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Brewing Sour and Wild Ales

Sure you can through a bunch of hops in a kettle but can you, dare you to brew on the wild side?

 Brewing A Wild Ale

Brewery Safety
·         Use separate sour gear for everything post ferment.
·         At the very least, use different plastic parts.
·         Brett is not as scary to deal with as Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, but still take extra care and caution with fermenters and kegs.
·         Be very careful when bottling with priming. If there's any doubt, wait longer. Remember wild yeast and bacteria can consume more sugar than regular yeast.
Common Grist Formulas
  • Lambic: 30-40% raw wheat blended with pilsner malt
  • Oud Bruin/Flemish Red: Pilsner malt mixed with Vienna, Munich, Special B, Aromatic and CaraMunich.
  • Berliner Weiss: Wheat malt and pilsner. Usually 50/50. Can also be done with the classic Hefe 60/40 ratio.
  • American Wild Ales: Domestic 2-Row and virtually any ingredient you can think of. Straight 2-Row/Pilsner not uncommon
Not a big character in these beers. For lambics, you want some of the anti-bacterial properties but none of the flavor and aroma. Aged hops are appropriate. If the shop doesn't have any, you can spread whole hops on a sheet pan and bake for 4-6 hours at 185F. Berliner Weisses carry very little hop character due to a "simmer" instead of a true boil.
Many traditional wild ales are fermented in oak barrels. As it turns out there's a good reason for this. The miniscule amounts of oxygen infusing through the barrel help keep lactobacillus and pediococcus development in check as well as lending oxidative characters to the beer. Brettanomyces loves cellobiose, a carbohydrate created by the barrel toasting process. It breaks the cellobiose down into glucose for fermentation. Fresh oak would be distracting. Boil or age the oak in liquid to remove harsh oak characters.
Food For Thought
The Lambic "Turbid" Mash  is very complex. The goal is to leave behind unconverted starch for later bacteria. Without providing future food sources, your bacteria will simply give up the ghost. Additions of food at every step are needed. Don't be surprised if it takes at least a month for your cultures to start showing any character. Optimally, you'll have six months to a year to allow these beers to bloom.
The Falcon Method For Fermenting Lambics (as taught by MB Raines)
  • Start the beer with a Saccharomyces strain. Ferment as normal.
    • For beers like Berliner Weiss with lactic acid as primary character - start with a lactic acid ferment for 2 days
  • As primary wraps up - add your Pediococcus cultures. ADD FOOD WITH THE CULTURE - FRUIT/WORT
  • When the beer smells buttery, pitch your Lactobacillus and Brett with food and wait for several months at least
a quick note. Many wild ales are blended to achieve balance. Russian River keeps a "super sour" barrel on hand for bumping up acidity levels

Know Your Souring Tools

Brettanomyces: Wild mutant yeasts that don’t quite play as well as the traditional Saccharomyces. They produce most of the "funk" character with relatively little acid production. Experiments indicate that a straight Brett-only ferment produces a cleaner, less “Bretty” beer than beers fermented with both Brett and Saccharomyces.
Grow it just like you would any other yeast.
Main Varieties:
  • B. Claussenii  ( related B. Anomolus) – English Stock Beer Origin - Softer brett – aroma contributor of pineapple, mangos. Preferred strain for straight Brett ferments due to speed - White Labs Only
  • B. Bruxellenis - Brussels - This produces a medium amount of the earthy funk associated with Brett. Primary character - sandalwood spiciness mixed with earthiness. Think Orval.
  • B. Lambicus - Every lambic - Huge brett "horsey" character with some fruitiness, smoky and sour flavors.
Lactobacillus debruckii: Produces lactic acid for a crisp dry acidity. Primary character of Berliner Weiss. Over time may produce a lightly sick beer that is ropey. With age, the ropes will dissolve. Other strains of lactobacillus produce more characters than straight lactic acid.
Not a fan of oxygenated or hopped wort - use freshly boiled wort minimize oxygen in your starter. Ferment very warm - e.g. 98F
Pediococcus: Produces tons of lactic from glucose. No CO2 production. - This stuff gives brewers nightmares. It is incredibly difficult to get established and then damn near impossible to kill off. Early stages of ferment contain a massive charge of diacetyl. This is eventually consumed and converted into less noticeable characters.
Hates Oxygen. Produces a protective ropy layer that is broken down by Brettanomyces. Always use in conjunction
  • WLP655 Belgian Sour Mix – White Labs blend of Brett, Saccharomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus.
  • Wyeast 3278 Belgian Lambic Blend - Contains Belgian-style wheat beer yeast, sherry yeast, two Brettanomyces strains and lactic acid bacteria.
  • Wyeast 3763 Roselare Blend - The mix needed for Flemish Reds and Oud Bruins. Currently seasonal, but rumor suggests its heading back into the regular production line.
Not Available But Common in Lambics
·         Acetobacter - "Vinegar Mother" - converts ethanol to acetic acid. Really only use when you're dead set on making vinegar
·         Enterobacter - yes, gut bacteria - produce some of the more bilious characters in a lambic. very small quantities.

These cultures are typically more expensive than regular yeast packs. Two bits of good news: the bacteria don't need large starters. Usually you can get away with pitching straight into 5 gallons. Second, once you've got a house blend going: keep a wild ale project in the works. With a wild homebrew, is there really much concern about drift and contamination? Restart it if you've got bad rancid flavors developing.

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