Have you ever had an infection in your beer? An introduction of a living organism that was not supposed to be there? One so foul, so wretched, that it ate all your digestible sugars and gave no love other than its toxic gas? Expelling all across your upper lip when you lean in for a big draw? No?
The creation of a sour ale is about harvesting that wild beast which subverts the standard beer through guile and craft. In the fermenter today I have a homemade batch of Berliner Weisse which calls for this greasy intruder to be admitted, no, invited, into the young beer.
To begin, Berliner Weisse is a German style wheat ale that is generally low in alcohol-by-volume and is very light in color and sour in taste. The ingredients for this batch are as follows: 2 parts wheat malt, 3 parts 2-row domestic barley, 1oz of Liberty hops, homemade lacto-bacillus and a general ale yeast.
Historically, sour ales were naturally inoculated with wild yeast in open fermenters left outside, on rooftops, in barns, bakeries, abbeys and now my kitchen. These wild yeasts are all around us, at all times, and will gladly take a free lunch. However this is not going to produce a great beer all the time. If you have ever had an infected batch, that is the example of why wild yeast or bacteria is not always a welcomed helper. But beer styles are a funny thing, a brown ale with a hint of sour is totally uncalled for and would be rejected by a beer judge, however a Flander's red ale that tastes like sour gummy worms is applauded and marveled at.
Here's how it works: A week before brew day, I prepared a small jar with crushed 2row domestic and 130F degree water, placed tin foil over top and let it work with whatever happened to be trapped inside. Mold began to form within 2 days and a gray pellicule arrived by day 5. This recipe was a no-boil batch, meaning instead of sparging from the mash-tun into the brew kettle, the wort was run directly into the fermenter. Grains were doughed at 150F for 75 minutes with the introduction of boiled Liberty hop tea. Sparging up to the 5.5 gallon mark on the carboy and waiting to cool took much longer than it should have due to the difficulty of reducing temperature for pitching range without a wortchiller. Once cooled the moldy liquid from the lactobacillus starter was introduced. My kitchen smells awful.
Currently the brew is bubbling and expelling funk, in 2 days I will introduce an ale yeast that will help digest the bulk of the sugars that are undigestible for the lacto. This is intended to also impart estery flavors beyond the soured characters working right now. Many homebrew shops sell a cultured lacto strain in smackpack form. However, the great adventure of homebrewing is about utilizing the context in which you brew. This batch will taste kinda like my apartment, if you think thats gross then you're not invited.
Another option for making a style such as this and many other great sour ales is to get acidulated malt, or make your own. Instead of utilizing the yeast to make the souring quality, the malt itself is left to stand in warm temperatures for natural yeast to make it turn. Then it is added to the boil or mash-tun depending on your setup.
Similarly to my Gueuze, I will be waiting in sheer anticipation for when this brew can be tasted. For a closing image, I provide you with the following. One of the more pleasurable things to do, now that it's warm out, is two-maning the mash-tun over to the compost bin. We dribbled all the way there.