a very mild funkiness to it at the time.

I just took samples about three weeks ago to our monthly homebrew meeting.  All four of them are now quite sour (yes the Roselaire batch caught up!).  The Roselaire batch is like an atomic bomb of sweet tarts on the palate.  Quite stimulating and very acidic, but not vinegar in any way.

I’m still trying to decide whether to bottle them or just let them ride.  They’re sours, so there is no rush though.  My next brewday will be a very simple Smash (Single Hop and Single Malt), made just for souring.  If you brew sours, you need to keep them in the pipeline, so that you always have something coming along, or you run out.  Planning is important, because a sour can take from a year to 2+ years to reach bottling age.  Besides, I need something to blend the Roselaire batch into!

Here is what the pellicle on top of the Lacto/Jolly Pumpkin looked like.  I realized after I pitched the Lacto, that my homebrew store had given me the Lacto instead of Brett Brux that I had originally wanted, so I had to eventually change the label you see in the photo.  I was cleaning up after my brew day and saw the smack pack laying there and read it closely for the first time.  I wasn’t disappointed at all though, that I ended up with Lacto, instead of Brett, after tasting the results.

Pellicle 1

It’s quite disgusting to look at, but it creates such wonderful flavors!  My next post will be on how to keep your clean beers safe from the bugs in your sours.

Keep brewing!

 

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