My ‘lambish’ beer from the An Adventure into the Wild and Sour post is now nearing a year old. As I just started a new beer with the resurrected culture, I figured it would be about time to taste and start to plan for the next step of the year old golden sour.
Step 1: Taste the beer
I thiefed out a sample and checked the gravity, which read right about 0.998. That’s encouraging! So I give it a sniff, it’s a bit boring. I give it a taste, it’s just kind of bitter. Now I’m disappointed.My last taste of the beer had a nice fruity nose and I thought I was detecting tartness, so I grab the pH strips to check if I was just imagining things and I get a reading of about 4.1, which is not sour at all.
Step 2: Figure out what went wrong
Clearly this beer is not where I want it to be, so the question now is “why?”. There are three main issues as I see it:
This beer is not sour
There are two potential explanations here, one more likely than the other. The first, and more likely scenario, is that any Lactobacillus I had in the original culture was killed off by even the very low 10 IBUs this beer was supposed to have from the aged hop addition. I would have thought that this culture would contain some form of Pediococcus as well, but either it did not or the slow moving pedio was starved out by the amazingly voracious wild yeast that I have in the culture. The other scenario is that this wild yeast has some sort of anti-microbial defense that allows it physically kill of competing organisms. I know this can occur, but I’m not sure how common or likely it would be.
The sub question I have here is why did I think I tasted some acidity early on, only to have none now. The answer could also be the wild yeast, at this point it is probably safe to assume some form of Brettanomyces, as Brett is capable of using lactic acid as a precursor for ethyl lactate production. It is possible that the Brett ate my acid!
This beer is pretty bland
Having used a wild culture that produced interesting smelling and tasting samples in the original apple juice and unhopped starters, I was expecting that if nothing else I would get some funky, interesting flavours. Sadly the beer right now is just bland with the unpleasant bitterness (see below). Simply put: I so not want to drink this beer. That isn’t what I was expecting after a year of aging, and makes me a little sad.
This beer is overly bitter
This beer has always have a slightly bitter component to it, and I attribute this entirely to the amount of aged hops I used. It was 4 oz of Farmhouse Brewing Supply’s Lambic Blend hops in the 10 gallon batch, which was the recommended amount I found through my research before using them. I think it was simply too much, and have recently found others noting the same thing. Next time I’ll try 2 oz in 10 gal. After tasting it initially after brewing, I was hopeful that the bitterness would fade with aging or at least soften when things got funky, but that has not been the case.
Step 3: Figure out the next steps
I’ve already got a few things underway to see how I can resurrect not only this beer, but also set my intended Solera Batch #1 on the right path now. With help from some great people on the internet, I have a plan to look at addressing the flavour and sour aspects of this beer. I’ll be posting a Part 2 to this in the next week or two after I see how some of the potential fixes I have underway are doing.
I’ve got an idea for you. This has fixed a couple of beers for myself and friends. Next time you brew wort for sour beer, brew an extra gallon. Siphon out a gallon of this old sour beer, and do whatever with it (maybe blend it into a more sour beer, or maybe experiment adding fruit to it – fruit can also improve beers like this quite a bit sometimes). Take your extra gallon of wort and refill your fermenter. Do this on the same day as you don’t want oxygen to sit in the fermenter. I guess you’d call this a “solera”.
As I mentioned on MTF, the bitterness should fade… that is unless the bitterness is from the Brettanomyces. Brett can form bitter compounds. We’ve discussed them before on MTF (see the Highlights wiki page), and no one really knows what it is. But it is from Brett. Of course, it could be from the hops too. I would have to taste the beer to tell you. In my limited experience with these same hops so far, the amount you used shouldn’t have caused that much bitterness, and it does fade with time. Perhaps because the beer is so bland, the bitterness from the hops is out of balance. As Ethan Tripp mentioned, 1 year old lambic is fairly bitter. Even old lambic can be fairly bitter. Once carbonated, the bitterness isn’t as perceivable, IMO.
Anyway, I find that adding sugars to an old sour beer that didn’t sour can increase acidity. The Sacch will be dead, leaving Brettanomyces and maybe bacteria to have at those new sugars. I have also experienced pitching fresh yeast once at the same time as refilling with wort, and the ester profile really increased in that case (it was the farmhouse ale yeast from SouthYeast). When you add the wort you can also add a built up starter of dregs that you trust, or a good Pedio strain (I wouldn’t trust a Lacto strain just in case the aged hops are still an inhibiting factor).
I am rebrewing this beer later in the year, so your gallon exchange could be an interesting experiment. If I can get it to start souring before then, it might be more interesting in that the 1 gal removed works on the fresh wort, and the fresh wort helps the older beer develop more character.
The bitterness has been there since the beginning, so unless that faded and Brett made something similar happen, I think it has to be the aged hops. I think you might be on to something with the carbonation muting the bitterness though.