I hate the term “sour” just as much as you do. Any fan of wild beer will tell you that classifying a beer as sour is flat-out wrong. Furthermore, if a beer tastes sour, the brewer obviously messed up. There’s the whole acetic versus acidic argument that happens every day on beer forums. I’m not yet an expert on most of these things so I won’t try to formulate any sort of meaningful argument other than to recollect on the conversation I had with a farmhouse-style brewer in Vermont:
“They’re not sours…but I’m not sure what else to call them. People call them sours and that’s fine but I won’t call them that because it’s not proper. What I will call them I’m not sure yet. For now, it’s just a wild beer.”
American Lambic is just as hard, if not harder to make than Belgian Lambic. Should I ever attempt one of these, it will be done with some care and in a style that I try my best to re-create nearly every aspect of Lambic production from the temperatures, to the proper yeast and bacteria to the oak barrels and other aspects. There’s no way I can re-create the “terroir” of Belgian Lambic breweries but there are things I can have control over and I’ll strive to re-create these when I’ve soaked up a much as possible on the subject.
Aside from my abilities being complete shit when it comes to any sort of attempt at a Lambic, I also don’t want to invest 18+ months on a fermentation when my experience and knowledge is so lackluster. I should continue to brew beers that have a quicker turnaround while I research how to do Lambic properly. I think that’s a good way to approach this.
With that said, I’m still VERY interested in wild beers. I love the character both in taste, mouthfeel and smell that I get from a beer fermented (or re-fermented in the bottle) with Brettanomyces. I also love the tart and funk properties that come from Lactobacillus. Finally, I’m extremely excited about the Rodenbach cultures that you can buy to make a Flemish Red Ale. All of this is exciting but, with my first “sour” I wanted to do a beer with a quick turn around that would help me learn more about wild yeasts in a controlled setting and a very low ingredients bill.
I decided to make a Berliner Weisse. Here’s a brief description from Wikipedia:
Modern brewing methods use a low proportion of wheat, generally ranging from 25% to 50%, and deliberately create a sourness either by a secondary fermentation in the bottle (Jackson suggests that traditionally bottles were buried in warm earth for several months), or by adding Lactobacillus. Records from the early 19th century indicate that the beer was brewed from five parts wheat to one part barley, and drunk young, with little indication of creating sourness with either a secondary fermentation or by adding Lactobacillus.
I followed this recipe on HomeBrewTalk called the “Wall Crasher”. He calls for a 10 week minimum so I’m going to start trying a bit of it every week or two at the 10 week mark and see how things are progressing. The primary aggressive German yeast should finish up the majority of its work after a few days to a week. At that point, the slow-going Lacto will take over and eat away at many of the remaining residual sugars and slowly create a tart / funky taste. The longer you keep the beer in the fermentation vessel, the more tart it will become. I’m guessing the tartness will hit a wall eventually.
The great thing about Lacto and some of its other wild cousins is how amazing they look while fermenting. The pellicle that forms can look disgusting at times but it’s such an interesting visual that I decided to ferment this beer in a glass carboy to see everything that is going on.
I have plenty of time to decide this but I’d like to add a fruit addition near the end. Within guidelines, lemon and raspberry are fine but I’m still doing research on what I’ll go with. Guidelines also state this beer receives no addition of Brett so I’ll have to save that fun experiment for another batch. Maybe my next Saison will get the Brett treatment so I can watch how that ferments and progresses. Bottle with Brett? Maybe. It’s all just a fun experiment.
Finally, this is my first all-grain batch. It’s a proud moment but maybe one I should have held off on. By being all-grain and with such a long fermentation needed, I won’t know exactly how well I did with efficiency especially the lautering and sparging because I’m doing brew in a bag until I have enough cash to buy a proper mash tun.
I took some photos yesterday of the process post-brew. Thanks and I’ll be sure to post an update with how things are going over time!