Slow Learning: Sour beer experiments

Now and then the Beer By BART blog detours into the realm of home brewing, specifically the brewing of sour beers. Here’s Gail with some photos and notes from her conversation with James Spencer for his Basic Brewing Radio podcast for April 1, 2014.

The first part of the interview with Basic Brewing is about my side by side experiments brewing with 100% Brettanomyces yeast to preserve happiness in a little session IPA.  That’s a fun experiment to do with a split batch, comparing with a Saccharomyces ale yeast strain and the same hops.

But the second half is both weird and logical, and oh so simple!

Pasta? In beer?

The idea of using pasta to mimic the results of a raw wheat turbid mash process arose from a challenge posed by Steve Piatz in this BYO article on Lambic Style Brewing, where he said,

small-pasta-beer-prep
Pasta in a plastic fermenter. It will soften slowly in the water and alcohol, and does not have to be cooked

“The wheat extract is a poor man’s approximation of the unmalted wheat used in the commercial lambic breweries. I don’t know of an extract equivalent of unmalted wheat.”  

I have used his method to make sour beers for about six years now, and I like brewing on a kitchen stovetop for these beers, so dry extracts are appealing and effective.  I always wanted to figure out a source for high quality gelatinized raw wheat for these batches of American sour beer inspired by the classic Belgian Lambics.

small-pasta-beer-corny
Gail adding whole wheat artisan organic spaghetti to a vessel where fermentation will take place – in a different batch than the one tasted on the podcast
small-pasta-beer-fermenting
After beer has been racked off of this one-year-lambic batch, the spaghetti looks cooked – and the oak cubes look like meatballs!

A trip to Belgium (and a brew day at Cantillon) gave me the insight that Lambic wort is incredibly starchy.  It reminded me of a liquid glass of Cream of Wheat cereal with a lot of honey mixed in.

Why not try top quality whole wheat pasta?  I like to use a variety that is 100% wheat, with no eggs or other extra ingredients. I figure you want the proteins and the wheat fiber as well as starches, and if you made your own turbid mash, you’d be using whole raw wheatberries, and gelatinizing them with a long cereal mash process.  The whole wheat pasta has it all, and  it’s already been cooked, then dried for convenience.  Why not flour? Flour is not cooked — pre-gelatinized– for you.

You don’t need to cook pasta again, you can just give it to your yeast and bacteria as an additional component to the wort, softening and being consumed in the fermenter for a year or two, like starch suspended in a lambic wort!

small-ambiant-pasta-beer
An ambient dark sour batch, made with local wild microbiota plus some brett on cherry pits saved from an earlier batch.

I was pretty confident that would work, since once you have made Lambic-inspired beers you have probably seen ghosts of fruit, like a round gray ash of a blueberry for example, sitting at the bottom of your fermenters.  So why not let noodles sit down there to slowly feed the Brett?

I have used pasta in a bunch of mixed-culture sour beers now.  I think the effect is subtle, but I like the character.    So my experiment was to split a batch and see what the whole wheat pasta contributed.

Both beers were made with the same initial batch based on the Piatz experiment — 6#s of DME (5 gal recipe)  and two ounces of aged hops —  all the 2 year aged hops I had — in an old bag marked “6.5%Alpha”.  (Sigh. Record keeping issues again! Pretty sure they were sterlings.)   I wished I had some 3 year, and so I plan to buy some noble hops for aging this year.

Dividing into small batches lets you do special fruit flavors or making blending variations
Dividing into small batches lets you do special fruit flavors or making blending variations. Blueberries caught in the pellicle in a gallon jug.

For one half I added 2oz dry maltodextrine into the clean fermenter, for the other I added dry whole wheat spaghetti. If I wasn’t pitching a mixed culture I’d have thought that packaged noodles might need to be cooked to sanitize them, but I had confidence in the select mix of “bugs” (along with acidity and alcohol over time) overcoming any traces of bacteria that might be on a properly packaged food product.

I didn’t know how to calculate how much of the carbohydrate value of pasta is fermentable, so I put in a whole package, 16 ounces.  I am pretty sure that was too much, since the beers finished at different gravities.   Starting Gravity was 1.053 for both halves;  Final Gravity of the pasta batch was 1.013, the one with a minor maltodextrine boost was 1.1010. This says to me I could keep trying to match the fermentables, so I understand how much energy the Brett can find in the noodles, but the purpose was for taste.  I like the slight additional complexity I got in the side-by side when I tried the beers.

We also talked about fruit lambics and wild ambient fermentations I have done on my back porch– which I have used for blending, so far — and we had a lot of fun on the show.

Back porch coolship: For this batch I used the kettle itself as the coolship to let the wort cool slowly and attract wild yeasts. I used a mesh bag to let bacteria and wild yeast in but keep flies out, and the chair to thwart neighborhood raccoons. Overnight in the winter months gets cold enough.
Back porch coolship: For this batch I used the kettle itself as the coolship to let the wort cool slowly and attract wild yeasts. I used a mesh bag to let bacteria and wild yeast in but keep flies out, and the chair to thwart neighborhood raccoons. Overnight in the winter months gets cold enough.

Local don’t-miss events and destinations: You do know that this Saturday is the incredible annual IPA festival at The Bistro, not far from the Hayward BART station, right? Ok!

 

Explore Beer By BART; use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

 

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One thought on “Slow Learning: Sour beer experiments

  1. Great article Gail! I am wondering if I can use your coolship picture for the MTF Wiki on the Coolship page? I will reference your name and this article on the picture subtext. Thanks, and cheers!

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