[Ed. Note: This is a guest post from Jhon Campbell a.k.a The Wandering Beerd. Jhon’s a longtime homebrewer who wants to get into blogging so I offered to help him out. For more info on anything here you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to write about beer or homebrewing then email me at Tom@QueenCityDrinks.com]
In brewing, I have found that some people put too much focus on what one can’t do and not enough focus placed on what one can do. It is through this blog that I intend to attempt to share my experimentation with all things strange and unusual. With that said let us begin our journey together with one of my recent experiments.
For a long time, I’ve experimented with bacterial fermentation in the way of Kombucha and Kefir. It is due to this that I have a lot of little jars laying around my apartment filled with strange things that, to the untrained eye, may seem a little bit like the set of a horror film.
It is because of this interest in probiotics that I found myself asking:
Hmm, I wonder what would happen if I made beer with some of this?
I’m sure that those of you lightly versed in these fermentations know that they carry Acetobacter[footnote]For those unaware, Acetobacter is one of a few microbes that make sour beers so interesting, but too much Aceto. turns sour beers into disgusting vinegar bombs[/footnote]. So, of course, using my little critter was out of the question. That didn’t mean I couldn’t find another way to skin this cat.
I’m prone to wandering the aisles of health foods stores trying to find weird things people are putting into their bodies that I could instead throw into beer. It was on one of these journeys that I found this:
This is a probiotic blend packaged in little capsules, or rather that’s what it is to the average Joe. To me the heavens opened, and the angels sang
“Put us in beer you chump.”
Who am I to deny such a thing?
My concern going into this was essentially “Is this just snake oil, Or is this Lactobacillus actually alive?” [footnote]Lacto. is another one of a few microbes that make sour beers so special[/footnote] I decided to try to grow up the cultures a bit, so I took four mason jars and filled them with 85-degree water and then proceeded to fill them with a respective eight capsules each. I let the little guys rehydrate for a moment before placing the jars in a crock pot that I plugged into a temp controller and set at 90. I allowed them to sit for 24 hours and then dumped them in beer. Or rather I should say beers as I’m about three brews in with this blend. I suppose spoiler announce that the experiment was an astounding success.
The first beer I threw at the bugs was a Berliner Weiss. I’d heard of doing kettle sours and wanted to give it a shot with this experiment. The grain bill was:
- 1lb White Wheat
- 1lb 2-row
- 1lb Flaked Barley
- 2lbs Torrified Wheat
- 2lbs Flaked Wheat
- 0 Hops (Get those Lacto. inhibiting jerks outta here!)
- Mashed at 156°
- No Boil!
I’m certain the no boil throws some of you off, but I’ve found that bugs (especially these) will eat almost anything. So the DMS[footnote]Dimethyl Sulfide aka creamed corn taste[/footnote] that one usually gets from not having a long rolling boil doesn’t get a chance to exist in your beer before being devoured by these bugs.
I will say that I heat the beer up to 190-200° for 10 minutes to kill anything foul that’s existing in the grain bed. I then cool the beer to 85-90° before adding the bugs. On this incarnation of the experiment, I sat my temp controller at 90° and let it ride for the weekend.
The beer soured down to about 3.2 pH in only a matter of 48 hours; I was very pleased. After taking these measurements, I threw in the Farmhouse Saison strain from Wyeast (3726) as well as Brett. Brux and Brett. Claussini. I then lowered the temperature to about 75-80°.
The beer attenuated down to 1.005 in a matter of days. I was pleased that the lacto calmed down pretty quickly and didn’t continue to sour as the final pH stuck around 3.2.
Appearance – Straw to pale yellow with a slight head that dissipates to a beautiful lace
Smell – Peach, pineapple, pear and mango notes with a clean wheat note
Flavor – Clean lactic sourness with notes of peach and pineapple
This beer floored me as soon as it finished. I wish I’d been more patient with it as I’m certain the Brett. character would have become pronounced over time but… I crushed the 5-gallon keg in no time as the beer was far too easy to drink and flavorful to boot.
With the success of the Berliner I had to try again so I went for a bit of a larger beer but not by much. Next up came…
The Guldan Sour
- 3lbs Pale Malt
- 3lbs Flaked Wheat
- 2lbs Flaked Barley
- 2lbs White Wheat
- .5lb Melanoidin malt
- .5lb Honey malt
- 1oz Aged hops added to the mash
- Mashed at 156°
- No boil
With the bugs, this time, I took the yeast cake from the Berliner and put it on a stir plate the night before to make sure it was active. Same as before, I heated the wort to purge it of any grain bed scum and then cooled to 90° before adding the blend to the beer. Once again the bugs soured down to 3.2 pH in 48 hours. I was happy to see it wasn’t just a fluke.
I tasted the beer before transferring it to find that it had notes of lemon orange and apricot. I thought I’d try one more new thing while I was at it and oak this one. I soaked two ounces of French oak chips in two cups of Barolo for 24 hours and then added the lot to the beer in secondary fermentation and allowed it to sit for three days.
Appearance – Gold to deep yellowish orange, Fantastic head with incredible lacing
Aroma – Oakiness, Citrus, apricot, and notes of wine
Flavor – Bright acidity with complementary notes of oak and wine with bits of orange and apricot
I highly recommend trying this if you’ve never played with things of this nature as the results have been delightful. I plan on doing this again to see if I get the same results.
What’s the next step you ask?
I enjoyed these bugs so much I’m choosing to sour a barrel from one of our local distilleries. I’m currently washing this with citric acid and potassium metabisulphite. (I can hear you all screaming that this is a waste of a barrel, but there are two barrels, one for sours and one for barrel beers so calm down.)
I intend to fill this with a Flanders Red. I’m not certain how long I will age it. I’m contemplating doing a solera project with it, but I’m not certain. I hope this entry has piqued some interest in some of you. If you’ve any questions, feel free to ask!