The beer market is really changing in northern Virginia. When I first opened, I used to brew a brett brux pale ale frequently. People would ask me if my name was Brett, or would comment on the odd taste. I put my first true sour on, a wonderful, very tart tripel with roeselare yeast aged a year, to pretty tepid response.
Consequently, I gave up on sours for a while. However, I did manage to score some East Coast Yeast Bugfarm Blend, a very cool sour blend with over a dozen brett strains. I went to work on a sour red that I stuck in neutral storage for a while.
As our two year anniversary approached, more and more people were asking about the sour. I decided I might as well put it on for the anniversary party, after a year and a half of aging. The beer had turned out rather nice; it was lacking a bit in acidity but had a terrifically complex brett flavor. It turned out to be a very big hit! I was surprised at how much more accepting and interested people were in the beer. Furthermore, a lot of people appreciated the restrained sourness.
I had previous put out a well-received sour, a really nice kettle-soured Berliner weisse with sweet orange peel called Weisse City. The weisse was super-clean, though, with no brett funkiness whatsoever. People really liked it. But are people ready for the spiky, wild, gaminess of a brettanomyces-brew?
I think so. That’s why I’m going to start offering a rotating sour beer year-round. The beer will be a mixed fermentation lacto and brett, similar to Crooked Stave’s beers, that has a one month tank time. In addition, now that I have a good source for local produce, I’ll be going very heavy on the fruit in a lot of beers. I have some experience doing this back when I was homebrewing–my sour brett brux brown with raspberries remains one of my favorites I’ve ever made. The criticism of fast, lacto-based sours is that they lack complexity, but with brett and fruit, you can make sure they taste three dimensional. In addition, the sours we are going to offer won’t be super sour, so they will be more accessible and have some malty complexity.
Now, on to the fun parts: the gear and the process. The equipment part of this was a bit of a challenge. To keep this program running, I needed cheap fermenters, brett yeast, and lacto.
For fermenters, I went with Speidel 60 L plastic fermenters. If you’re unfamiliar with my setup, I have a 1.5 BBL electric system and some Stout conicals that I use to brew most of the beer. I also have a 15 gallon keggle and jet-burner with a cooler mash tun and two SS Brewtech stainless conicals that I use to brew test batches alongside the main brew during brew days. I absolutely cannot afford any cross contamination with my fermenters or diaphragm pumps that I use for kegging, so I needed some separate gear for the sours. The Speidels were a logical choice: heavy HDPE plastic that won’t scratch, wide mouth for adding fruit, and cheap price. Normally, I keg under CO2 pressure with my stainless conicals so there is no exposure to oxygen, but brett is an oxidative yeast, and I feel pretty comfortable racking via gravity into cornelius-style kegs and then purging with CO2. This also allows me to use the big stack of cornies that have been gathering dust in my garage, and not cross-contaminate my sankes.
The next challenge was the yeast. I’ll be using brett brux as my house brett strain. To maintain a constant population, I got another 5000 ml flask. I made a starter with about 20% maltodextrin and 80% DME. The brett should be able to hang out for a while on my badass stirplate chewing on the maltodextrin. Three days before pitching time, I’ll pour off a portion of the starter into a mason jar and pop it into the refrigerator. Then I’ll pull it out, decant, and let it warm to room temperature during the brew day, and then pitch. Afterwards, I’ll replace the lost starter volume with fresh wort. It will take some trial and error to get the right population, but the best I can achieve without a lab is a good estimate based on volume.
Brett is only part of the fermentation, however. Lacto needs to be maintained. To accomplish this, I’ll be using a trick that a fellow brewer at one of my favorite breweries taught me. Two words: fage yogurt. Yep. Take one spoonful and pop it in a 2000 ml flask of unhopped starter wort. Let it sit at 100 degrees in a warm water bath heated by a small aquarium pump. Refrigerate, decant, and pitch. Cost for a pitch: less than $2.
Both the brett and the lacto will be pitched at the same time. The beer will be cooled to 90 degrees, which should give the lacto a comfortable start. Brett does quite well at 80-85, so as the beer sits and ferments at room temperature, the brett will naturally overtake the lacto. In addition, the oxidative brett should help keep the lacto from working with O2 and producing butyric acid.
The last key to the fermentation is this: after two weeks fermentation time, I’ll pitch some belle saison yeast. Belle saison is a dry equivalent of French saison. It tolerates high levels of alcohol and low P.H. and has an extremely high attenuation. It is a great way to finish off brett beers in a timely fashion, since brett is a sluggish primary fermenter.
The sours I plan on making will only clock in at 8 IBUs, so I am hoping this fermentation plan achieves the right level of sourness. If the lacto doesn’t do it’s job, I will use food-grade lactic acid to add some tartness. If the lacto does too good of a job (which I doubt) I will cut back on the pitching rate next time.
So there you have probably my most technical, geeky post I’ve ever written. I’m sure this process will take some trial and error, but the great thing about it is that it does things the way I try to do everything: effective and cheap, using the limited resources I have access to. If I get this down, I can use the same approach when we expand to our bigger location.
The four sours I will be releasing are:
Altruism: sour quad with wineberries
Nepotism: sour golden strong with apricots
Agathism: cherry kriek
Barbarism: sour triple IPA
On a final note, here’s the first recipe that I plan to try:
30 lbs pilsner
6 lbs D-180 candi syrup
2 lbs C-40
2 lbs aromatic
1 lb special B
0.25 lbs chocolate malt (300 l)
0.75 ounces Galena (11.4 AA) @ 60 minutes
4 lbs wineberries, frozen and thawed, added to fermenter on day four of fermentation.