Sour Blends for Making Sour Beers

Do you ever feel that you get behind in your home brewing because other things need your attention?  There was a dunkelweizen sitting in my basement for three and a half weeks and it was just waiting for me to take it to its final destination.  I finally got around to getting all the things  I needed to get done and it is bottled.

Now, I can focus on brewing a lambic.

Since it will be my first time, I plan to use a sour blend from one of the big yeast providers.  I am not sold on the idea of using dregs from sour beers.  Mike’s less than successful attempt at harvesting bottle dregs convinced me that going down that road was adding too many things I don’t have much experience with to the mix.

The grain bill will be simple and the old hops I have.  The real thing to investigate and learn more about was the sour blends that were available to me.

I like the Roeselare Sour Blend from Wyeast since it name drops the region of the world where these beers are from but also from the list of stuff that is in it:

  • Belgian style ale yeast strain
  • A sherry yeast strain
  • Two Brettanomyces strains
  • A Lactobacillus culture
  • A Pediococcus culture

That’s a quite a group.

With knowing more about the blend, there are two things I’m thinking about and they are related to each other.  I have seen recipes that call for adding a neutral ale strain to get things going and then adding the sour blend after some time has gone by after fermentation has started.  I am not sure if I need to add another strain.

The second thing, that is if I decide to go down the route of adding, say, a California ale yeast strain, is when to add the sour blend. Should I wait three days or a week to add the blend or should I add it all at the beginning?  Does the sour blend get the beer sour enough if I add it later during the fermentation schedule?

The thing is, no matter what I try, I can always do the opposite on a later batch.  The real ingredient to these sour beers is time.  It takes time for a sour beer to mature into something that is really drinkable and also, it takes time to brew multiple batches that you can blend later.  If I can hack it, I will brew a sour beer once a year every year and then blend, blend, blend.

Dunkelweizen Brew Day Recap

It was a Sunday brew day at my house this weekend. The dunkelweizen recipe that I had threatened to brew since last 2012 was finally put into action yesterday afternoon.

This brew day was also the inaugural run of the grain mill I bought, but silly me forgot to take a gravity reading at the end of the boil to calculate my brewhouse efficiency. Although it was nice to get the process down of crushing the grain during the time I was heating my water to mash temperature, it would have been nice to collect that piece of data to see if the mill needed any adjustment.

Oh well, we figure that one out later. Outside of that moment of forgetfulness from me, I brewed fairly well.

The base of this recipe called for 6 pounds of malted wheat and 3 pounds of munich malt. With all of that wheat, there is always a fear that a stuck sparge may happen. To protect myself, I added some rice hulls to the mash and I didn’t have any problems collecting wort at all.

Dunkelweizen Wort Collection

The first wort collection was a deep amber color. The second collection, following the batch sparging method, the wort was running fairly clear and blond-ish by the end.

Because I had just over an ounce of homegrown Magnum left over from the harvest hanging out in my freezer, they were given a home in the Dunkelweizen boil.

Dunkelweizen Boil

Even though I have written this before, whole hops swimming in your wort may be one of the prettiest sights on a brew day. They do lose their green color after the hour in the boil but the first several minutes after you add them are pretty special – much better than the scum you get after adding pellets.

Since the fermentation temperature is crucial to this recipe and style (I need to keep it to 62°F), it was important for me to chill the wort well. When I checked it, it was at 56°F after a half hour chill period. The cold weather is good for some things.

I bought two packets of Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Wheat that I smacked and they swelled up nicely. Their manufacture date was less than a month ago which may be some of the freshest yeast I have ever used. I poured them right into the fermentor and because I have had problems with messy fermentations, I bought a little insurance.


This stuff called Fermcap-S is supposed to keep the krausen from getting out of hand. I followed the instructions on the bottle and add 10 drops of Fermcap to the top of the wort. They were simple instructions but unfortunately the stuff has the consistency of Elmer’s glue and was tough to collect in the dropper and add to the wort.

Fermcap Drops

Pretty stuff, eh? Twenty four hours later, the krausen is beginning to form and the temperture is sitting at 61°F. If the cold weather in our area continues, I might as well use it to make great beer.

Conditioning Mead With Oak Chips

Three weeks of primary fermentation was enough to get my mixed berry mead or melomel down to a gravity of 1.000 from a starting gravity of 1.096.  After I checked the reading, it was clear that the time for conditioning was upon us.

If you remember from my mead making day, ten pounds of berries and stone fruits went into the bucket along with the honey, water, and yeast.  Because berry seeds are hard to separate from the finished mead (you can do it but you have to rack the mead multiple times), I used a fine mesh bad to hold the berries and hopefully to keep the seeds from becoming a clarifying issue in the future.

Mixed Berry Melomel Conditioning

To rack the mead to another carboy, I had to remove the bag full of the fruit from the bucket first, slowly so that it would drain out.  I didn’t want to throw out mead with the bag as they say.

From first impressions, the bag worked like a charm.  The number of seeds racked into the secondary vessel was minimal if any.  I fully recommend using a bag like this one to separate the unwanted stuff from your mead.

I had 4 ounces of American oak chips left over from my last mead adventure in my ingredients bin.  To prepare them for the conditioning phase, they were steamed on my stovetop for 15 minutes.

The plan is to let the oak get acquainted with the mead for a month.  The oak should marry well with the red and purple berry flavors.  The 71-B yeast does make mature wines quickly, which isexactly what the description said it would do.  The quick taste from the hydrometer sample had no hot flavors.

