Yeast Gone Wild!!

Well bacteria too…

This will be my first attempt at brewing a wild or sour ale. Its a style that I have never tried before because, frankly, I wasn’t sure exactly how to brew it. The defining characteristic of the brew is a sourness that can be either soft or harsh depending on the style of sour ale. They can be pale, red, or dark but all are fermented with different strains of yeast and bacteria (yes I said it – bacteria!). Many of these beers are reminiscent of a good wine.

I got the inspiration from drinking a few good wild ales, such as Russian River’s Supplication, Consecration, or Captain Lawrence’s Cuvee de Castleton, but what really drove me to make this beer was reading Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewer’s Yeast by Jeff Sparrow.

The author relies on his experience touring old world breweries among the French and Belgian countryside. There are many types of wild/sour ales but the one I will be brewing is called a Flanders Red ale. Called the “Burgundy of Belgium”, this brew is reddish brown to a deep red in color and should be clear in the glass. The beer is naturally carbonated, withstands a decent head with good retention, and has fruity notes – plum, orange, red currants. Bitterness from hops should be low allowing for some sweetness to pull through. The defining taste, however, should be a bright and tart acidity that should be refreshing on the palate.

Another source of practical information specifically for the homebrewer is the Mad Fermentationist homebrewing blog. This guy has brewed numerous types of wild ales including Kvass, lambics, Old ales, and other funky concoctions. Definitely worth the read.

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To achieve this acidity, bacteria and yeast (bugs) other than brewers yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) are employed in the brewing process. The bugs necessary to pleasantly sour a beer are found in barrels and is why most sour ales are aged in oak barrels for an extended period of time. I’ll quickly list and describe the bugs I’ll be using for my beer:

Brettanomyces bruxellenis: Fermentation by this yeast is considered a fault by most wine-makers, but not brewers. It produces a “funkiness” in the nose that is described as hay-like, horse blanket, and barnyard. It can also produce a decent amount of acetic acid as well.

Brettanomyces claussenii: Similar to bruxellenis but is milder. It produces a lot of fruity notes such as pineapple and pear.

Pediococcus: This bacteria competes with yeast later in fermentation to produce lactic acid. It can also produce diacetyl which is reminiscent of butterscotch.

Lactobacillus: This is a gram-positive bacteria that is obligatively homofermentative, or produces just lactic acid from the metabolism of sugars.

Major yeast companies, such as Wyeast and White labs, have combined these microbes and mass produced them for the availability of homebrewers. It is interesting to note that each one produces a specific flavor, and often what the brewer seeks is a harmonious blend.

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Now on to the beer (six gallon recipe):
  • 8 pounds of Munich Malt (10L)
  • 5 pounds of Vienna Malt (5-6L)
  • 2 pounds of flaked corn
  • 0.5 pound of Caravienne (20L)
  • 0.5 pound of Carahell (10L)
  • 0.5 pound of Caramunich III (53L)
  • 0.3 pound of Special B (150L)

Mashed grist at 157°F for 50 minutes. This high temperature will make a dextrinous wort and will leave plenty of sugars for the bugs to chew on. Mashed out at 168°F and sparged as usual. Collected 7.3 gallons of 1.058 wort.

Boiled for one hour with the following additions:

  • 0.5 oz of Czech Saaz at 60 minutes (~ 5 IBUs)
  • Whirlfloc tablet (15 minutes)
  • Wyeast nutriet (15 minutes)

Cooled to 64°F by whirlpooling with my wort chiller and oxygenated for one minute.

Pitched 2 packets of Wyeast Roselare Ale Blend 3763. In addition to the above mentioned critters, this smack pack also has a Belgian yeast strain and a Sherry yeast. Some brewers will first pitch a regular yeast strain to ferment most of the beer and add the bugs later. After reading many homebrewing sources, this method tends not to produce a very sour beer so I pitched everything at the beginning.

For extra complexity, I also tossed in the dregs from a bottle of Supplication. Using the dregs from commercial bottles is another trick in the homebrewers arsenal since these bottles have live wild yeast that will help ferment the beer. Hopefully this will impart some Russian River magic on my homebrew.

Sour ales require extended aging to acquire a complex sourness. This beer will be no exception and the batch will be split into two 3 gallon carboys and aged for 12-18 months. One batch will be re-fermented with farm fresh cherries and aged on oak to get closer to an authentic West Flanders Red ale.

OG: 1.078

IBU: 5 (Tinseth)

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5/17/11:  Checked carboys and one (better bottle) has a clear pellicle while the glass one does not. Suggests that more oxygen is getting into the better and accelerating Brett growth.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Yeast Gone Wild!!

  1. looks good! The last time I did something similar (it was more an Oud Bruin than a flanders red) I started with T-58 yeast before adding the bugs… but next time I will add the bugs right at the start. Definitely the way to go.

    On a similar note, another route could be something I am going to try in a few weeks. A split ferment where one portion (85% maybe?) gets only Brett, and the remaining portion gets only lacto. Then blend to taste and bulk age. You could add complexity by then adding in other bugs if you want. My thinking is that you may be able to better control the sourness level and maybe even speed up the process (big maybe).

    • Hi Philip, just read your most recent blog post and sour mashing definitely another way to go. Keep me posted on the 100% Brett brew.

      Yeah, I like the idea of a split batch like you mention. I assume that one gets the complexity of multiple sour flavors from the blending aspect.

      Definitely can control the sourness level, but I don’t think the process will be quickened. Seems to me that sour ales just needs loads of time.

      I think my next wild ale will be similar to what you are currently brewing, a Brett only belgian pale ale.

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  5. What’s the latest with these? Very interested.

    • Currently sitting in secondary with an awesome looking pellicle. 😉

      Right now the beer is not yet a year old. I will sample it when that time comes and take a gravity reading.

      J

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  7. themadfermentalist

    It’s 2013, we need an update on this wonderful science.

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