Ben Stange on April 27, 2016 11 Comments There is a lot of debate about whether sour beers are or will be the next big trend in craft beer. Like a lot of styles, sour beers were once very popular (by definition, they were the only beers produced at one time), but have waned in popularity over the years as more variety has become available. Lately, they have seen a resurgence in popularity as more and more beer drinkers discover the range of flavors available to them in today’s market. Sour beers are a great way to expand your palate, as they offer a host of flavor you can’t reproduce with today’s typical brewing yeast. From the awful-sounding but strangely pleasant “horse blanket” of brettanomyces to the more appetizingly tart contributions of lactobacillus and pediococcus, the end result of a well-brewed sour beer is refreshing, complex, and unlike any other beer style. Abandon all hope, ye who brew sour beers! Here’s my tips on how to brew a sour beer, along with a recipe to try. Brewing Sour Beer Click Here to View All Sour Beer Kits, Books & Wild Yeasts For a lot of homebrewers, sour beers represent a great unknown and a very scary risk. To listen to all of the hype regarding brewing sour beers, you would believe that brewing a rous beer would mean that every beer you brew after that would become sour by contamination. The idea is that, by introducing wild yeast and bacteria into your brewing setup, you will then have to replace all of your brewing equipment or face the risk of every pale ale becoming a hopped up lambic. The truth is that it is a risk, but it is not nearly as big a risk as some make it sound. Today, we’ll give you an easy, lower risk way to get into sour beers without investing a fortune in “back up equipment.” We’ll focus on minimizing risk and cost at the same time so you can brew your sour beer confidently and without having to rebuy your entire brewing system (which wouldn’t happen anyway). Give It Time Patience is a virtue, especially with wild yeast. One thing you’ll need to know going into your first sour beer is that you’ll need to give it time. Lots of time. Plan on fermenting this beer in secondary for at least 6 months, and it will continue to develop in the bottle for years after that. So, if you don’t want to wait, brewing this beer is not for you. We’ll be pitching a lambic blend of lacto, pedio, and brett, so you have to give those kids time to finish their flavors. We’ll also be using some US-05, but that’s only to kick start things and to preserve your primary fermenter from contamination. What to Expect on Brew Day Your brew day will be very normal. Really, it’s just another brew day. To brew a good sour beer doesn’t require any special mashing techniques: decoction, turbid, or otherwise. It also doesn’t require step mashing or special coolships. What it does require is a beer style that is relatively mild. Don’t go for anything too roasty, bitter, or spiced, because those flavors will be exaggerated by the low finishing gravity of the beer and this will complicate the palate in potentially unpleasant ways. The ideal beer for your first sour is mild and not too hoppy with just one hop addition at the beginning. And speaking of hops… The Best Hops for Sour Beers You can use old hops for this. In fact, it’s actually encouraged. Belgian brewers who make sour beers deliberately use hops that are aged one to three years in a warm environment. At first, the hops will smell “funky”, then “cheesy”. Eventually, however, they lose all aroma. They also lose their alpha acid bitterness, which is the point. As the hops oxidize, they lose the sharper bitterness from the alpha acids and gain some of the smoother bitterness of the beta acids. This makes a nicer finished profile in the finished beer. If you can’t or won’t age your hops, find very low alpha acid hops. This will help with the alpha:beta balance in your finished beer. If, however, you have some 5 year old hops in the back of your freezer, pull them out and set them in a paper bag on top of your fridge for a few weeks prior to brew day. They may only get to the cheesy stage, but that stage is just fine for this project. How We’ll Limit Exposure First, we’ll isolate the sour bugs to a single fermenter. If you are a plastic bucket brewer, set your oldest one aside. You know, the one you were thinking of retiring. Or, if you keg your beer, set aside a specific keg for this project. Kegs are relatively easy to sanitize, since they are typically stainless steel. At most, you’ll have to replace the rubber from the keg, but you may decide you prefer having a keg dedicated to fermenting the wild stuff. Next, buy an extra siphon hose and bottling wand. You’ll need this if you plan to bottle, which I highly recommend. Even if you perform your secondary fermentation in a keg, you should bottle at least part of your batch so you can let it develop over time. It may not taste awesome right away, but it will get better over time. OK, enough prelude. Here’s the method. The trick to our method is waiting until the last possible time to introduce the wild yeast. Rather than pitching the lambic blend into primary and letting her go, then racking to secondary, then later on racking to bottles, we’ll simply ferment out the easy sugars in primary with the US-05 yeast, then rack the beer to secondary and pitch the lambic blend. The end result is that you have fewer fermenters, hoses, and equipment coming into contact with the wild bugs. If done right, you’ll sacrifice a single fermenter, a bottling hose, and a bottling wand. That’s less than $50 in brewing equipment, and you can just use those ones you were thinking were getting a little old to be trusted. The wild bugs don’t care, and you won’t either. So, next time you consider tossing a bottling bucket, a 4 foot patch of hose, or a bottling wand, set it aside for sour beers instead. So, as you can see, it’s not scary to brew a sour beer, and once you do it, you’ll always have one going in your house. You’ll even start regularly adding copious amounts of fruit to them (which is an option in the recipe below). Sour Blonde Beer (All-Grain Recipe) Now that you’ve learned how to brew sour beer, here’s a recipe to get you started. This sour beer recipe is one of my favorites, and I’m confident you’ll enjoy it as well. Recipe Specs Recipe Type: All-Grain Batch Size: 5 gallons Original Gravity: 1.053 Effciency: 75% Final Gravity: 1.012 SRM: 3.1L IBUs: 16 ABV: 5.4% Ingredients You Will Need: 6 lbs Pilsner Malt 5 lbs Wheat Malt ½ lb. Rice Hulls (Optional – to prevent stuck mash) 3.75 AAU Hallertauer hops (0.75 ounces at 5% AA, for instance) 1 packet Fermentis US-05 Ale Yeast 1 pouch Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend (for secondary) Brewing Procedure: Mash at 152° Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Starch conversion is not as important here, as the wild bugs will chew up the complex starches in secondary. Mash out at 170°, then bring to a boil. As it starts boiling, add your cheesy, nasty old hops to the kettle. Boil them for 90 minutes, then chill the beer and rack it to primary. Pitch the dry yeast and seal it up for 14 days. Once 14 days have passed, you can then pitch the lambic directly into primary and perform the secondary in the same vessel, or you can rack to a clean fermenter for secondary if you are more comfortable with it. Let sit for 6 months, then take a gravity reading. You can bottle at this point with some corn sugar or you can continue to let it age for as long as you like. Variation: After primary fermentation is complete, rack the beer onto at least 5 pounds of fruit in secondary. Make sure the fruit has not been treated with a bunch of chemicals at the grocery store. Buy from a local orchard if possible, or, if you can, get some IQF (Instant Quick Frozen) fruit. IT is commonly sold commercially, but is hard to get for home use. You can do as much as ten pounds of some fruits if you like. Stone fruits like cherries and peaches are excellent options, but peel the peaches if you use them. Let it ferment for the full 6 months, and then taste it and take a gravity reading. If you’re happy, bottle it. If you want to give it more time, let it ride.