Once the oak conditioning is over, it will get racked to another vessel to let it clarify.  We see if that will be the only time I need to rack it or not.  I could always use bentonite to clear it up quickly but this time I didn’t want to add anything to it.

In a month, I should have a drinkable mead and should be just a few weeks away from bottling it.

2014 Cider Bottling and Tasting Notes

Cider is something that I (try to) make every year. The making part happens in the fall and the bottling part happens when I get around to it, usually in the late winter of the next year. It gets a little confusing for me since I put the actual year in the post titles but I will get over it with some effort.

This cider which I made back in October has been patiently conditioning for weeks. I was waiting until the cider looked clear in the carboy but when the calendar turned to March, I decided that the clarity was as good as I was going to get and it was time to bottle.

Interestingly enough, when I took samples to check on the gravity, the cider appeared very clear in smaller amounts. You will see a photo of the final gravity a little further down in this post.

I mentioned getting equipment to best dry my bottles in an earlier post. Well, I got a couple of Fast Racks and I am pretty pleased with them so far. They are made of strong plastic and seem steady. With my 22 ounce bottles, they can handle 12 of them per rack. Since these racks are built to handle 24 twelve ounce bottles, I am pretty sure I can’t stack them. The bombers rest in alternating holes so there is no level surface on which the second rack can be placed. I’m ok with it – I may get a second drip tray but for you, it’s something to keep in mind if you are buying one and want to stack the racks for storage.

Here’s a photo of how I clumsily put some bombers in the tray for them to drain quickly after they were sanitized:

Fast Rack Drying Bottles

The bottling process went fine. I had nicely drained bottles and such. The two points of interest for you about this cider bottling were that I did add a little bit of table sugar to the batch along with some yeast to ensure I would have carbonated cider.

For the table sugar, I took a half cup right from the canister in my kitchen and boiled it in a pint of water for 15 minutes. At the same time, I proofed half a packet of Safale 05 in some 90 degree F water. These measurement were based on my prior experience. From my previous batches, this amount of sugar is suitable for a well carbonated cider. The yeast amount probably should have been measured but a half packet (~5 grams) of dry ale yeast can handle the added sugar, in my estimation.

The 05 yeast strain was chosen since I used an English ale strain for primary. I debated using a champagne yeast at bottling but I was afraid it would dry the cider out too much, especially when I saw the final gravity.

Final Gravity For Cider

A 1.010 reading is where an ale yeast gets you after primary. I bet you a champagne yeast, if added, would knock you down below 1.000 while it was working away in the bottle! Fearing bottle bombs, I added sugar and ale yeast, thanking you very much.

As for tasting, there is a flavor element that I think came from the raisins that I added to the secondary. It wasn’t unpleasant but certainly…different.

This cider, without me really planning it to be, became the experiment for understanding what raisins bring to the party when added to cider.

When it is fully carbed up and chilled, Mike and I will have a tasting video and discuss.

Cider On?!?

Mixed Berry Mead Making

Making mead is pretty easy as compared to brewing beer. I made a 4 gallon batch last night in under an hour, including clean-up. Not that 5 gallons would be added time to the session (I only made 4 gallons to keep costs within my budget), but I can tell you once you close the lid on the fermentor after pitching the yeast into your must you start to wonder why you don’t do this more often.

Here are some photos I took of the session. Following my recipe for a mixed berry mead, I had a good number of bags (the sum of their contents was 10 pounds) to spray with sanitizer and open up. These bags were left in the fridge to defrost so pouring the fruit from the bags to the bucket was quick and painless. The ziplock bag is my harvest of black raspberries.

Frozen Fruit Bags Standing Up and Santized

I sanitized the scissors I used to cut the bags open. To ensure proper transfer of fruit from the bag to the bucket, sit the bag up so all the fruit sits at the bottom and make sure you cut across the whole top of the bag.

The recipe calls for 2.5 gallons of water and 9.5 pounds of honey. The water was easy enough to measure; I bought a large container held exactly that amount. The honey was little more challenging.

With a container filled with 12 pounds of honey and a scale that only measures up to 5 pounds, I had to take my measurement after I poured honey into the fermentor.

After the first pour, I was pretty close.

First shot at the honey amount

After the second pour, I was a little over.

Second shot at the honey amount

Nobody complained about having a little more honey in the recipe, right?  The next step was to add the berries. To eliminate needing to deal with berry bits and seeds at the end of primary fermentation, I put a sanitized mesh bag in the bucket and used an elastic band to hold it in place. Once it was secure, I poured all my berries into the bag and after I was done it looked like this medley of berry goodness:

Berries for the Mead

With the berries added in, I took off the elastic and tied the bag in a knot.

Berries all tied up in the mesh bag
This berries in a bag method is something I saw Curt Stock do. After I rack to a secondary, I will let you know how it worked. With the water, honey, and berries sitting pretty together, I pitched my yeast and my nutrient/energizer.
Lalvin Narbonne 71-B 1122 Yeast

I didn’t proof the yeast. With two packets, I felt like I was covered and yes, I was being lazy.

Not noted in the recipe, I added some pectic enzyme (2 teaspoons) to help with the clarity of the mead.

Again, it was very quick to set up and clean up. If you haven’t made a mead, you should try it at least once.

Note: This morning, the fermentation was going strong. Tonight, I will add a little more nutrient and energizer and then again at 48 hours and probably mid-week next week following a staggered addition schedule that I wrote up in the recipe.

Read more about the set up of this mead making day.