Down the rabbit hole of sour beer

Over time I have had a few sour beers,  but I had not done much exploration of the genre. After the success of the Backyard Berry Sour a.k.a. Pink Beer, I wanted to explore them more broadly. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is seemingly  not on the sour beer  distribution web  (if one exists). A few trips out East and careful scrounging for sour beers locally additionally piqued my interest.   However, the prices ($13-23 / 4 pack) were at the upper end of my price range.

I did however decide that based on my tastings that I wanted to try my hand at “brett beers”. That is, those that are fermented with the aid of Brettanomyces cultures rather than just sticking with the safer kettle soured (Lactobacillus culture) beers.  To most brewers and vintners, having Brett in the brew is a sign of contamination and when not intentionally added, leads to off flavors, gushers (beers that spray forth when opened) and bottle bombs (don’t wait for a human to open them).

More research was in order, so I could make my own. Hopefully with some controls so I could brew conventional beers and keep the brett monster in its place.  The first purchase was  “American Sour Beers” which provides a great overview of the processes, methods and recipes.   The second was “Yeast” which covers the use of yeast in brewing as well as the necessary scientific methods (proper culturing / propagation, cell counting, viability testing, etc). Both of these appealed to my inner engineer.  I was especially impressed with the writing style in Yeast, where one of the authors (Chris White of White Labs ) does not make this a pedestal to promote his own products but rather uses them as infrequent examples – great restraint.

Next was the need for a bit more equipment.  There is the fear and potential problem of accidental cross contamination.  So it is best to keep all plastic parts separate between the regular and Brett beers. That means fermenters, hoses, stoppers, siphon, wine thief, lids, Tilt hydrometer, etc.   I also purchased a microscope and hemocytometer to do some cell counting (OK this was just for the inner geek but fun anyway).   I do also practice double sanitization (once after washing everything after brewing and once before brewing) both as a good general practice and to avoid accidental cross contamination.

So more or less prepared, I ordered the ingredients along with both kinds of yeast needed.   I am not yet ready to jump into brett only fermentations so I followed the recommendations and stated with a Belgian style ale yeast – SafAle BE-134 for primary fermentation and Omega Yeast – All the Bretts  for the brett culture. I have used BE-134 in a number of beers and like it but the All the Bretts was the only Brett yeast in stock locally in late summer.

Next- on to the brewing.