March 7, 2012

My new sour project

Before I get into the subject of this post, I'm happy to see that this is my 101st post on this blog. I started blogging in May of 2009 so I guess that's not really a lot of posting over almost three years but some of my early posts were really long (and admittedly, poorly written) and it took a while to learn enough to write semi-competently about homebrewing.

I also realized today of the thirteen gallons of beer fermenting/aging in my house, just one lowly gallon is neither sour nor funky. I'm not sad about that. I'm still sitting on a little over thirteen gallons of bottled beer in the house so it's nice to be able to periodically supplement my clean beers and mead with an infusion of funky or sour beer (currently about two gallons of bottled beer is lambic and about two and a half is the blended brett brown; both projects are listed to the right). I'm very excited for all these beers to be ready for consumption.

My next to most recent sour project (it's too early to write on the most recent) is a sour brown. It's not a sour brown in an oud bruin sense, it's more in line with the American-style sour browns. Like most American beers, they tend to have more complex grain bills. This beer was a good opportunity to branch out and try more specialty malts and a different technique. This project is partially a take on New Belgium's Clutch which is a blend of a sour brown (20%) and stout (80%). I really like it; it might be my favorite NB beer. Unlike Clutch, which is a higher ABV beer, both the sour and stout portions will be around 5% to make a lighter beer. I think Clutch uses an imperial stout, but I will use a Belgian stout instead.

My plan is to let the sour portion age for 9-12 months and then split the batch. Most of it will be bottled straight. A small portion will be blended with a gallon of Belgian stout to get a similar flavor profile as Clutch. I will rack out the straight sour portion, then fine with gelatin, cold crash, rack out, add campden, let sit for 24 hours, then blend in the Belgian stout and bottle. I am going to brew a separate batch of the Belgian stout in the coming months to see how it tastes. That should give me an idea of the ratio of clean to sour beer to see if an 80/20 mix is correct for my beers or if I should go more sour. I would be willing to go as far as 66/34 (1 gallon stout, 1/2 gallon sour) if the flavor is right. That would still leave half a gallon of straight sour and 1.5 gallons of blended beer. It's most important that the beer tastes right but if I end up with more sour and less blended but better tasting beer I would be happy with that as well.

Here is the recipe for the sour brown:

Grain bill:
1.25 lb pilsner malt
.25lb crystal 120
.25lb caramunich
2oz carafa III
1oz chocolate wheat

Mash at 154F for an hour. Batch Sparge

Boil 90 minutes with:
.10oz EKG[5%] at 60 minutes
.15lb table sugar at 10 minutes

One gallon post-boil volume
Est ABV: 5.49%
IBU: 8.7 (the sourness will help add balance)
SRM: 44.9
OG: 1.059

I did a primary fermentation with WLP575 to produce some good ester character. I racked off the trub. Then I added the dregs of a bottle of my lambic with Wyeast 3278 and Lindeman's Cuve Rene gueuze dregs in secondary. After a couple weeks a good pellicle started to form. I used Belgian yeast to get some ester production because brett will use those esters to develop flavor complexity. I racked off the cake because I want the beer to be sour with less funk than the lambic. Since brett will chew up the dead saccharomyces to produce really funky flavors I wanted to reduce that opportunity as much as possible. This is the same reason why flanders reds and oud bruins are usually racked to secondary before getting hit with a blend of souring critters (although the oud bruin shouldn't have any brett flavor).

Not a mind blowing beer, but there were some of new things/rare occasions about this beer. I had never used carafa malts or chocolate wheat. It had been a while since I racked a beer to secondary and there wasn't fruit involved. The last time I used dregs in a beer was when I started my lambic solera in December of 2010. It's definitely the first time I've used the dregs of my own beer to inoculate another beer.

Ideally I would like this beer to be ready for bottling around November or December for a couple of reasons. First, I think it will make an excellent winter beer. Second, come mid-December I will graduate law school and begin the terrible six week process of preparing for the bar exam. However, I would rather let this beer go 12 or even 18 months to develop a good flavor profile. I suspect it probably won't need that long because WLP575 tends to make a dry beer so there may not be a lot left to take so long to chew up and turn into a nice sour. I will probably sample around November and make the decision to either bottle or let it ride until next March (the next time I could reasonably deal with it) and sample again to see if it's ready or needs more time.


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