Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wild/Sour/Funky Processes

I've been studying different types of wild beers a lot recently but am yet to have committed to brewing one or what style I want to start with.  I am by no means an expert having tasted only a few and brewed none, but this seems like a good place to compile some of the research I have done.

I wish there were a better term than "wild" (as a true wild beer would, in my mind, refer to one made with local, self caught yeast) but many beers are often called wild because they use living components other than traditional brewers yeast (Saccharomyces) and are typically made with Brettanomyces (so called "wild" yeast) and potentially bacteria (notably Lactobacillus and Pediococcus) or because they share traits with beers which do have these microorganisms.  There are many variations on what a "sour" or "funky" or "wild" beer is and for the sake of this article I will simply call them all "wild" as not all the beers I am referring to taste sour and many (even some made with Brettanomyces) do not taste "funky", while some beers that do not contain these traditional organisms (or acids) can taste sour or funky. While there are some classic styles known for their sour or funky qualities there are many wild beers being made today (and traditionally) which do not fall into easily defined categories. Instead of talking about styles I just wish to write about some methods of creating these types of beers that are commonly employed:

1. Adding (lactic) acid: Adding acid, usually lactic though I suppose others (malic or acetic for example) could be used, seems to be the least "craft" method of making a sour and might feel more like an industrial process or even "cheating" to some people.  This is utilized by brewers sometimes alone or in combination with other methods to create a sour beer.  As it sounds this process simply uses food grade acid, which can be added to the mash to lower pH or can be added at other stages for sour beers.

2. Sour Mash: A sour mash is achieved by adding raw grain to wort which has not had yeast added to it.  The grain is covered in Lactobacillus (among other things) causing a quick souring of the beer.  This can also be achieved, among other ways, by adding cultured Lacto. or with a yogurt culture.  Brewer's utilizing this method typically hold the Lactobacillus innoculated wort at a warm but not hot temperature then add to the mash of the final beer to heat the wort after a few days of souring to kill any yeast and bugs and stabilize the sourness level.  Anywhere from 10% to 100% of the wort can be soured in this manner, giving varied results.

3. Sour Malt: Sour malt, also known as sauermalz and acidulated malt, is a malt which is covered with lactic acid, hence lowering the pH of a beer it is mashed in.  This can be used in non-sour type beers to slightly adjust the pH, as the sole provider of sourness if used in large amounts, or in combination with other methods to form sour beer.  In most respects this process isn't much different from adding straight lactic acid in the end.

4. Pitching Brettanomyces without Saccharomyces: This process can be done with Brettanomyces as the sole yeast in which case a subtle fruity yeast character with flavors closer to a beer brewed without "wild" ingredients is produced.

5. Pitching bacteria (Lactobacillus) without Saccharomyces: This process is utilized sometimes by select craft breweries and homebrewers.  This is most commonly used in small beers, most notably some Berliner Weisses. This method needs specialized (heterofermentative) bacteria which produce both lactic acid and alcohol and can survive conditions enough to fully attenuate the beer themselves.

6. Pitching in addition to Saccharomyces: This is the most traditional and probably the most common method of sour productions and is typically used to make all 6 of the BJCP approved sour styles.  Whether added in primary or secondary (or traditionally as ambient yeast which are in the air/wood/fruit added to the beer) the idea here is typically to have the Sacc utilize simple sugars while Bugs and/or Brett work on more complex sugars and other side components to generate strong flavors ranging from tropical fruit, horse, goat and farmyard funk characteristics found derived from Brett to the tart and tangy flavors from Lacto to the biting, vinegary qualities from Acetobacter.

Hopefully I will soon have ventured into the world of funky and sour beers as I recently bought two yeast packages which come with additions to sacc:

White Labs American Farmhouse: A proprietary blend of belgian yeast and brett.  I hope to make a brett saison somewhat similar to Goose Island's Sophie.

Roeselare Blend: This is essentially a lambic blend with various lacto and brett strains in addition to sacc. I plan to brew a sour brown ale with this pack, allowing it to age for upwards of a year.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Rough Day

Well today was a rough day for me beer wise. After working my 9 to 5 I went to move half my hefeweizen onto limeade only to realize that my siphoning tube was dirty.  In addition to this the bottles that I thought I had clean to bottle the other half into were at least somewhat dirty and most of the other bottles sitting around had mold in them.  I dropped my hydrometer case with beer and hydrometer in it (the hydrometer didn't break but the beer went all over) and it took me over half an hour to clean residual krausen gunk out of my better bottle.  Like I said, it was rough day for me beer wise and I hope that I'm still able to bottle half the batch, rack the other half and brew up a smoked porter this weekend without too much more difficulty.  Some times this hobby is just doing dishes...dishes that never want to come clean and when dirty will ruin all your other hard work.

At least I finally made some updates to my blog and can enjoy some older homebrews while I do so.

Hoppy Black Saison Recipe and Tasting #1 (and only)

I brewed up my first Hoppy Black Saison at the end of March.  The recipe was intended to combine two styles I greatly enjoy: Saison and Black IPA.  It was also intended to be a simple extract recipe using up some of the grains I had sitting around.  I should note that part of the reason this took me so long to write is that every time I sit down to do a tasting of these I've suddenly drank 3 or 4 and am in no state to write about them.

Appearance- Extremely dark brown, usually looking opaque and black but in thinner glasses/sections a bit of light shines through.  It pours with an off white medium thick head of about half an inch.  Really the right look for a black IPA.

Smell- The first thing that hits is a clean citrus with notes of earth, coffee, chocolate and smoke underneath.  Again this one is right where I would like it to be. Good start.

Taste- Again the first thing to come through is a fruity citrus flavor that seems to be equal parts hops and yeast derivatives (and maybe a touch of the orange peel I used) and the slight funky earthiness I associate with saisons. This is followed with roast, black cherries and pit fruits with a sweet and chocolaty middle that seems to come from the porter-esque ingredients and the Special B.  The finish is just bitter enough (seemingly coming from both the roasted barley and the hops) to balance this sweetness but doesn't meet anywhere near IPA levels (though it does seem on par with some of my favorite black IPA's).  There is occasionally a black pepper like sensation but only just enough to make me search for it.

Mouthfeel- Crisp carbonation with medium body puts this one a bit on the heavier side of IPA's and certainly Saisons but still thinner than most porters.  I may like the attenuation to finish a bit higher but honestly it goes down well as is.

Drinkability/Overall- This is the best beer I've ever made and one of the most drinkable I've ever had.  The complexity of hop/yeast/roast is really intriguing but none of it is overpowering, the elements all play very well together.  This beer began as an attempt to use up some grains and try to make something really out of the box, both were achieved magnificently.  Like the dark saison reviews I've seen on The Mad Fermentationist  there is really so much going on that it is hard to tell where exactly each element arrives from (is the citrus from the orange peel, hops or yeast? The cherry/dried fruit flavor from Special B, yeast or a combination of thing?) which makes it really exciting to me. This one is already gone (I went to grab one on 4th of July and got pretty sad when I noticed there weren't any left) and will be a beer that I will DEFINITELY be brewing again.