Saturday, 17 May 2014

Quick Sour? Lacto and Brett Cherry Brown

IMG_1771[1]This is a post about an couple of experimental beers I brewed a few months before starting this blog.  I’ve made a number of berliner weisses with just lactobacillus and brett trois, and found that the combination works quite well, producing a tart and refreshing beer in a relatively short time frame.  After finishing fermentation on my last berliner weisse, I got to wondering if the same combination might work well to produce other “quick” sour beers. 

Chad Yakobson found that pre-souring wort with lactic acid increased attenuation with the strains he was using, so I thought that perhaps co-pitching lactobacillus with brett might have the same effect, as the LAB would initially out-compete the brett and produce plenty of lactic acid to lower the pH.  Based on this,  I was hoping for a dry and cleanly sour beer with at least some aromatic complexity, turned around in a month or two, and brewed in full knowledge that it might be quite one-dimensional.  It seems that some breweries manage to make interesting and complex sour beers with just lactobacillus (e.g. people speak very highly of Cascade Brewing), but even these breweries still age their beer in barrels for up to two years.  So one thing to stress at the outset here is that there are no shortcuts to great sour beers: the aim was to produce something tart and refreshing in a relatively short time frame.

For my first attempt, I took Jamil Zainisheff’s recipe for an English Southern Brown ale---a sweet, low gravity beer with lots of crystal malt---and pitched some of the yeast cake from an earlier berliner weisse into it.  I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking here: I knew that the brett would probably eat through all of the dextrins from the caramel malt, leaving a pretty thin beer, but for whatever reason I didn’t take any other steps to build in some body and mouthfeel.  Predictably enough, the final beer ended up very thin and one dimensional, lacking a lot of the flavours that come with the caramel malts.  Nevertheless I went ahead and put it in secondary with some canned sour cherries and American oak, and its still sitting there now.  My plan now is to blend it with another dark beer once I get grain from the group buy, one brewed to be dry but with a full mouthfeel: I’ll probably use Wyeast 3711, because it is highly attenuative but also likely to create a lot of glycerol, which should help the perception of thinness.

Anyway, learning my lesson from this first beer I came up with another recipe that was a little different.  This time I added around 9% Golden Naked Oats, to make sure the beer had some body.  I also used a pack of D90 Belgian Candi Syrup, hoping that the flavours might carry through even after all the sugar was fermented out (the crystal malts in the first attempt were not very present in the flavour of the final beer).

At around 3 months old, the result is about what I expected. Its a little one dimensional, and certainly wouldn’t bear comparison to a real Flanders Brown.  But it is very drinkable and refreshing, something that would go down quickly on a hot summer’s day.  In hindsight I wish I’d kept the gravity lower on this one, as I did with my first attempt, because at 5.9% its a little strong for how easy it is to drink (in fact, looking at my original recipe it would have been even stronger if I hadn’t had efficiency issues).  The oats gave it a bit more body, and the sugar, while subtle, is definitely there in the background.

I think there’s an important lesson here for people new to brewing sours: its really not that hard to brew a sour beer.  In fact, you can do it pretty quickly if you create the right environment and pitch the right organisms.  But that isn’t necessarily the only thing you want, and it certainly isn’t the only thing to look for as your beer matures.  These beers can get sour very quickly, but with that comes a very simple and straight-forward flavour profile.  Patience really is the only way to get something more interesting.

IMG_1763[1]Appearance: Reddish-brown in the glass, deep red when held up to the light.  Small head dissipates quickly.

Smell: Cherries most prominent, and hints of other dark fruits.

Taste: Sourness first: not puckering, but certainly more than tart.  Cherries again, and a suggestion of chocolate.  Some breadiness.  Bright and clean, not especially complex.

Mouthfeel: Low carbonation, which is what I was aiming for.  Slight slickness from the oats---definitely not thin.  Lingering tannic dryness along tongue and at back of throat from oak; builds as you make your way down the glass.

Drinkability & Notes:  I think this was a successful experiment, though not necessarily one I’d repeat.  Its a refreshing beer, and with the oak and the cherries, perhaps more complex than I’m giving it credit for.  I gave some to a friend who hadn’t drank many sour beers, and he seemed to really enjoy it. 

Measured O.G. 1.049    
Measured F.G. 1.004    
ABV. 5.9%    
Mash: 150°F    
47.3% 2 Row      
24.5% Vienna      
9.1% Golden Naked Oats      
3.3% Pale Chocolate      
1.8% Midnight Wheat      
13.9% D90 Candi Syrup      
Crystal 60 8.8 IBUs (10g @4.29%)
Brett Trois (WLP 644)      
4 cans sour cherries (secondary) 12g American Oak Cubes    


  1. Good stuff. I discovered the almost useless nature of crystal malts in sours the hard way as well. I ended up blending the beer with a clean beer to add the body back. Oh well, lesson learned. =)

    1. I think I watched that video. Did you stop refermentation by cooling it? I'm planning to brew something pretty dry but hopefully with a bit of body and sweetness from yeast and adjuncts.

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  3. Reading this a little bit late, but did you ever measure pH on this? I have a similar experiment going with more a lambic grain bill that dropped to a 3.4 pH before I pitched the Trois.

    1. I didn't have a pH meter when I brewed this; it didn't get super sour because I pitched the lactobacillus and yeast at the same time, I'd guess it was around 3.5 or 3.6.