Every brewer has something they do very well. And that something may not even be what they most prefer to drink. For me... well I'm one of the lucky ones. I love fruit beers. I love the complexity of flavors, how the malt and hops play against the fruit. As much as I love fruit beers I love sour fruit beers even more. And I do them so well... this is a new passion for me, but I'm learning fast.
"Sour beer? Oh no you've turned into one of those beer elitists who looks down his nose at the common home brewer. You can't make sour beer at home, it will infect your brewing set up, you'll never make a clean beer again".
Be calm... In the words of our forefather, the great Charlie P...RDWHAHB... Relax Don't Worry Have a Home Brew. I can show you the path to stress free sour beers.
Please notice I said stress free. I did not say you should try a continuously hopped chocolate imperial sour stout aged on oak and wild cherries. (although I was being funny, I have to say that sounds amazing!) I said stress free, even dare I say easy. The key to this is learning how to sour mash.
Sour mashing is the easy way to produce a sour beer. The concept is simple. Mash your grains as normal, chill to 120, then add some uncrushed grain in a disposable hop bag to the beer (base malt works best). If you are a BIABer just put it into the bag with the other grains. Let it sit for an hour or two for the Lacto to get in there. Then Hold this at 120 F for 1 - 3 days. You can use a heating pad, or a warmer, or even just put it in the oven with the light on. In 24 to 72 hours you will have very sour wort. Make sure you are souring in a container that has 0 air space. Funky, barnyardy bacterias need oxygen to metabolize. So don't give them any. The lactobacillus that occurs naturally on the grain will work it's magic. After the 1 to 3 day "lacto rest" (my term). Boil as normal with all of your normal hop, fining, and nutrient additions. Chill the beer down, pitch your normal yeast (I like US-04 for most sours and fruit sours). Ferment. Add your fruit as normal, or your fruit extract flavoring as normal. Age. Bottle. Drink. Repeat. The boiling of the wort will kill any lacto that is in the wort, but it will leave behind the acid (sour) produced by the lacto rest.
There are very few draw backs to this method. The only ones I feel compelled to mention are; a lack of complexity (over come by the fruit) and the need for experience and practice.
Common questions and other ramblings.
Do sour mash fruit beers take more time than other beers?
Yes, A week or two more. The beer needs to sit on the fruit for a while.
Can I adjust the sour mash after the fermentation?
Yes, I make a silly sour hop monster. It isn't ready for publication yet but the general idea is to hop a sour mash so much that you get to the "sweet point on hops" To do this I add hop tea. You can also add lactic acid to adjust sourness. And you can adjust sweetness with malt tea, or wine conditioner. You can also perform a true secondary fermentation with wine yeast. The possibilities are endless.
Can I sour a beer without fruit?
Yes. But again the sourness of the sour mash procedure is less complex than a brettanomyces or a pediococcus soured beer. Or a blended, or really complex beer.
What are the other possibilities for sour?
How about making a true Guiness style beer? Real Guinness has some sour beer added to it. How about a blend? blending a sour with another beer. Multiple fruits? sure... but be careful with your fruits.I recently talked to a guy who was determined to make a Kiwi Cerveza...Kiwi just doesn't have very much flavor. I like fruits that are sour and sweet. Raspberry is my favorite.
As I said the possibilities are endless.
I strongly recommend you watch the basic brewing you tube video on Berliner Weiss. In fact, I recommend you watch all of their videos and buy their log book. And the DVDs. They are the best I have seen.