Monday, 1 September 2014

In Perpetuum: Flanders Red

For me, the end of summer is the best time to brew sour beers that will undergo an extended secondary fermentation.  It allows them to mature at cooler temperatures for most of the year before the hot and humid summer begins again.  Thankfully this summer hasn't been too hot, and judging by how they tasted when I sampled them recently, the sour beers that will be reaching the one year mark in the next few months have all managed to stay free of acetic acid and other strange flavours.

This year, instead of brewing a number of sours over a couple of months, I decided to use the Labour Day weekend to brew two double batches (i.e. 6 gallons total each) of a pale and a dark sour beer. As I've mentioned here before, while I'm generally happy doing smaller batches, three gallons of sour beer can seem like a disappointingly small pay off after waiting over a year for a beer to finish, and it leaves little scope for more interesting projects like making blended sours or using them to cut other beers.  Over the past few months I've been taking steps to increase the volume and age range of sour beers I have on hand, and doing double batches like this is a part of this process.

The dark beer I brewed was a Flanders Red, based on Jamil Zainasheff's recipe from Brewing Classic Styles.  This is the third time I've brewed this beer.  My first attempt would be two years old at this point, and might be the beer described in this post (details about why I don't know for sure are in the post!); my second is reaching the one year mark, and will be racked onto a blend of sour cherries and raspberries some time in the next month or two.  Both of those beers were fermented with Wyeast Roeselare and assorted dregs, and I was happy with the results---neither is blisteringly sour, but that suits my palate just fine.  This time I decided to try something different, so I picked up a vial of ECY02 (incidentally, its nice to see these staying available for more than a few hours at a time again---I'm sure its partly because Al is increasing production, but I can't help but think that the arrival of new companies like The Yeast Bay is also helping things here).

When the two batches have finished primary fermentation, I'll combine them into a single six gallon Better Bottle, as I did with this other pale sour.  If everything goes according to plan, I'm going to treat this as a solera as well, racking off three gallons into a smaller Better Bottle in 8-10 months and topping up with freshly fermented wort.  Hopefully I should be able to keep this going indefinitely, so that eventually I'll always have both pale and dark sours of different ages on hand.

My inspiration here is the process used at New Belgium, as described in Chapter 5 of American Sour Beers.  New Belgium brew two sour beers, nicknamed Felix and Oscar, the first pale and the second dark; these are aged in large oak foeders, and provide the base for all the sour beers that the brewery releases.  While they aren't exactly treating the foeders as a solera system, they do often leave 10-20% of a foeder full with old beer when adding fresh beer to ensure that each batch gets a good blend of bugs and bacteria.  One thing I found interesting in the chapter was the fact that they often leave larger proportions of soured beer, and have found that this decreases the time before the beer is ready for packaging.  I'll be interested to see whether brewing in a solera system at home changes the speed with which these beers mature: it would be great if, as well as increasing volume, this method also sped up production of aged sour beer.

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