There comes a time in every homebrewer's life when he/she must learn to wait. I'm referring to the aging process for certain types of beers. Old ales, high-high-high gravity beers and/or sours. This is a challenge for relatively new homebrewers, considering that space, in general, is often an issue along with fermenter availability and dedicated equipment.
Right now, we've got several beers right in the middle of the aging/souring process (Ethereal Earth Belgian Dark Strong Sours #1 and #2, and the Drunken Sweet Potato Old Ale #1 - an awesome recipe courtesy of GrassLands' brewin' buddy Thomas C.). Belgian beers take their sweet time fermenting as it is, but when you introduce sour yeast strains (i.e. Brettanomyces...or "Brett" for short / Lactobacillus...or "Lacto" for short), you better be prepared to wait a while.
These sour yeast strains are really a form of bacteria - which sounds weird that brewers would purposely "infect" their beers. Usually new homebrewers are so cognizant to the threat of infection that we almost become obsessive/compulsive about cleanliness. Souring is in a whole 'nother league...one in which GrassLands is just now entering. We'll see how it goes, but I've already learned a TON from these first experimental batches...along with advice given from some of NFBL's best: sour-enthusiasts like Corey F., Adam G. & newly-elected Prez Rick L. All the images here are of the current state of our two Belgian Strong Sour experiments. Souring is a long, drawn-out aging process where you've got to be patient and let the beer tell you when it's ready to go...which can take anywhere between several months to two years!
As you can see, it looks quite disgusting. The off-white bubbles are a byproduct of the bacteria-yeast strain infused into the beer after the primary fermentation phase has completed. However, looks can be deceiving. The bubbles are actually a protective layer formed at the top of the beer (called a pellicle) that protects the liquid below from oxygen. It's truly an amazing process to observe - even if the sight of it induces nausea :). Eventually, the bubble-pellicle will succumb to gravity and descend below into the beer. Just like in regular fermentation, the beer is telling you that it's ready to be bottled (or *gasp* kegged). To add insult to injury, the beer, which has taken its sweet time progressing through the primary fermentation and sour/aging phases, now enters the conditioning phase. This, too, can take several months, depending on your personal preferences.
Patience then becomes a virtue - some of the best beers I've ever had have been sours. A brewery that is somehow able to consistently replicate its sour beers over time (great-tasting beers, mind you) deserves the highest praise. Sours can range in flavor/aroma, so no two are ever alike. If you're interested in doing your own homework on the subject - may I suggest these (just off the top of my head: Brux Domesticated Wild Ale, Duchesse De Bourgogne (Saralyn's favorite), any of the often hard-to-obtain Cascade or Russian River sours. If you haven't been introduced to the world of sour beers, go in with an open mind and trust me, you won't be disappointed.
Now, will GrassLands have a sour program? That remains to be seen. We've been happily brainstorming different ways to "reward" future customers of the taproom we expect to have in place when we get going. One of these ideas is to have a pilot system onsite devoted to experimental brews that you won't find on tap or canned/bottled anywhere else but the taproom.
Sound fun? We need to be careful, however. As I noted before, introducing a sour program requires dedicated equipment. One of the breweries we envy, Cigar City, suspended its sour program a while back for various reasons...there's a common saying in the craft beer world: If you get "brett" into your system, you might as well do one of two things:
- Start gettin' really good at brewing sours; or
- Burn down the brewery :)
Long story short? Ethereal Earth Belgian Strong Sours #1 & #2 and the Drunken Sweet Potato Old Ale Experiment #1 will most likely be ready to go sometime in 2014...though I'll probably sneak a taste here & there between now & then. We'll also be brewing these again in the Fall. Want to play the waiting game with us?
With that, my dear readers, we'll close for the week. Have an absolute blast this weekend doing whatever it is you wanna do! We certainly will!