|Belgian brewer's, the masters of Sour Beer.|
So you have decided that you want to get into sour / funky brewing. Cool. This is a segment of brewing that is loads of fun, educational, and delicious. The very best brewers I know, all dabble in Sour / Funky beers. And it is widely suspected that the very best brewers in the world, the Belgian Lambic Brewers of the "Knighthood of the Brewer's Mash Staff", brew sours exclusively. Their techniques and practices are carefully guarded secrets that are literally handed down from father to son.
The truth about sour beer is it actually is the older, more traditional process of beer making. Pure yeast strain brewing has only been with us for about 200 years. Hops as the predominant flavoring and preservative agent in beer has only been with us for about 600 years. Beer however has been with us much, much longer. And before the development of pure yeast, and the advancement of sanitation, many beers were sour. Or, to be more accurate, they became sour.
|This beer is insanely good!|
English Raspberry Rye
Have you heard the term young beer or fresh beer. What about the term old ale? These terms refer not only to the age of a beer, but also how long it had been in an oak cask. In the oak casks the beer took on flavors from the wood, and was acted upon by microbes living in the cask. You are probably aware of Belgium's important place in sour beer production. You undoubtedly know that America is pioneering amazing sour beers. But did you know England also has a rich history with Strong Sour Ales?
So getting into this realm of brewing is embracing the total history of brewing. It makes you a better brewer because it makes you think about what the microbes are doing, and what you want them to do. It teaches you patience. Some of the beer's you'll make won't be ready for years. Yes, years. But the reward of opening a beer you brewed 3 or 4 years ago, is unlike any other reward in home brewing.
|I ferment, and bottle right from the|
same bucket. In truth, I made my own
so that I could put the spigot higher,
and not pick up any trub at all.
OK, I'm in. I won't brew sours all the time, but I'd like to make them occasionally. So what do I need? If you are a home brewer, you already have almost everything you need. But you will need a couple more items. You will need a dedicated fermenter / bottling bucket, The idea that brettanomyces can not be removed and cleaned out of a fermenter is absurd. The idea that it takes a lot more work than it is worth to go to that level of sanitation... is not absurd. So for your 5 gallon batches go get a 6.5 gallon bottling bucket with a lid. And never scratch the inside of it or use abrasive cleaners, or cleaning gear. The lid should have a hole and a grommet for an air lock. You will need a length of tubing the same size as your bottling tubing, and you will need a separate bottling wand. That is it. That is all you need for 5 gallon batches of funky beer.
a sour mash beer.
For sour beers (not necessarily funky) I promote the practice of mash souring, or wort souring. These beers can be fermented and packaged like any other beer. The lactobacillus and pediococcus die in the boil. (more on that later) But you will probably want 2 or 3 one gallon jugs for souring your wort.
That is really everything you need. See? It isn't that bad. You will also want some pH strips, or a separate pH meter for checking the wort as it sours, and/or the beer as it ferments. Do not use your standard pH meter. Remember the first post, treat everything in sour beer like a potential contaminate. You never use a pH meter for sour, then clean it and reuse it for standard beer. Why? Because it could infect your beer. Will it infect your beer? Probably not, but it could. So just don't mix the two. Treat everything in sour brewing this way. Everything except stainless steel equipment. Your thermometers, your spoons can be cleaned adequately to be used across all batches. Everything that is used in sour / funky beer production is marked with a permanent magic marker. Everything, including the air lock.
I generally have 1 batch of funky beer going at all times. I even use a Mr. Beer Little Brown Keg, for small batch sours (I seal the lid). When the beer is ready to be bottled, I know it is time to make more. I often just pitch right on top of the yeast cake. Yes, the yeast mutates and changes faster than pure ale strains. That is part of the fun. The second batch will taste different than the first batch.
In general I do not recommend kegging funky beers at home. If you choose to keg, use the same tubing and keg every single time. Kettle sour, mash sour, and wort sour beers that are boiled before fermentation can be kegged like any other beer. But really, why would you keg a sour beer at home. Bottle it up. Age some of it, revisit it later. Maybe even years later. That is part of the fun.