Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Souring wort

So I was craving a Berliner Weisse and really wanted to brew one. I did a ton of research on HomeBrewTalk, through Google and I even emailed Funky Buddha in Boca Raton for info on how they did their Berliners (and he even got back to me!). There was a ton of info and even more opinions on how to sour a beer with the most common general themes as follows: 

1. Souring the mash
2. Souring the wort
3. Souring with a pure lactobacillus culture

I looked into all of these methods and at the pros/cons of each.  Souring the mash and souring the wort were similar in that both methods used lacto that is present naturally on grain to sour the beer.  You mash in and once the mash is done you cool to 110-120F and pitch a handful of the grain then maintain it at that temperature until it reaches the desired level or sourness.  I was a fan of souring the wort because it seemed a little easier to clean up and transfer then souring the whole mash.  The downside to doing this is that you get a fairly one-dimensional sourness.  It's basically just a simple tartness and not very complex which can take away from a beer.  You can also develop some creamed corn/garbage aromas which may or may not clean up in the finished beer (mine mostly do).

Pitching a lacto culture provides a complex sourness and might provide a better overall experience but it can be frustrating to work with.  The sourness takes awhile to develop, so if you're looking for a quick turnaround, this method isn't for you.

Because I like berliners and have zero patience, I sour my wort.  My process which I've tried 5-6 times is as follows:

Once I drained my wort from my mash tun I put it into a bucket that I bought specifically for this lacto purpose. After it is cooled to 110F, I threw in a handful of grain (grain naturally carries lacto on it) and then put an airlock and lid on the bucket and put it in my fridge that I normally use for fermenting. I had put a light bulb in which I turned on and used as a heating source and it was kept insulated by the fridge, essentially creating an incubator. I maintained the fridge as close to 110F as possible because that is around the highest temperature that lacto likes to do its work without being killed (which occurs around 120F). As the wort began souring it gave off a creamed corn smell and when I took a sample it had a nice puckering sour. I was going for a big punch-you-in-the-mouth flavor so I soured it for 4 days.  

I've tried variations of this method with these results: 

4 days souring at 110F - way too sour, warhead level puckering, not desirable
4 days souring at 110F then blended 50/50 with fresh wort = perfect level of puckering tartness
6 days room temp 70F - lightly sour, gravity dropped drastically with minimal ABV contribution.
5 days room temp 70F with boiling water infusion 2x/day - slightly more sour, minimal off flavors, nice sourness and minimal gravity drop

My recommendations:

-Sour the wort for simplicity and quickness.
-Keep the wort as hot as possible for as short as time as possible to minimize off flavors.
-Don't fear the creamed corn/garbage smell!
-Put saran wrap on the top of the wort to minimize introduction to O2.

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