Flemish Red featuring Fruitwood Aging

An idea that I have kicked around is using fruitwood chips to “wood age” sour ales. Since White Labs just put out WLP665 the Flanders blend as platinum series, I figured what better yeast to use than a sour blend? I know that using fruit wood chips will add a stronger wood flavor faster than cubes due to the increased surface area of the chips. I am hoping by using chips that I wont have to age the beer as long on the wood to get the flavor I am looking for. This is exactly what I have stressed since the beginning…brewing to taste. This will be the only way to know when the beer needs to be moved off of the chips…when it has the right amount of wood flavor.

  • The Elegance of Cherry Wood

    Cherry wood chips

    Cherry wood chips are typically used for BBQ smokeing and grilling.

I am looking for a nice balance of wood flavor and not something that will not overwhelm the beer, but just enough to add complexity. I plan on using cherry wood chips and I’m hoping to get some of that wood fruitiness that BBQ chefs adore when cooking with cherry chips. If you have ever used cherry chips to cook with, you will know that “fruity wood” flavor I’m talking about! To compound the complexity, I also plan on toasting the chips in the oven for about 1 hours at 350 degrees. This is a variable that may need to be adjusted. It may need 2 hours depending on the level of toast I think I want  on the chips. I have read that toasted oak aging can add vanilla-like tones to the beer and that is exactly what I’m looking for with the cherry wood…complexity. Sounds tasty already!

  • WLP665 Flemish Ale Blend

First off, the backbone of this beer is the special microbial blend going into the

The most famous Flemmish Ale – Rodenbach

unfermented wort. It is a special blend of Saccharomyces yeasts, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus.  Of course the Sac yeast will be the primary fermenter, the Lacto and Pedio should add significant sourness, and the Brett will chew down the complex sugars and add its own little twist. All together they will add a complex balance that will compliment each other beautifully like a symphony! I have had EXCELLENT sour ales before that had a wonderful sourness with the right amount of funk from the Brett. Once again its a balancing act but the biggest problem is you are now attempting to taming wild yeast and bacteria! Not for the timid… but if done correctly it will pay off nicely with a great sour ale with unmatched complexity. As with any sour ale, don’t expect to drink this one in month or two. This one is a slow aged ale! An extended aging period should allow the slow-moving Brett and Lacto to chew the complex sugars and continue to add more funk and sourness. White Labs claims that this “culture creates complex, dark stone fruit characteristic” and that sounds fantastic on toasted cherry wood chips.

  • A simple recipe

The recipe I have put together is very basic with a base of pilsner with a good bit of Belgian and German crystal. I am not a huge fan of caramel/crystal malt but the dextrin they will add will feed the bugs in the long haul of aging. I have also decided to add some unmalted wheat (or spelt) to the mash as well. As shown here: https://beaconhillsbrewhouse.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/farmhouse-ales-and-brewing-with-unmalted-spelt/ …to completely convert the wheat/spelt, I would need to cereal mash. But fortunately, total conversion is not what I’m interested in! In fact the more complex chains of sugars that are left, the more food for the “bugs” and more funk and sourness….in theory.  When I get the recipe down in stone I will post it, but for now this is the plan with the pilsner base, a blend of Belgian and German crystal, and unmalted wheat/spelt. I have (amazingly), some 3yr old aged hops from my hop garden that have hung in a steeping bag in my kitchen. Funny, I’d never thought I’d use them for ANYTHING, but they never got thrown away! Seems like it worked out just fine….

  • Cherry wood preliminary run through

This past weekend I decided to give this fruitwood idea a try. I have a Saison that I brewed this past summer that was about 8% ABV. I did not plan on it being that high, but the attenuation of the WLP SaisonII was more that expected, as this was the first time that I had a chance to use that strain. It has been aging since that time and I have been on the fence about what to do with this beer. Should it be kegged, dry hopped, blended with another saison, or just let it age? Wood aging seemed like a great fit and might be a great chance to use this method.

*Note: I used about two good-sized handfuls of chips for this experiment.

This first thing I did was rinse the chips off in a colander to give them an first cleaning. The next step I used was to boil them in filtered water, to knock out some of the wood resins and dirt. The boil will keep the wood from having too much impact on the beer too quickly…they way I looked at it this was a necessary step, at least for the cleaning benefit. I boiled for about 5 minutes and then tossed the chips back into the colander to shake off the excess water. During this process I had the oven heating up to 350 F. I then spread the chips out on a flat pizza pan and put them into the oven for 15 mins. After the 15 mins the chips were now completely dry and I upped the oven temp to 400. I then put the chips back in for another 15 mins and tossed them around  for evenness. I then repeated this process another 3-4 times at 400 degrees for 15 mins each. I then added all the chips to the saison and gave the carboy a gentle swirl. I plan on waiting a few weeks before sampling the beer, as I am cautious about introducing oxygen to the beer for fear of “vingar-izing” with Acetobacter. Every time you open up the bung to sample, you risk the chance of introducing oxygen…this is a bad thing, trust me!

I plan on brewing the Flanders very soon. (When time permits of course!) This idea opens up quite a few “outside the box” ideas as far as types of woods are concerned. As any BBQ guy will tell you, use hardwoods only! Softwoods like pine and fir are absolutely no good and will taste BAD! Oak, Hickory (not appealing IMO),  any fruitwoods and nut trees will suffice quite well, (think pecan wood!) Hmm…all those possibilities…


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