Mar 15 2011

Why are Commercial Breweries Afraid of the Berliner Weisse?

The Berliner weisse style is a favorite among homebrewers.

It’s a sour session beer, around 3% ABV, which originated in Germany back in the 16th century. I’ve brewed this style several times, with great results, and it always seems to popping up in homebrew tweets. Just last week, James from Basic Brewing Radio and The Mad Fermentationist talked about brewing the style in a podcast.

Yet, for all our love of the BW, there are very few examples of the style that are commercially available. If I am lucky, I might be able to find a few bottles from two breweries at the best local beer store. The Bruery’s Hottenroth and Fritz Briem’s 1809 immediately come to mind.

This had me wondering why are the commercial breweries so far behind the homebrewing community with this style?

And let’s not pretend that I have some inflated opinion of the homebrewing and its effects on breweries. Sure, most pro brewers started their careers with small batches made at home, and homebrewers have the ability to wildly experiment with new styles and ingredients without hurting the bottom line of a business. So there a safety net there in that only pride, and not a company, is hurt when a 5 gallon batch is poured down the drain.

This isn’t an experimental style. It is pretty clearly defined, and no more challenging to make than any other sour.  In fact, it can be turned around in a matter of weeks, rather than months, so that should be attractive to a commercial brewery from a simple logistical standpoint.

I can think of dozens of other reasons why and why not, but it seems like something better throw out to the community.

I say this in some jest, but why are commercial breweries afraid of the Berliner Weisse?


Jan 13 2010

Dry-Hopping the Brett-Saison with Amarillo Hops

Back in August of 2009, I took a fully fermented homebrewed saison batch of mine and split it into two 3-gallon carboys. On one I put a vial of Brett B, and on the other I pitched the dregs of an Avery Brabant. The initial post about the sour saison experiment is here.

I haven’t post anything about the tasting of these two batches simply because I haven’t bottled them yet.  (Despite the fact the Brabant version has won a silver medal in a BJCP competition. Ahhh, the joys of wine thieving….)  I will be bottling that soon, hopefully this week.

But the clear winner was the Brabant version.  It was more tart, sour and refreshing.  (More to come later) But this wasn’t a really fair race.  The Brett B version was purely a brettanomyces addition, and the dregs of the Brabant included brettanomyces, lactobacillus, pediococcus and whatever else was cultured up from the bottle.

So, never leaving well enough alone, I decided to play with the Brett B saison before bottling. I’m not a huge fan of the Americanization of Belgian and French beers, but I have had a few interesting ones of late.  I really liked the aroma hop kick of the Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian IPA, and seemed like it would be fun to try dry-hopping my saison with American hops.

Without look it up, it was clear to me that the dry hop aroma from the FDRB was Amarillo hops. So took 1 oz of some Amarillo hops and dropped them into carboy, which holds about 2 gallons of sour saison at this point. The look of it is disturbing.

Through the neck of the carboy

Amarillo hops and the remaining bits of pellicle.

The mixture of green Amarillo pellet hops and the remaining bits of pellicle is glorious.  But, unfortunately, it was difficult to photograph. If you aren’t familiar with what these sour beers look like, I think it might be unsettling. Honestly, it looks like some sort of tomatillo salsa verde thing.

But I am loving the look of this, and the smell is already amazing.

I’ll leave the hops on the saison for about a week, then I’ll bottle them up.


Aug 25 2009

Brett and Sour Saison Split Batch Experiment


**2/22/11 Update** 

I sent the Brett B version of the saison (renamed Monsoon Season) to the Batch 300 competition put on by The Bruery. It didn’t get Best of Show, but it did come in first in Category 16. All and all, very cool. The results. 

The second split batch experiment happened on Sunday night with my latest saison. 

I’ve done a few saison homebrews, and I always find I enjoy the bretted and soured batches just a little bit more. Saisons are not complete strangers to wildness and sourness, and some of the more famous examples of the style from Brasserie Fantôme and Brasserie à Vapeur  are amazing because of those notes.  I think it adds more complexity to the beer, and I find myself ramping up the acidulated malt that I put into the mash a little more each time.  The idea behind this experiment was to ferment a saison and then to add a pure brettanomyces culture to one and brett and some souring bacteria into the other. 

The beer started out as one of my standard saison batches with the not-so-secret ingredient of some acidulated malt.  It started out with an OG of 1.068, and I fermented it at around 80 degrees.  It dropped down to a 1.006 less than a week later, and then I let it sit for another week just to clean itself up and let the yeasts drop out.  (I say “yeasts” because I pitch a saison yeast, in this case WLP565, and then a clean Cal ale yeast, the Safale US-05, 48 hours later to insure the beer dries out enough.) 

