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


  • 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


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…


Best Laid Plans

My friend Mark was supposed to join me today to learn the art of all-grain brewing. While waiting for him, I went out and did the barn chores, and when I came back in there was a message on the answering machine. Mark’s upstairs neighbor had apparently left the water on all night and flooded the place, so Mark was going to have to move, sort, clean and dry all his furniture, rugs and stuff. No brew session for him today.

I brewed anyway.

I decided to go for it, on this beer, big and rich, intensely sweet but also highly hopped. A smorgasbord of beery flavors all in one. Freshly smoked pale malt, mashed in condensed maple sap, three different high-alpha hops… A barleywine style ale, meant to be aged for a long while and sipped slowly.

Vermont Breakfast Ale

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 7 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 3 lbs. Maris Otter smoked over maple
  • 1 lb. 150°L crystal malt
  • 1 lb. Biscuit malt
  • 1/2 lb. maple-smoked cara-foam malt
  • 1 oz. Chinook hop pellets (@11.8% aa)
  • 1 oz. Simcoe hop pellets (@12.2% aa)
  • 1 oz. whole Horizon hops (@11.9% aa)
  • White Labs Super High Gravity yeast (WLP099)
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup (for priming)


Condense 6 gallons of fresh maple sap down to 4 gallons (16 quarts) [Alternatively, add 1 pt. pure maple syrup to 16 quarts water]. Heat to 164°F. Crush grains. Dough in and hold at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat 14 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 22 quarts sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add Chinook pellets. Boil 15 minutes, add Simcoe pellets. Boil 45 minutes (60 total), add Horizon hops and remove from heat. Steep the Horizon about 10 minutes then remove them. Chill wort to 75°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment two weeks in relative warmth (65 – 70°). Rack to secondary and age in a cool dark place (50°F) for eight weeks. Prime with maple syrup, bottle and store somewhere where you will forget about them for a year.

OG: 1078

IBU’s: 107

For more info on Barleywines, I highly recommend Fal Allen and Dick Cantwell’s volume in the AHA Classic Beer Style series, appropriately titled “Barley Wine“.

Smokin’ with the Boys

The other day was my friend Rick’s birthday. His wife was out of town on business, so I thought it would be a nice way to keep him from getting lonely if I invited him to come up and brew with me. While I was at it, I also invited our friends Chris, who has some professional brewing experience, and Peter, who is about to move up to all-grain brewing. I wanted Chris’s input on improving my brewing system, and wanted Peter to see first-hand how relatively easy an all-grain brew can be. They all showed up at 8:30 and we brewed this semi-traditional German Rauchbier, while sipping a Hill Farmstead porter, “Twilight of the Idols”, that Chris had brought along (yes, a big Porter at 9:30 a.m. – surely a breakfast beer!). Peter had a lot of questions, the rest of us tried to answer them as best we could, and the Rauchbier got brewed.

The thing about this brew that makes it only “semi”-traditional is the fact that the smoked malt I used was my own. I was playing around last week with a way to smoke grains at home, over various local woods. Five pounds of the grain in this recipe was smoked on my grill over birch chips, giving it a wonderful sort of wintergreen aroma… The mash smelled really cool, and the wort in the kettle smelled even more amazing.


5 gallons, all-grain


  • 5 lbs. Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 1 lb. melanoidin malt
  • 2 lbs. birch-smoked Pilsner malt
  • 2 lbs. birch-smoked Vienna malt
  • 1 lb. birch-smoked 30°L crystal malt
  • 1/2 lb. honey malt
  • 1 oz. Sterling hop pellets (@5.7% aa)
  • 1 oz. Liberty hop pellets (@5.2% aa)
  • White Labs Old Bavarian Lager yeast (WLP920)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar or 1 cup light DME (for priming)

Procedure: Crush malts. Heat 15 quarts water to 163°F. Dough in and hold mash at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat another 13 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts sweet smoky wort. Bring to boiling, add Sterling hops. Boil 45 minutes, add Liberty hops. Boil 15 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat and chill to 75°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 60°F for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, lager cooler (45°F) for three weeks. Prime with corn sugar (or DME), bottle and age cold (38 – 40°F) for six weeks.

OG: 1058

IBU’s: 31

Note on smoked malt: Not everyone will be able to smoke their own malts, obviously. You can substitute 3 lbs. German Rauchmalt (beechwood-smoked) and 1 lb. each Vienna and 30°L crystal. The Rauchmalt is more intensely smoky than my own home-smoked malts, thus you need to use less for the smoke level of this brew. More smoked malt will mean more smoky flavor, and it is easy to overdo it.

Home-smoking grains:I built a 12” by 12” box, 3” deep, out of hardware cloth, then lined it with aluminum window screen. The hardware cloth is sturdy as a frame, the screen is a much finer mesh. My gas grill has a tray you can set in on top of the flames to use wood or charcoal for grilling.

Birch chunks on the left, pilsner malt on the right...

I built a small pile of wood chips at the far left end and placed my screen box on a grill at the far right. I placed 2 lbs. of grain, dry, in the screen box, sprayed it with water to moisten it, and lit the gas under the wood only. Because it was not actually touching the wood but only the metal tray, the wood never actually caught fire but smoldered, nice and smoky, for over an hour.The draft pulled the smoke from the wood across and through the grains, which I stirred and re-misted every 15 minutes. After an hour of smoke, I spread the grain out on a large cookie sheet to dry then packed it away in 1-lb. units in zip-lock bags. I did a total of about 20 lbs. in different combinations – some pilsner malt, some crystal, some Vienna, some wheat, etc… over birch and then oak and then maple. Four or five of my next several brews will include a smoked component.