After finally addressing the need for a water line plumbed directly into my garage, it was time to get back to brewing. I chose to hit the ground running and finally start my solera project. As a refresher, this project is using my Belgian Dubbel recipe as the base beer.
The brew day went without any problems; I was happy to see that I hit my numbers as this was my first batch using my new grain mill (Cereal Killer). I gapped to 0.033″, and with a starting gravity of 1.070 I think I did well to get my targeted 75% efficiency the first time. I have hope that I’ll see slightly increase efficiency on my lower gravity batches using the same gap. The clean beer was made with WYeast 1214, which is a departure from the norm as I am normally a White Labs customer, but the brew store was out of both WLP500 and WLP530, so I went with WYeast 1214 instead. I got a little concerned as my starter wasn’t showing any activity after about 16 hours, but a little more patience and the apparently notoriously slow starter that 1214 is finally got going and I ended up with a good starter than took off well after pitching.
Soleras are done on a schedule, and I imagine that how the beer tastes is far more important than time, but I’d still like to have a frame of reference for the timing of the steps of the project even if the beer isn’t sticking tightly to that timeline. It will give me a good set of reminders of when to at least check on the beer and see how things are progressing. I imagine that over time the beer will teach me its schedule and I’ll learn to work based on that. But to start off, I’ll set the schedule to get the project going.
- March 2016 – Batch #1, seed batch fermented in primary with the full mixed sour culture. After primary, transfer to 5 gal carboy with a medium-toast French Oak spiral.
- September 2016 – Batch #2, repeated of Batch#1 with the same mixed culture primary assuming that at 6 months Batch #1 isn’t too crazy sour, otherwise I might move to a Sacc strain primary and add some of the culture to secondary. No oak spiral in Batch #2.
- March 2017 – Batch #3, by this point I am hoping to have isolated a suitable yeast strain from my mixed culture for primary fermentation (something fierce is in there – see the pic). Whether I can or not, I will move to a ‘clean’ fermentation for primary by this batch.
- March/April 2017 – Transfer #1, after a standard 2-3 week primary of Batch #3 it’s time to make the first transfer. The transfer will follow the steps below:
- Remove 2.5 gal (half) of Batch #1 for bottling and/or aging on fruit.
- Fill Vessel #1 (previously Batch #1) with beer from Batch #2.
- Fill Vessel #2 (previously Batch #2) with beer from the clean fermented Batch #3.
- Drink the rest of Batch #3 (maybe keep some for blending if needed?).
- Work on a roughly yearly schedule from here on out, repeating Step #4 each time. I think I will eventually push this out a little longer so that the transfer happens over the summer, during or shortly after the early summer fruit seasons to give some options for freshly harvested fruit aging.
I originally planned to have three vessels aging at the same time in this Solera project, but after deciding that the third vessel would be a clean beer, I figured two aging and one to ferment the clean beer as needed will be fine. I’ll have Vessel #2 begin conditioning of the clean beer added at transfer, and Vessel #1 to … work magic? Hopefully it’s magic! At the very least the clean beer added to the process will have aged two years in two separate vessels before any of it comes back out for consumption.