Opening a brewery takes a long time and we’re not quite patient enough to wait for our brewhouse to be installed to experiment with all of our ideas
For the past year and a half, a few select beers have been sitting in Mark’s dark cellar, maturing into some of the styles of beer that we love the most; beers that are elusive to master and hail back to brewing traditions far older than any of the lagers, stouts, and IPAs that we enjoy today. We’re beginning our journey to create sour beer, which has become the pet project of breweries around the world as they try to both emulate Lambics and Flanders Reds, as well as push the boundaries of what a beer fermented with more than just yeast can be. Knowing early on that we wanted to create wood-aged sours, we decided that we should experiment on a home-brewing scale in the same way that we’ve been testing out pale ales and saisons, allowing us to build up cultures of wild yeast and souring bacteria and become familiar with creating recipes.
What sets these beers apart from lagers and ales, besides the fermentation and aging process, is their unpredictable nature. Unlike an IPA, which would be brewed and fermented to be a singular beer, the best sour beers are actually blended from a variety of different aging beers with unique characteristics. Combining these separate beers together can allow the blender to create his ideal sour, supporting and balancing the flavors and aromas until a final beer is ready to be bottled.
Though a blender might be able to choose from (or in some cases exclude) a number of barrels, we had 4 different beers to use and wanted to keep our blending simple to get experience without too many variables.
We chose to pair two golden sours with recipes inspired by Belgian Lambic. Both beers were brewed at the same time (2/6/15) in a ten gallon batch, then fermented with different yeast and bacteria cultures separately to create two different 5 gallon beers. One beer was fermented with dregs from two fantastic golden sours along with a commercial culture (GS2), while the other started fermentation from a wild culture inoculated from the Mill’s blackberry patch (GS1). (Wild yeast can generally be found in concentration near the fruit they like to eat).
The other beer would be blended from a sour Brown (6/14/15) and a sour Red (4/30/15) inspired from the classic Flemish beers of Belgium. The Red was fermented with a mixed culture from a previous beer and the Brown was simply fermented right on top of the Red’s culture with the addition of some other wild yeasts.
Four of us got together to blend in order to make a day of it, as well as have a diverse group of palettes to give feedback. Everyone tasted the beers individually and we used tiny amounts at a time to try different ratios of each beer together until we reached our desired blends. Surprisingly (though perhaps not since we kept our blending between two beers at a time) there was a lot of consensus as to our desired ratio of beers.
The Golden Sour was great at ⅔ GS1 and ⅓ GS2, combining the fruity, tart flavors of GS1 with the more sour, but less dimensional GS2. With some leftover beer from using only a portion of the GS2, we can experiment with adding fruit or allow it to age further to blend as mature beer with the next generation of Golden Sour.
There was a little more division over the Red and Brown blends. The Red was quite sour and acidic with very fruity, red berry flavors. The Brown was a nice tart acidity with an earthy funk and a prominent aroma and flavor, which was agreed upon by everyone to be best classified as a red “tootsie-pop”, created from the chocolatey malt of the beer and the acidic fruity flavors from fermentation. The Red was definitely too acidic on its own, but had nice flavors, while the Brown could use more depth of flavor and acidity. It seemed like 65% Red and 35% Brown got a nice balance between the two beers, but after much deliberation the winning blend was a 50/50 mix of the two, bringing out the best in both individual beers and rounding out their flaws.
With the fun part over we’ve certainly learned a bit more to help us as we start experimenting with our mixed fermentation cellar. We will also be able to use these sour cultures to inoculate our future barrels in the brewery. Now we just have to physically add the beers to the right ratios and bottle them. That should take enough time for us to think of a name for these beers.