Sour help

Hi everyone, I wantI to try my hand at brewing a sour this month. I will be fermenting it in a wine cellar spontaneously with no cap on the carboy. Any suggestions or brewing tips for such a delicate stye? Probably will have about 40% unmalted wheat and the rest pilsner malt.

Sure, try to source some aged hops to help slow down the LAB that are going to be swarming in there. Our host doesn’t carry them, as far as I’m aware, but you can find them at some smaller sites.

You can get away with a single infusion mash, something hot like 158°F, but you might want to steep some flaked oats in the wort as its coming to a boil get some dextrins in there for long term flavor development.

I’d adjust the pH of the wort to 4.5 before you leave it out to keep the nasties from growing in there before the right yeasts and bacteria to get to work.

Sounds like a fun project! If you can, you might want to leave the wort in your kettle for up to 24 hours in the location that you want to catch the yeast, to get some more in there. Also, you might want to catch some yeast with starter wort in a jar to increase your chances of success.

Some good advice thanks.

You might want to try this first to see what kind of wild yeast you have down there. I would hate for you to brew a whole batch only to find out the wild yeast is no good.

Absolutely. The safest way to try to “spontaneously” ferment is to put a small culture in that cellar, see what grows, and how it tastes. If it’s good you can propagate it up and pitch into your beer.

I’ve been thinking of this a lot lately. I like the idea of catching the yeast and bacteria in a starter culture, but the problem with doing this is that you’re missing the microbial progression that occurs in a traditional lambic. Specifically, you’re missing the enteric bacteria phase that creates some by-products that the brett eventually metabolize into other compounds, such as isovaleric acid. Of course the lambic producers are largely relying on the resident cultures living in their breweries and barrels, so it’s not truly spontaneous.

I haven’t tried this yet, but my “new and improved” idea for spontaneous fermentation is to capture the resident yeast in some starter, and propagate up to a useable quantity. Hopefully this selects for some sacch strains that can do the primary ferment. Then, brew the wort as normal, set the pot in the desired location overnight to catch whatever local microbes are present. Transfer to carboy, and give it a few days to a week for enteric bacteria to do their work. Then pitch the captured yeast culture and let it go to town.

My $.02. I’ll be trying it this fall once the weather cools down a little, but it seems to me as a more reliable way to “spontaneously” ferment a beer without leaving everything up to chance. I think it’s slightly closer to simulating how things are done in a lambic brewery, where the inoculated beer is being transferred into a fermenter with a known microbial colony.

Exactly right. The bugs that make lambic what it is are all over everything in a lambic brewery. It’s like the European wineries that used to (a few still do) practice spontaneous fermentation. It just so happens that optimal yeast cultures cover everything in the winery, not to mention the vineyards. A few hundred years of effort can make “spontaneous” work amazingly well.

Unfortunately I don’t have that kind of time! :lol:

The kicker is that even pitching dregs from your favorite lambic won’t do much to recreate it, because a lot of the bugs and sacch that were active in the first month or so of fermentation are long since dead, so nothing is going to create the precursors that allow the beer to taste the way it does after two years in the bottle.

Seeking out a yeast lab that sells an isolate of your favorite sour isn’t going to solve it, either, because what about the other 5,000 microbes in there that played a part in making the beer?

But do whatever you can do to increase success, such as capturing some promising yeast in a jar of wort. By all means, leave the wort out in the open to catch as many microbes as possible, let them have their way for a bit, and then dump in your captured culture. Then wait. Chances are, you won’t wait a year only to find out you have a dumper.

Looking at the big picture here, trying to do spontaneous fermentation is a really difficult way to try and make your first sour beer.

Check out Milk the Funk:

We’ve followed a few of the ideas on here… once you get your process under way, you can turn sours around in a few weeks. Good luck!

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you’re painting all sours with too broad of a brush. Yes, you can turn around a simple kettle sour or lacto-based beer in a couple of weeks, but a kettle sour is not a lambic, is not a flanders red, is not a gueuze. I love making and drinking quick soured beers, and although people like to scoff at them, they’re great for what they are.

But you can’t make a complex, balanced, nuanced sour beer in a few weeks. :shock:

OP, I agree with Wahoo, a spontaneous ferment is pretty darn ambitious. I don’t want to discourage you from trying this, as I think it’s an absolutely fantastic idea, but be prepared for it not to be great if you’re just getting started in sour beers. Make a solid, medium-to-low IBU beer, pitch some live dregs from your favorite commercial sour, and pick up a copy of American Sour Beers to read while it’s developing. :cheers:

I agree with Porkchop. Quick sour beers can be great, but they are not the same thing as an aged sour. I enjoy both, but am always amazed at how my lambic-like beers turn out. It takes them almost two years before they are ready, but there isn’t any way to get that complexity quickly.