Sour Beers and the Long Feedback Loop
Making beer is like anything else in the world. You have to do it a lot to get really good at it. Sure, you can make some fantastic beers right from the start, and your skills evolve even faster if you have the right resources and people to mentor you along. But being able to make something special on a consistent basis takes a lot of trial and error, and getting used to the quirks of your home brewery.
I brew fairly often and I always aim to brew over 60 gallons a year. (That is more than most brewers I personally know, but far, far less than the real homebrew addicts.) Brewing a least once a month is relaxing, cathartic, and it keeps me from getting rusty. The biggest benefit is getting things very right and very wrong, and learning from them. If I brew a BJCP style that I’m not really happy with, I make it again. Maybe not the next month, but usually soon after.
Given my latest addiction to brewing sour ales, my new dilemma is figuring out how to speed up the feedback loop on beers that take several years to make. I have a Flanders Red (Stupid Sexy Flanders) Ale that I brewed at the end of May, and it is fermenting away. I’m pretty excited about trying it out, but it really isn’t going to be ready until May of 2011. That is a long time to wait for that sort of feedback.
Was I right to pitch a neutral yeast first? Should I have just pitched the Roeselare blend from the start? Did I use an oak with the right degree of toast? Was the malt bill right? Were there enough remaining sugars for the brettanomyces to dig into?
And what do I do with the sour beers that I brew in the meantime? Do I try different methods and ingredients in those batches to contrast? Because I might have gotten it accidentally “right” the last batch….
So far, I’ve been lucky with the lambics and Berliner Weisses I’ve made, but they can certainly be improved upon. I have the feeling that I might be splitting some of these batches, in the future, to help accelerate the learnings about these wonderful beers that aren’t all that wonderful for the impatient brewer.