Sour Beer Shortcut: Brewing Sours the Easy Way
I love sour beer. It's one of my favorite styles and I can find a sour beer for any occasion. Clearly I'm not alone: according to a GuestMetrics report, sour beer is the second fastest growing segment of beer. But, I'd argue that my love of sour beer goes beyond that of most. Most people I know who say they love sours say it was an acquired taste: that the first time they tried a sour beer they didn't like it. And, many like certain types of sours but eschew others which are just too tart. Not me. The first time I tried a sour beer, 8 years ago, I was hooked. And I like all sour styles; really the only sour beer I don't like is one that is poorly made.
Which brings us to my reason for writing this post. Most homebrewers can brew an ale that is of as high or higher quality than many commercial breweries. However, many homebrewers never attempt a sour because it seems too complex, too risky to their equipment or too time consuming. That doesn't have to be the case. Brewing a sour can be as simple to brew, as safe for your equipment and nearly as quick to brew as the average ale. But it helps to know this:
- Make your wort as normal: The key to the sour beer shortcut is breaking your brew day into two halves: think of it as mash day and boil day. You start the brewing process as you would any ale. Collect the appropriate ingredients, mill your grain and mash in (this works for extract brewers as well). Conduct a normal 60 minute mash, mash out, then run lauter and sparge to collect a full volume of wort in your brew kettle. Allow the wort to cool to about 100* Fahrenheit.
- Pitch your lacto: Next, pitch your favorite souring agent into the warm wort. For example, I really like using a culture of lacto from White Labs. Pitch the appropriate volume, give it a stir (with a stainless spoon, preferably) or a swirl, cover and insulate. That's the end of day 1.
- Keep it warm: For the next few days, your only job is to keep the mash at a warm temperature. Insulation helps, but I find that the best way to accomplish this is to apply this technique at the peak of summer, where you can set your kettle out in the sun (keep it covered to avoid UV contact with the wort) to warm it naturally. You can also use a fermwrap or a muscle heating pad. Ideally you want to keep it consistently around 95-100 degrees. Sample the beer periodically to get a feel for the level of sourness, and keep going until you reach your desired level of sourness. Most likely this will be in about 3-5 days.
- Resume your boil: Once you hit your target sourness, you will resume your brew session. Fire up the burner under your BK and bring it to a boil. This will kill the lacto, but not destroy the sourness it's created. Conduct the rest of your procedure as normal (hop additions, boil time, cooling). Pitch a fermenting yeast (ale yeasts work well) to work their magic, then bottle or keg and enjoy! No need to worry about equipment contamination as the souring bacteria will be killed off in the boil.
- Share the Love: Just one more step to finish it off: if you brew something that's really great, drop a bottle in the mail to me. I'd love to try it. :-)
To leave you, here is a simple recipe in which I first tried this technique. This Berliner Weisse took silver at a large Homebrew competition, missing gold only because it wasn't quite tart enough (I agreed; I only soured for 2 days so would recommend going longer).
Recipe Type: Extract
Yeast: Wyeast 1338 Euro Ale
Yeast Starter: No
Additional Yeast or Yeast Starter: Wyeast 5335 Lacto
Batch Size (Gallons): 4
Original Gravity: 1.031
Final Gravity: 1.011
Boiling Time (Minutes): 15
Primary Fermentation (# of Days & Temp): 19 days @ 72*
Additional Fermentation: Bottle conditioning
Secondary Fermentation (# of Days & Temp): N/A
Tasting Notes: Delightfully sour! Low alcohol, perfect for a warm summer afternoon!
2 lb Pilsner LME
2.375 lb Wheat LME
.5 oz Hallertau 4%AA hops (15 min)