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…

 

Fruit beers…

When the craft brew and micro-brew boom was launched in the 80’s, one of the outcomes, for better or for worse, was the new-found enthusiasm for adding unusual ingredients to brews, experimenting with spices, fruits and other foods. Some new brews were based on long-standing traditions, others were, in fact, direct revivals of older styles gone more or less extinct. Still others, however, were brand new ideas, products of (in my opinion) brewers with too much time to think, too much freedom to experiment.

I’m not really serious, there is no doubt in my mind that every idea deserves a shot. But. Some ideas only deserve one shot and should not be repeated, once they have been tried “for the sake of trying”…

So on to fruit beers. There are of course many traditional beers brewed with fruit. Most of them come from Belgium, and most of the Belgian fruit beers are sour, brewed as lambic-style ales or Flanders Reds. There are traditions of using Damson plums, raspberries, even strawberries, in England, but they are rare. At a guess, more than half the fruit beers brewed in the world today are made by US craft and micro-brewers. I have had beers made with cherry, apricot, peach, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, kiwi, grape, rhubarb, melon, banana, plum, passionfruit, guava, grapefruit, tangerine, cranberry, elderberry, apple, mango… I have tried to make some version of many of them as well… Some have been excellent, some only so-so, some… well, some should never have been tried.

The one fruit that I get consistently pleasing results with is cherry. I’ll admit that it is my favorite fruit flavor, although not my favorite fruit to eat. I do make an annual batch of lambic, which I divide between cherries, blackberries and apples, usually. I always enjoy the cherry (“kriek”) best. Among commercial fruit brews, I tend to prefer cherry to anything else as well, even Sam Adams’ Cherry Wheat (which I know makes many people, including my daughter, cringe…).

I got it in my head a couple weeks ago that a light cherry-flavored wheat beer would be a perfect summer beer. Today, two days after a weird spring snowstorm that left anywhere from 3 to 20 inches on the ground in parts of Vermont, I brewed my first summer beer.

Cherry Wheat Ale
5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs. lager malt
  • 3 lbs. malted wheat
  • 1 lb. cara-wheat malt
  • 1 oz. Willamette hop pellets (5.8% aa)
  • 1 oz. Tettnang hop pellets (5% aa)
  • Nottingham dry ale yeast
  • 2 bottles (8 oz. each) Knudsen’s Black Cherry Juice concentrate
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:

Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 162°F. Mash in grains, hold 60 minutes at 150°F. Heat 15 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge, collect 26 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil, add Willamette hop pellets. Boil 30 minutes, add Tettnang hop pellets. Boil 30 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading, then pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing to aerate well. Add first 8 oz. bottle cherry juice concentrate, pitch yeast. Seal and ferment 7 – 10 days. Rack to secondary, condition cool (55 – 60°F) 10 – 14 days. Prime with corn sugar and add second bottle cherry juice concentrate (mix well!), bottle and age 8 – 10 days.

OG: 1048
IBU’s: 36.7

Note on ingredients and procedure: As this is a spring brew, fresh cherries are not readily available in Vermont. The Knudsen’s concentrate is awesome stuff, and I would probably use it even if there were cherries available. In the summer, however, when I do my Kriek, I use fresh cherries (my own Montmorency and wild sour black and choke-cherries) because I think the flavor derived from the cherry pits is an important one in a lambic.

I have developed an aversion of late to hefeweizens, so I decided to use a neutral ale yeast for this brew. I have really begun to dislike the clove/bubblegum/banana esters that most hefeweizens have, and I don’t brew them. Personal taste, and I will still try yours if you offer it to me.

This beer will be a pale pinkish amber in color, when finished. Half of the cherry juice will be part of the fermentation, giving it some sour fruit flavor, half will be added at bottling giving a sweeter fruitier finish (but not a cloying syrup/extract flavor).