On Sunday (8/23/09), I split the batch evenly between two 3-gallon carboys.  Into one carboy I pitched a vial of White Labs Brettanomyces Bruxellensis (WLP650), and into the other I pitched a starter I had ramped up from the dregs of an Avery Brabant.  (Yes, this is deviation from the original souring gameplan.) 

 Split Brett Saison Batch

The Brett B is a pure culture of that brettanomyces strain and it is often used for secondary fermentation of Belgian beers and lambics.  It creates a medium intensity funk, and it is some pitched at bottling by brewers.  The Avery culture is a bit more of a wildcard.  It is my understanding that the Brabant undergoes a secondary fermentation brett b, too, but it isn’t the same culture as the tube.  The bottle dregs likely include lactobacillus (lacto) and pediococcus (pedio) bacteria. These can add extra tartness and perhaps add a vinegar quality to the beer. 

Since the final gravity of the beer was so low, the bretts shouldn’t have too much to feast upon and that should control the funkiness to a certain degree.  As of two nights later, the brett b carboy doesn’t appear to be doing anything visually, but its airlock seems to be under a bit more pressure.  The Brabant carboy is getting a white foaminess to it, and may be forming a pellicle.  

I’m not sure how long I will let these beers age and evolve.  I will likely taste them every so often and see if they are in a place where I want to bottle them.  

We’ll see where this one ends up.  

As a sidenote, I did use my wine thief a few weeks ago to fill up a few bottles of the pre-brett saison for tasting and a homebrew competition.  I tasted one right before the split and it was very, very good.  It made it harder to pitch uncertainty into what was an amazing beer, but at least I know I have the recipe I want dialed in for the future. 

The recipe for giggles: 

Le Moribond – (Saison) 2009

Starting Gravity: 1.068 (8/2/09) Days @ 80° F
Final Gravity:  1.006 (8/23/09)
8.15% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 90.71
Real Attenuation: 73.35

Mash (147° 60 min)
10 lb Pilsener Malt
2 lb Golden Promise
1 lb Munich Malt
0.75 Wheat Malt
0.25 CaraMunich 40
0.25 Acidulated Malt (Sauer)
1 lb Cane Sugar

Boil (70 minute boil)
2.0 Hallertauer Leaves (4.3 AA) (60 min)
0.75 Hallertauer Leaves (4.3 AA) (0 min)
1 tablet Whirlfloc (Boil – 15 min.)
½ tsp Brewer’s Choice Wyeast Nutrient Blend (Boil – 10 min.)

Primary (>80° F)

White Labs WLP565 – Starter made
Safale-05 – Packet pitched after 48 hours in primary


Jul 11 2009

Stupid Sexy Flanders 7-4-09 Tasting

I’ve mentioned before that I love sour beers, but they take  a long time to ferment and age.   This means their feedback loop is long, and that it is difficult to tweak recipes and experiment with them in timely way.  Jeff gave me a good suggestion about tasting them every few months and taking notes. 

Despite the fact it is common for these styles to simply taste awful until one arbitrary day, many months later, when they turn into something magical, I think I will try to do that.  It may or may not be valuable data, but it is taking an action of sorts and that is a tiny bit of relief. 

This is a Flanders Red, and it started with an original gravity of 1.058 on May 23rd and it dropped to a 1.026 two days later with the help of a packet of Safale-05.  At that point, I racked it into a secondary PET carboy, pitched the Wyeast Roeselare blend, and added 1 ounce of medium toast French oak cubes that I had steamed and soaked in pinot noir for 2 weeks.

A mere month and a half later, the gravity is down to 1.012.  The PET container had small, floating bits of pellicle, but no noticeable other activity.  I pulled a  4 ounce sample off the carboy, measured the gravity and poured it into a tasting glass.

Stupid Sexy Flanders 7-4-09


The appearance was a light brown with gold and ruby highlights.  Very warm and inviting.  It appeared at bit thin, which is not unusual for a style that ferments down so low.  

It is very early in this young beer’s life, but there were hints of subtle barnyard notes in the aroma and taste.  (More so in the taste.)  I couldn’t not detect any sourness and they was plenty of malt flavor in there for the bugs to dig into for the next year. 

It was interesting for me to see how quickly the yeast and lambic cultures have torn into the beer.  It appears that it will take quite a while for the lactic bacteria to do its job and to sour and acidify.  I’m not known for my patience, but I will try to be.

I’ll taste this one again at the six month mark.