Accidental Cross Contamination

Cleaning and sanitation are critical to brewing success.  I recently had a cross contamination from my sour beers to my clean beers.  I brewed my Christmas Ale (Sleigh Ride) on September 26, 2015.  On October 17th, I racked it to secondary, as I wanted to use the yeast on my October 18th brew (a chocolate butternut porter).  I had made a larger batch of the sleigh ride, so that I had 5.5 gallons at bottling.  Which meant that my 5 gallon carboy secondary would be to the rim.  I had a one gallon fermenter that I put the remaining 1/2 gallon of Sleigh Ride into.

I had rinsed my racking hoses and auto-syphon in chlorine water (2.5 tablespoons to 5 gallons).  I only left them in the chlorine water for about 5 minutes, then rinsed them really well with water until the chlorine smell was gone.  I then heavily rinsed them in Star San solution before using them.  Well, as you can guess, I still had some leftover surviving microbes from the blending of my sour beers back in July!

What is really interesting is that the 5 gallon carboy (which is filled nearly to the airlock) does not show any signs of contamination, while the half full 1 gallon carboy has a full on pellicle going on!  The “Accidental Sour Beer”.  Here are photos of the two carboys.

IMG_1148No pellicle in the 5 gallon carboy!

IMG_1146Full on pellicle in the half full 1 gallon carboy.  When I make sour beers, I usually have something in mind.  Since this wasn’t preplanned out it could be really good or really bad!

I’ve done a lot of reading since I noticed this pellicle.  I’ve read up on what causes a pellicle to form.  I have done some reading on cleaning, sanitizing and sterilization.  The take aways from that reading are:

  • 5 minutes in a chlorine solution probably isn’t enough!  30 minutes minimum.
  • Plastics can acquire the chlorine odor and transfer to your beer.  I used chlorine exclusively from 1991 to 2012 and never noticed a chlorine odor in my beer though.
  • Chlorine will pit stainless, so it’s use on stainless isn’t advised.
  • Keeping separate plastic equipment for sours only is a great idea.  Also, don’t let your clean beer plastics touch your sour beer.
  • Oxygen probably made the difference in this batch.  The microbe that I suspect led to this pellicle is Lactobacillus Brevis.  The 1/2 gallon of head space in the 1 gallon fermenter gave the Lactobacillus Brevis enough oxygen to start working on the complex sugars and thrive.
  • Purchase new plastics for my clean beers.
  • Take all my old plastics, clean them really well, and mark them and use them on sour beers only.  Also, store them separately from my clean beer plastics.
  • It might be prudent to take the 5 gallons that isn’t souring and bring it up to 160 degrees F in my boil pot to pasteurize it, then add new yeast at bottling time.  I’m really leaning towards this, to avoid bottle bombs!

We’ll see how things progress from here.  The souring Christmas Ale might end up being a great beer, but it definitely won’t be ready for Christmas 2015.  Maybe it will be ready for next Christmas!




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!


Wild Lavender Yeast

I kegged and bottled my Wild Lavender Saison today.  The finishing gravity was 1.006.  My starting gravity was 1.064.  This resulted in an attenuation of 73.8%.  The yeast settled out nicely, leaving the beer crystal clear.  The yeast cake was kind of cottage cheese like in appearance.

yeast cake from Lavendar saison

I have about 3 pints of yeast out of the batch, in canning jars.  I’ll take a photo after they settle out and post it in this blog post.

The beer taste (tasted it flat as I was bottling and kegging) was spicy and surprisingly sweet for such a low finishing gravity.  I’m curious what it will taste like after it carbs up nicely.  More to come on this beer!  I’m sure my friend Matt, will want some of this to try on one of his Saisons.

Belgian Saison with wild yeast

I had a friend and fellow homebrewer (Matt Spaanem) over while I was brewing up a Saison for our Pinot Noir Barrell Solera club project.  He brought me some of his wild yeast that he had harvested from honey to use in that brew.  Here is his blog where he talks about his foray into harvesting wild yeasts from many different sources.  Matt Spaanem’s wild yeast blog

The yeast he brought me is his Abbey Strain.  His description of the yeast is as follows.  “Abbey Strain – This strain was initially collected from unpasteurized honey from my neighbor’s hives here in Washougal, WA. This strain is amazing, producing fruity bubblegum flavors it tastes just like a Belgian abbey yeast, it also has a fairly high tolerance, producing a beer with nearly 12% ABV. It’s also pretty highly attenuative. Subsequent local yeast harvests indicate that this yeast is the dominant wild strain in my neighborhood.”

This article isn’t actually about that strain of yeast though.  I’ll save that for a future story on our Solera Project.  This article is about my desire to harvest yeast from my property to use in a beer.  Matt is an expert at this kind of thing and he was more than happy to assist me.  Since I was brewing a 10 gallon batch of beer for the Solera Project, I had a ready source of freshly boiled wort to make a starter with.  We took a tour around my small piece of property (12,000 sq. ft.) and decided on the Lavender Bush in my wife’s water garden.

Lavendar Bush

We cut a 5 inch branch off that had 10 small flowers on it and threw it into my Erlenmeyer Flask which contained 1500 ml of cooled wort.  It was starting to form a little foam and by day three, it looked like this.

Lavendar yeast

Notice that it has sanitized aluminum foil on top of it.  The stir plate is “not” running at this point.  When harvesting wild yeast like this, you also have all of the other wild microbes in there.  Those microbes thrive on oxygen, so if the stir plate is running, it’s introducing oxygen (which is bad).  Without oxygen, you’re giving the yeast that is present the best chance at out-competing those wild microbes.

