Sour Beers : a realization

At the most recent meeting of my beloved brewclub: The Cabarrus Homebrewers Society (CABREW) (http://cabrew.wordpress.com/), I tasted my first homebrewed sour-brett beer. One of our members brought a bottle of his brew fermented with the Roeselare Ale Blend (Wyeast 3763)  which includes specific proportions of a Belgian style ale strain, a sherry strain, two Brettanomyces strains, a Lactobacillus culture, and a Pediococcus culture. It is a complete wild yeast and bacteria cocktail mixed up by the good folks at Wyeast Labs that produce a completely different beer than your normal run of the mill pale ale. I have to say it blew my mind! It had an excellent  light Brett funk aroma and was unlike anything I’ve ever had. It states on the Wyeast website that 18 months of aging is recommended for the flavors to fully develop but he had a great flavor only after 4 months! It had a very delectable sour tang upfront with a hint of Brett funk right at the very end of tasting. The sour and Brett flavors came together and melded so well. Almost like the two flavors were playing off of each other. I now know why so many people brew these types of beers and why they are so popular. After trying a young  4 month old beer, I can only imagine that if left to age for the full  recommended 18 months, how good it would taste.

I have been interested in tasting a sour beer for some time now and unfortunately they can be hard to find. There is a blog I regularly check out : www.themadfermentationist.com . I have been following his blog for a while now and really love the stuff he does. He brews a TON of sour and brett beers. Very good stuff. He updates constantly and has a ton of pics on every blog entry. I don’t where this guy finds the time between his brew sessions and tastings but he’s consistent at very least. He says that he usually uses a Lactobacillus-Brettanomyces blend to sour and age his brews and then updates with tasting profiles for each one. I plan to brew a sour myself however, what I want to try first is the old technique of sour mashing.

  • A little background on mash PH and acidity

When German brewers needed to drop the PH in the old days of inferior malting, they would mash in at a low temp – what was considered blood temp : 98-100 degrees F, as easy temp to check as it’s the same as the human body. Back when brewers did not have thermometers, brewers would begin their step mashes and decoctions with this step. This temperature essentially allows the natural Lactobacillus or lactic producing bacteria in the malt to become active and begin to release lactic acid which in effect drops the PH. If given long enough it will begin to sour the mash due to the addition of lactic acid introduced by the Lactobacillus. – Hence he name “sour mash“. This is a step very similar to what cheese makers do when making Mozzerela Cheese.

mozzarella Cheese is what is known as a “pulled curd” cheese. Traditionally it’s made by dropping the PH low enough in the curd in order for it to stretch and make fresh mozzarella Cheese. All “pulled curd” cheese is made this way. The key is to allow the natural Lactobacillus cultures to work on the warm milk or  to begin souring the milk. Now, when most people think of sour milk they automatically assume “bad milk”. This is completely different. If it is left to sit out at room temps …yes it will sour but in a bad way! Its the OTHER micro-organisms that are souring and in essence the milk is staring to rot. This is why ONLY FRESH MILK CAN BE USED TO MAKE CHEESE. An acid is introduced to the milk along with the rennet and is left to sit while monitoring the PH. When the PH gets to the correct acidity, cheese can be made. You can cheat and use any sort of food grade acid (citric or vinegar preferably). Or you can do it naturally ( and traditionally) with the Lactobacillus  method.  All of this factors should hold true with a sour mash. In theory, if the mash is allowed to sit, the PH should drop and begin to sour. It just depends on how fast the Lactobacillus work. At 100 degrees F it should feel right at home and comfortable to work relatively quickly. When I make home-made mozzarella it can take a few hours for the PH to drop low enough.

  • Retrospect?

 As far as doing a sour mash, I have never done one nor do I personally know anyone who has done one. I have read many articles on the subject and it does seem entirely possible. It just may take a while to complete the full brew session as completion will again depend on how fast the mash will become acidified naturally. I’ve heard of  brewers mashing overnight without any issues. However, they were doing a  regular mash conversion rest at 150 – 158 degrees as opposed to an acid rest at 100 degrees. An overnight mash schedule seems like the way to go except there will be no way to accurately monitor the PH level.

Another possibility exists. To sour a small amount of wort as opposed to a full mash seems more attainable and more time friendly. Sort of like making a sour starter to pitch into an un-soured beer. As far as the Brett goes, it will be added along with a “normal” beer yeast when the sour wort is added. That’s the plan at least for now.

I think adding a commercial sour blend maybe a fool-proof way of making a sour beer. Wyeast and White Labs both sell their own blends of these. In the future I may opt to go this route,  but for the time being try this old method of sour mashing  that the Belgian brewers perfected will be a good experience and will make for a good experiment.

 

 

 

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