Tuesday, July 29, 2014

First Tasting: Blackberry Sour

Generally the notion is that sour/wild ales improve with age. I would say that statement is debatable; they will change but that doesn’t necessarily mean they get better. What is less debatable, however, is that fruited sour ale is better fresh when the fruit is vibrant. I normally like to hold on to my sours for about a year in the bottle for proper conditioning, but with fruit in the beer I’m more inclined to drink it sooner rather than later. 

This was the first time that I’ve added fruit to a beer so it was a learning experience. The process of adding the fruit was fairly simple, but I was careful not to add to much air to the beer while racking it onto the fruit. Prior to racking I purged my carboy with CO2. Other than that the only difficult part was preventing fruit bits from getting into the bottles. 

As previously stated, generally I condition my sours for a year, I do this because I either don’t add any extra yeast or I just add a little extra Brett from a different fermenting batch. Since I wanted a quick turn around after bottling I added a little bit of dry champagne yeast. Champagne yeast is a tactic used to ensure the beer, which has been aging for more than a year, has a viable yeast source for carbonation. The nice thing about champagne yeast is that it imparts a neutral flavor; it can handle higher levels of acidity, and high levels of alcohol.  It definitely worked and carbonated the beer quickly so I will use it again in the future. 

Appearance: Dark mahogany with a touch of ruby red on the edges, topped with a slightly off white head that slowly fades to a thin lacing over the top of the beer. The beer was already red so I’m not sure how much the blackberries added to the color. 

Aroma: My worry with sours is always exposure to air and the production of acetic acid. Luckily there is only a trace of acetic that makes the beer similar to an Oud Bruin. The aroma is dominated by lactic acid and subtle berry notes with even a hint of funk developing. 

Flavor: Right up front the flavor is lactic acid and blackberry. Barely any of the caramel notes from the original beer before it soured remain. On the back end you can pick up some acetic acid but not in an unpleasant way. 

Mouthfeel: Light body with high carbonation and a dry tart finish. The berry flavors come out more on the finish then they do upfront. 

Overall: Very pleased with how this beer came out. Despite the fact the the pH was around 3.2 it does not taste as acidic as you would think. The fruit comes through in a subtle way, which I feel is more traditional Belgian then American sour ale, but depending on my mood sometimes I prefer that. As much as I love American sours, they sometimes can come off as fruit juice, more so, than beer. I still have 5 gallons of this beer that I need to do something to. My plan is to add plums, but first I need to make sure that the beer is still drinkable. If it’s turned too acetic there is no amount of fruit that can save it and I’ll have to dump the batch.

Friday, July 11, 2014

First Tasting: Barrel Aged Sour

I’m finally getting around to reviewing my first barrel aged sour. This barrel was a used whiskey barrel from Ranger Creek that I used twice to get two clean ales out of it before I soured it. Both batches came out clean with no signs of infection. I decided at this point it was time to sour it since there couldn’t be too much whiskey or barrel character left. 

My fear with this beer was oxidation and acidification due to the low volume to surface area ratio. With a small volume the rate of oxygen transfusion is much higher than it would be with a larger wine barrel. Theoretically this would mean any beer I’m planning on souring in the barrel should not stay in it a traditional amount of time. I knew this going into the beer but then got busy and lazy and left it in the barrel for 14 months. I gave up on this beer long ago and expected it to have turned into vinegar; however, I was pleasantly surprised when I took a tasting of this beer to find out that it drinkable. There was an acetic acid bite, but this was expected, it was however, lower than I had anticipated. 

Currently I have a different beer that I fermented directly in the barrel. I will have to keep better track of the development of this beer. Since there is acetic acid in the first iteration that means there is acetobactor in the barrel. If it gets too bad I will have to dump it. 

Appearance: It pours a slightly hazy deep orange with traces of yellow and virtually no head. Unfortunately the beer has not fully carbonated. I did add a good amount of priming sugar but I don’t believe I added any extra yeast other than a touch of Brett from a different beer. I did notice that a pellicle had formed in the bottle so there is something still alive in the bottles. Maybe with more time they will carbonate a little more.    

Aroma: Sharp acetic acid right up front with a touch of lemon citric acid and some funk in the back end. This is the first sour that I’ve brewed where I get the funk that you would get from a traditional Belgian Lambic. I was speaking with the head brewer at Jester King, Garrett Crowell, a few weeks ago and he was saying he believes that a funk characteristic of Lambics that is often perceived comes from the aged hops. Brett can obviously produce funk, but there is an underlying almost fruity funkiness that I feel, agreeing with Garrett, might come from the hops. 

Taste: Sharp acidity and vinegary notes with a touch of lemon and a backend of funk. As the beer warms up the vinegar becomes a little overwhelming. Surprisingly there is still barrel character and a hint of whiskey still remaining in the beer.  

Mouthfeel: Just a hint of carbonation and a thin body with a dry lingering sharp astringent finish. There is definitely some oak tannin in this beer. I think the carbonation might have helped on the finish to reduce the astringency and the acetic bite on the end. 

Overall: I can’t say that I’m particularly pleased with this beer, but since it was just an experiment to begin with and I gave up on it a long time ago, I’m not unhappy with it. I would definitely say that if you are using a small barrel don’t keep it in the barrel for an extended period. I would honestly suggest using it as a horney tank for beer inoculation and then transfer the beer from the barrel to a carboy for extended aging.