Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sour Update

So I have dabbled in sour beer brewing for about 7 years. I have never really made a consistent effort in the brewing of sour beers (something I think is important to do if you want to be successful) but I have brewed a batch or two a year. This includes Berliner Weisse, Gose, Flemish Sours and American Wild/Sour Ales. I have had two batches that I had to drain pour, and a couple that have been great and served to great acclaim. My first attempt just took 5th place at the San Diego County Fair, it was a 7 year old Flemish Red. I had a dark Saison get infected with my “garage” brett strain and so I decided to start adding the dregs of some of my favorite sour beers including Russian River and early batches of the Bruery beers. This beer came out wonderful after having to wait a year and a half for diacetyl to get cleaned up by the brett. I served this beer on tap at the 2011 NHC Club Night here in San Diego. It was a big hit and the keg kicked quickly. I also brewed three Berliner Weisse and two Gose that came out very tart and refreshing. I aged the Gose on Cranberries, which ended up being a great combination of flavors. As I mentioned in my last post I have been reading American Sour Beers and have been re-inspired to brew more sour beers and do it with greater purpose and consistency to build my skills and knowledge in this arena of brewing.

In the past few years I have tried to brew a Flemish Sour every two years and now I have three versions sitting in my garage. I sampled them and gave them some quick descriptives and letter grade. I have the notes below. I also tasted a few beers that I hadn’t touched in a year to see where they were in their funkification. One is a White Labs Berliner Blend and theother was a Sour Mash Berliner. My previous Berliners were using Wyeast and US 05. The other two beers were a Squash Saison brewed around the same time as the Dark Saison, which was also infected by my “garage” strain of Brett. I also added several dregs of commercial sours to this beer. It is close to 5 years old and the diacetyl hung on for dear life the past 4 years. The final beer was a 100% Brett. Anomalus from Al B at East Coast Yeast. The yeast was old at the time brewed it and although I built up a starter the beer never really came together well, lots of vinyl phenols. I remained patient and let it sit with my fingers crossed and an optimistic outlook.

Below is the breakdown of my short tasting notes and letter grades assigned to each beer. I have also noted the current treatments and thoughts about what I might do with each beer.

Flanders Batch #1 (brewed 2007). White Labs Flemish Sour Ale Blend. B- This beer is sour, not acetic, relatively one dimensional and has a significant amount of vinyl phenols. I am thinking of pitching some additional brett and fresh wort to try and convert the phenols, but maybe just more age is needed. A good beer to use in a blend in the future.

Flanders Batch #2 (brewed 2009). White Labs Flemish Sour Ale Blend. B+ This beer is super sour, has a rich balsamic vinegar quality to it. I think this would be a good acid beer to blend with a newer less acidic batch. 

Rosy Rosalare: Flemish Sour (Brewed 2011). WYeast Rosalare. B+ This beer has a nice tart flavor, with good structure that gives the beer a nice mouthfeel. It has some fruity esters that remind me of cherries. It does have some slight vinyl phenols. This has some great promise and the esters scream, add cherries. I added 2 pounds of the tartest sweet fresh cherries I could get at the farmers market and then I added 3 pounds of frozen dark tart cherries I purchased from Costco.

Lacto Berliner: (Brewed 2013) B+ Light Sourness, Plain taste, very light body. Since this beer was so mellow I decided to add 2 pounds of frozen peaches from last year. I have heard peach is the hardest of the fruits to show through in a sour, so I figured that this would be a good base beer to test out how peaches do in sour homebrews. There was some small visible signs of refermentation after I added the peaches.

Sour Mash Berliner. (Brewed 2013) B-/B Funky, Sour, some fruit, but also a substantial vomit-like aroma and flavor, although the vomit is les sin the flavor than the aroma. I have heard about this with sour mashes so even though I’m frustrated with it, I expected it. If you can get past the vomit aspects, the fruitiness and sourness are really nice. I had 3 pounds of blackberries I froze last summer that I added to the beer about two weeks ago. There was visible signs of refermentation after I added the blackberries. The vomit-like aroma has almost dissipated at this point.

Sour Squash Saison (Brewed 2008) A- Strong sour, funky, golden color. Good body and structure. Slight/balanced acetic. Could be blended or dry hopped with a fruity, tropical or citrusy hop with good results. Diacetyl has almost completely faded, but I have a larger threshold than most.

100% Brett a. (Brewed 2013) A This one was a surprise. I didn’t add any souring bugs, and it has been aging in a corny keg, but the beer came out sour, fruity, funky and a dark golden color. I came across some really great nectarines and so I figured what the heck, lets throw these in with this beer and see where it goes. I thought I would have to dump this batch 6 months ago, glad I didn’t. I added almost 8 pounds of extremely fresh and tasty nectarines to a carboy and racked the beer on top. I may dry hop as well or age on some wine soaked oak cubes.


  1. Have you done any blending of styles or batches of different ages? I have read about this being done with sours, but never tried it.

    1. I have. The Flemish sour that recently won a medal at the county fair, was a blend of an very sour flemish red and a malty old ale. I believe we did a 75% sour to 25% old ale and a 25% sour to 75% old ale. The beer with the lower ration of sour beer ended up being the bette beer. No wind you, that beer was brewed in 2006, and blended around 2009, and entered in competition in 2014. I hope to do more blending in the future with many of my batches of sour beers.