About a year ago I decided that I would bottle my sour beers instead of kegging them. I figured I would want to have a variety of sours available to drink at any given time and kegging would mean I’d have to constantly rotate them in and out based on what I want to drink and also worry about line contamination. I started collecting equipment and bottles to make this happen, expecting that I would have bottled some shortly thereafter. I didn’t want just plain old bottles either, I wanted these to look fancy so I opted for corking and caging the bottles with real labels from GrogTag.
As it turns out I just bottled my first sours a few weeks ago, almost a year later, both of which came from AABG club barrel projects. One barrel is a rotating recipe every 6 months, with the most recent batch being a tripel, and until the most recent batch the barrel was allowed to naturally sour – though it did so to varying degrees based on the beers in there. The other is a Lambish (my term for a beer aimed at mimicking a lambic), and we pull and fill that barrel when we feel like the flavour has developed appropriately; the last batch was in for 18 months. I treated about 3 gal of each to a few pounds of Montmorency cherries we picked from a local orchard this year. The cherries were frozen/thawed, and pits were left in. I kept the remaining beer in the kegs I used to transport them, and as they were already in the kegs put some gas on to bring the carb level up to 1.5 vol. Given the age of the beers, I wasn’t sure how active the microbes in it would be, so the extra carbonation for the non-fruited beers seemed like a good insurance policy, despite re-yeasting the beers prior to bottling. I assumed that the fruited sours would allow the yeast enough time to wake up to be useful for bottle conditioning.
I allowed the fruited beer to sit for about 8 weeks before I started the bottling process. I bottled the straight beer in the keg first and not knowing exactly how much beer I had in the kegs I opted for a sugar solution and syringe to add the calculated amount of sugar to each bottle. I then racked the same style cherry beer into the keg and bottled that. There was a bit of a learning curve at first, but it became a much smoother process after a while. All in all it took me 4 nights to bottle all 8-ish gallons of beer. I have a mix of 750 mL and 375 mL bottles at the end of it.
Post Bottling Sour Beer Wrangling
After racking the beers out of the 3 gallon carboys I figured it might be worthwhile to see what else I can extract from the cherries. I had a partial keg of the same tripel I filled the barrel with that I pulled from the keezer to make room for other beers, so instead of putting it back in the keezer I racked what was left into the sour tripel cherry carboy. It didn’t quite fill it all the way up so I topped it off with some of my original sour beer (that will soon be 2 years old), containing a yeast I have discovered to be quite voracious, so I expect it to dry out and change quite a bit.
The cherry Lambish carboy got filled with that same original sour only. The beer I brewed to put in the Lambish barrel back in spring of 2015 is actually the other half of my original sour so it seemed fitting. I also had a sample of Amoretti blackcurrant “compound”, which appears to be a concentrate of some sort consisting mostly of blackcurrants with a little extra sugar and no preservatives. I got the sample specifically for trying in a sour beer and this was as good a time as any to use. Both of these beers will get much longer than the 8 weeks the previous beers did to extract everything and anything they can from the cherries. I also still have about 1 gallon of the straight original sour beer left in a keg that I will should bottle sometime soon.