A Wild and Crazy Brew

Generally, every summer I brew a batch of some kind of Belgian-style sour beer; while not always a Lambic per se, it’s always a chance to play around with wild yeast and/or bacteria. I have one fermenter which I only use for these brews, I don’t dare brew a “normal” beer in a vessel that has been inoculated with any variety of Brettanomyces or the like… no matter how well I clean it and sanitize it, I just don’t trust it henceforth. Same with tubing and bottling spigots – I have a set of racking canes and a second bottling bucket that I only use for the “wild” brews…

This summer I am opting to intensify my sour experience. Today I brewed the base beer for what will be a Kriek, a sour cherry-flavored ale; it is fermenting with White Labs “Belgian Sour Blend” (which contains a Brettanomyces strain, a wild Saccharomyces strain and some Lactobacillus just for fun) and an expired Wyeast Lambic Blend as well (a similar mix). In a couple months I will rack it onto a winemaker’s cherry puree and add some black cherry juice concentrate. Then I will exhibit a Belgian Monk’s patience and age it for a year before bottling it and another  couple of months before tasting it. So check back with me in about May of 2014 for the first results…

Additionally, I am planning to brew a true (well, almost) spontaneously-fermented ale in October. Talks with a few friends and a great article in the September 2012 issue of Brew Your Own convinced me that it was worth trying to see what I might be able to do with the ambient micro-flora and -fauna of my Tunbridge hilltop… so I reserved a small portion of the wort for this Kriek and set it out in a couple places to collect wild yeast etc. I will carefully select anything that seems to be fermenting on its own (and seems palatable!), build up a slurry and brew another similar beer in a couple months.  If nothing develops, well, I’ve wasted about a quart of wort. If, however, as I hope, I get a nice wild yeast sample, I may end up with a really interesting beer. Again, I won’t really know anything for a year and a half at best. Patience, grasshopper!

Smoky Creek Sour Ale – Belgian-style pseudo-lambic with fruit

5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs. Chateau Belgian Pilsner malt
  • 1 lb. Rahr white wheat malt
  • 1 lb. Rahr floor-malted wheat
  • 1 lb. Weyermann’s light wheat malt
  • 12 0z. Weyermann’s Oak-smoked wheat malt
  • 4 oz. Briess Cherrywood smoked malt
  • 1 lb. flaked wheat
  • 2 oz. 3-year old homegrown Chinook hops
  • White Labs Belgian Sour blend (WLP655)
  • Wyeast Lambic Blend (3278)
  • 8 oz. Knudsen’s Black Cherry juice concentrate
  • 3 lbs. Vintner’s Harvest Cherry Puree
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)
  • 7 g dry ale yeast (any) for bottle conditioning

Procedure:

Crush grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 164°F. Dough in grains (including the flaked wheat), hold 60 minutes at 152°F. Heat another 13 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts of sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add 2 oz. old hops, boil 60 minutes. Chill to 80°F, pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeasts and seal. Ferment 6 – 8 weeks at 65 – 70°F. Put cherries and juice in a sanitized secondary fermenter (glass carboy, preferably) and rack beer onto the fruit. Age one year (yes, one year) – check airlock regularly to be sure it does not dry out. A week before bottling time, rack to a third fermenter to get beer off the fruit solids (to allow better clarification). To bottle, add corn sugar (boiled in a cup of water) and bottling yeast, bottle and cap. Condition cool (50°F) for 6 to 8 weeks.

OG: 1054

IBU’s: irrelevant

Notes on yeast, etc.: In the past I have always done similar beers by doing the primary fermentation with a Belgian ale yeast and added the Lambic cultures with the fruit in the secondary. This is a departure for me, intended to make a much more sour and funky beer. If you don’t like the really dry/sour classic Lambic style, you can substitute almost any Belgian ale yeast in the primary…

Note on hops: This is not a hop-flavored beer. The hops are present merely for their pH and preservative values. Old stale hops, 3 or 4 years old or more, are used and the variety really doesn’t matter.

Note on smoke: Curious about the presence of 2 lbs. of smoked malts? This comes from conversations, a couple of years ago, with my friend James, a blacksmith/sculptor/artist who enjoyed smoking his own meats and vegetables. We considered trying to cold-smoke some fruit for brewing, but never got around to it before he and his wife moved to Alabama. Not being adept at cold-smoking stuff, I decided to use the smoked malts in this beer to get an idea of what might have been…

 

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