Jesse Folk, one of the moderators from the Greater Cincinnati Craft Beer Society, joined me at MadTree last night with their Head of Barrel Aging, Simon Kretchik, to talk all things Funk Day 2017 (this Sunday, May 28th at 10 am). We also covered lots of great MadTree info and general sour beer info from TTA to different types of barrels!
Barrel aging beer is all the rage these days, resulting in some of the most sought after beers in America. But it’s not quite as easy as getting a barrel and dumping beer in it. Luckily, Wood & Beer: A Brewer’s Guide By Dick Cantwell & Peter Bouckaert (buy it on Amazon) is here to walk you through everything, and I mean everything, there is to learn about barrels.
[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.
Today is World Book Day. Usually, I loathe these types of events like National Sibling Day, Record Store Day, or [Insert beer style here] day. Books hold a special place in my heart, and I fear too many people lack reverence for the written word. I decided long ago to make talking about books a part of this blog, so I’m pulling eight great alcohol books for you to pick up and start reading on World Book Day!
American Sour Beers is a new book coming out next week from the premier sour homebrew blogger, Michael Tonsmeire. Michael began the road to this book with his blog The Mad Fermentationist. I was constantly referred to his blog when I began looking into brewing my first sour. He’s had one of the best blogs about all things sour for years, so I’m very excited for this book.
Here’s the publisher’s blurb with my thoughts after the jump:
One of the most exciting and dynamic segments of today’s craft brewing scene , American-brewed sour beers are designed intentionally to be tart and may be inoculated with souring bacteria, fermented with wild yeast or fruit, aged in barrels or blended with younger beer. Craft brewers and homebrewers have adapted traditional European techniques to create some of the world’s most distinctive and experimental styles. This book details the wide array of processes and ingredients in American sour beer production, with actionable advice for each stage of the process. Inspiration, education and practical applications for brewers of all levels are provided by some of the country’s best known sour beer brewers.
Yesterday Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery had one of their bottle releases and I finally made the trip over to Athens to check it out. Luckily I was also able to talk to head brewer Brad Clark for a few minutes about the process. First a bit about Jackie O’s. There was originally a small brewpub in Athens named O’Hooley’s that went under and was resurrected as Jackie O’s in 2005. For the past 8 years they’ve been serving the students of OU fantastic draft beers and for the past 5 they’ve been doing these bottle releases 3 to 4 times a year.
Starting last August new cans of their beer started to appear across Ohio. Mystic Mama, Firefly, Chomolungma, and Hop Ryot (just released last week) are all delicious beers and will soon be joined by cans of Razz Wheat. However these beers only represent the tip of the iceberg of awesome that is Jackie O’s beer.
The next level of that iceberg can sometimes be found on draft around Cincinnati but is mainly only available on draft at Jackie O’s brew pub and public house (a restaurant right next to the brew pub). These bottle releases reveal a large chunk of their awesomeness with amazing sours and astounding barrel aging.
I love sour beers, and I love homebrewing. Makes sense that I’d combine the two and brew some sour beers, right? It sounded so simple.
The third beer I ever brewed was a sour beer. I brewed it in the summer of 2011 and bottled it in February of 2013. I had almost no idea what I was doing. Over that time I’ve done many things: I brewed a bunch of other beers (sours included), read almost 100 books, my wife and I renovated our first house, we had a beautiful baby girl, and I learned many, many things about what to do and not to do while brewing sour beers. I just bottled my second sour (a sour blonde with Sauvignon Blanc grapes added while aging) and I figured this was about as good a time as any to put some of this stuff down on paper. It isn’t exhaustive or anything; just stuff that has been bouncing around in my head.
FYI: A much more comprehensive and knowledgeable brain dump on sours is at The Mad Fermentationist. That site has been the single most useful source of information regarding brewing sours that I have found.
1. Be patient
Brewing a sour is different than brewing almost anything else, at least regarding the time commitment. You’re looking at a year plus before you have something even remotely close to bottle. Leave your beer alone and don’t take gravity/tasting samples every week or even every month. You won’t be able to tell much of a difference between these samples if they’re too frequent, plus you introduce additional and vinegar-inducing oxygen. In the early stages, it’s probably going to taste horrible anyways, and you’re going to get freaked out. Just leave it alone. My rule now is to leave a new batch alone for six months before testing gravity and tasting. At that point, you should get a good idea as to what you’re getting into and what you’d like to add in terms of bottle dregs, fruit, oak, etc.
2. Keep your airlocks topped off
Oxygen allows acetobacter to turn beer into vinegar. You don’t want to find out that the beer you waited on for a year isn’t drinkable just because you did something silly like not keep your airlock full of fluid.
3. Commercial cultures are only a base to build upon
Wyeast and White Labs both carry some cultures which contain everything you need to brew a sour beer. Wyeast Lambic blend, for instance, contains a Belgian style ale strain, two Brettanomyces strains, a sherry strain, and all the other bacteria typically needed to brew sour beer are all included in one package. These cultures will create a perfectly acceptable sour beer, but one without a ton of complexity or variation. The fun in brewing sours is the use of bottle dregs. By adding the dregs of a few of your favorite sours during fermentation, you can add an “oomph” in terms of both additional sourness and complexity. With my first sour, I added dregs from pretty much everything under the sun. With my second, I maintained a tad bit more discipline and kept it to two: Cantillon Fou Foune and Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. I liked the characteristics of both of those beers and wanted them, and only them, in mine.
4. Get a cycle going
A year is a long time, yes, but it seems like less if you know you don’t have to wait another year to bottle another batch. By brewing a new sour every 3-4 months, once that first year is over, you should have a pretty solid backlog of beers going. You also have the added bonus of being able to pitch a new batch onto the cake of a freshly-bottled batch to make things simpler/cheaper. I’m still working on this one.
5. Re-yeast at bottling
Traditional unblended lambics are mostly uncarbonated, but I don’t care for my sours this way (and I don’t brew traditional lambics anyways), so I carbonate mine. After at least a year of fermenting and aging, almost all, if not all, of the ale yeast initially pitched in the blend will be inactive, so you’re not going to get much regarding post-bottling carbonation without adding new yeast, even if you do add priming sugar. I’ve used wine or champagne yeast in the past because it’s cheap (about a $1 per pack), it doesn’t impart any flavor, and it can work in an acidic environment. I’ve used both Red Star Champagne Yeast and Lalvin EC-1118 with luck
Just a note: I don’t purport to be an expert on brewing sours or even claim to mostly know what I’m doing. I’m still learning all the time like any good homebrewer should. The world of homebrewing sours is still a very new thing, relative to homebrewing in general and there are, to quote an infamous U.S. Secretary of Defense, many “unknown uknowns”. Maybe the above will help at least one person getting into brewing sours, and that’s good enough for me.