Once it had fermented out, I put it in my refrigerator and let it settle out.  Two weeks later I had a brew day, but didn’t use that yeast, as I was brewing up a new recipe of mine that needed a London Ale style of yeast.  However, two weeks later I had another brew day, where I could take advantage of that wild Lavender Yeast.  I was brewing two batches on this day, back to back.  A long day, but fun!  I pulled the wild Lavender yeast out and poured off most of the now clear beer on the top and left it sit, until I had some fresh wort for it.

I started my first batch, which was a ginger/cinnamon spice beer, based on great leaks brewings “Christmas Ale”, which you can read about at the link.  Once my boil had started, I pulled off 1500 ml of wort and let it cool down in my refrigerator.  Once it was down to 75F, I pour it on top of my Lavender Yeast in the Erlenmeyer Flask and turned on the stir plate.  It wouldn’t be needed for another four hours.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of it, but it was developing one heck of a Krausen!  I definitely had very active and very healthy yeast!

I then brewed up a basic Belgian Saison.  I pretty much used the recipe from Jamil Zainasheff’s and John Palmers book, “Brewing Classic Styles”.  Here is the recipe I used.  Belgian Saison with Lavendar Yeast

After getting the first beer in the fermenter going, I started on the Saison and eventually, I got it into the fermenter and gave it 25 minutes of oxygen with my aquarium pump set up and then pitched the Lavender yeast. I brewed this Wild Lavender Saison on September 26th, 2015, so it’s been in the primary now for 11 days.  I just tasted a small sample of it and I’m tasting a little bit of bubblegum.  Still a little sweet too and the airlock is still bubbling slowly.  I haven’t taken a gravity reading on it, so I’m not sure how much further it needs to go, but I’ll just have to show some patience with it.  What I can say by the taste is “It’s Beer Yeast!!”.  I’m really happy with how it tastes.  It seems to be an Abbey Style Strain, similar to Matt’s Abbey Strain.

I kept the fermentation temperature neutral on this at about 66F to 68F throughout the first 11 days.  I think I’ll kick the temperature up to about 72F on it now to let it finish out and clean up after itself.  When it’s time to bring the temperature back down (probably down to about 65F or less (I’ll first rack it to a secondary) and then harvest my new wild yeast from the primary.

That will allow me to make more wild Saisons and eventually have enough wild Lavendar yeast to share with my friends!

I’ll post a tasting of this beer and the final gravities, ABV’s, etc. at a later date.

Check back and keep on brewin’!


Roll Over in the Grave Tootsie Roll Stout

The recipe>>>   Roll over in the grave tootsie roll stout

This beer was brewed on July 27th, 2013.  I’m down to the last few pints.  It was in bottles for about two years and wasn’t carbonating.  16.5% ABV will definitely stress out the yeast.  Actually, even flat the beer is something to behold.

I finally gave up and decided to use the questionable practice of carefully opening the bottles and pouring them into my bottling bucket, followed by racking them into one of my corny kegs.  The first two bottles I opened were carbonated!  Wow!  The third bottle wasn’t, so I just went ahead and opened 24 bottles and kegged them.

Tasting Notes (kegged version):

Appearance:  Jet black beer.  With a substantial 1-1/2 to 2 inch deep long-lasting creamy and chocolaty colored tan head, that takes a full five minutes to dissipate down to a thin 1/8″  covering.  The high viscosity of the beer, along with the alcohol leaves behind long lasting legs and foam that coat the top of the glass through the entire consumption of the beer. 



Aroma:  Strong roasted aroma with the hint of rich chocolate. I’m also detecting toffee, alcohol, fruity (almost raison-like), date, prune, but no hop.  Very complex aroma that bounces from chocolate, to dark fruit, to alcohol and back again.

Flavor:  Smooth roastiness (not bitter or grainy at all), tootsie roll, coffee, raisons, with the high alcohol well hidden.  Sweet, but not too cloying, though I think it is too sweet.  The sweetness does loiter at the back of the tongue after swallowing.  The hop flavor is completely hidden by the intense maltiness of the beer, despite the 84.2 IBU’s.  The starting gravity of 1.139 definitely overwhelms the hop bitterness. 

Mouthfeel:  Smooth and creamy!  This is a thick viscous beer.  It is too syrupy for the style, and needs to be dialed down a notch or two.  Despite the lingering huge tan head, the carbonation is on the lower side.  Not bubbly or fizzy at all.  It almost tastes like a beer on a nitro tap, but it’s not.

Drinkability and Notes:  This is definitely a sipping type of beer.  I drink it out of small sample glasses for good reason.  It’s a very dangerous beer.  The more you drink of it, the better it tastes.  However, that is probably due to the fact that the alcohol is taking over the senses.  I drink 4 ounce samples at a time, which means it takes a long time to get through a keg of this stuff.  It’s a great after dinner type of drink, which could be used in place of a cordial, such as Grand Marnier.  I have a soft spot for Frangelico Liquor on the rocks after a good steak dinner.  This would fill the bill nicely, in place of the Frangelico.

Hard Cider

I’m looking for ideas for a hard cider.  I’ll be getting 5 gallons at an upcoming cider press event.  I haven’t made cider yet, but I understand the process quite well.  I’m thinking of making the five gallons, using EC-1118 yeast and at the end of fermentation, splitting it into separate one gallon fermenters and then adding something to four of them and leaving one plain.

So far, I’m considering the following ideas.

  • brown sugar and raisons
  • cranberry
  • make one with 1/2 gallon of pear juice and 1/2 gallon of cider
  • ginger and clove

I’m still brainstorming.  If you have any thoughts, please reply with them.