Its summer time in case you hadn’t noticed. I sure have. Hot days and slightly less hot nights, summer brings a time for light, easy, refreshing beers. One of my favorites is an apricot pale ale. 5 or 6 pounds Light malt extract (or 8-ish pounds pale malt), half a pound Crystal 20L. Use low mash temps if you brew all grain for a light dry finish. Hop with Cascade, I prefer about an ounce at 60 min. Ferment with a clean ale yeast like Whitelabs WLP001 or Wyeast 1056. Then secondary with a can of Oregon’s Best Apricot puree for about a week or one bottle of Apricot fruit extract at bottling time. The apricot is slightly tart and blends nicely with the citrus of Cascade hops.
While this apricot beer is great and in my beer fridge every summer, the real summer time treat is Berliner Weisse, a tart, sour German wheat ale.
This post is an introduction to sour beer. "What is it" and “how do I start doing this” will be the topic.
The first thing folks often ask me when I offer them a sour ale is "Why would I want to drink that?" My answer is that sour ale is a truly unique type of beer offering a flavor complexity unlike any other beer out there.
Sour ales often have a lower pH. This means that it is more acidic then most beer and can impart a sour, tangy, tart, or puckering flavor sensation, much like lemon-aide or grapefruit can. But, sour ales can also have an acidic vinegar type of flavor.
The 4 major styles of sour ales are: Berliner Weisse, Lambic, Flanders Brown, and Flanders Red. But these days, brewers are experimenting with almost every style of ale and are turning out unique and original creations like sour pales, sour wit beer, and Flanders White ale.
So what makes these beers sour? Ales are normally fermented with various strains of yeast (Saccharomyces cervisiae, otherwise known as ale yeast) that produce reliable, repeatable fermentation. Sour ales introduce a variety of other yeasts and bacteria. Brettanomyces is a wild yeast with several strains. Each strain producing a variety of flavors ranging from spicy and clove (good flavors) to sweaty and horse blanket (not good flavors!). Next you have Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. These are bacteria that produce lactic acid which gives the beer an acid twang.
Using these three” yeast” ingredients in a beer can take it from an understated mellow bland beer, and make it taste like lemon-aide. I think this is pretty neat! I urge you all to go to your local specialty beer store and try out some sour ales.
One of my favorite styles of "sour" ale is the berliner weisse. In Germany it is usually served with raspberry or woodruff syrup to smooth out the acidic sourness. I much prefer drinking it without.
The Berliner Weisse is a German wheat ale with a low abv (2.8% to 3.8%). The sour tang comes from lactobacilus, which creates lactic acid during fermentation giving this beer a lemon aide like flavor. The recipe is very simple, the technique is also.
For all grain brewers, 5 gallon batch:
Start with 3.5 lbs. pale malt, 3 lbs. wheat malt and 1 oz. Hallertuar hops. Mash at 148 F. for 90 min. adding in the hops for a mash hop. After mashing, skip the boil kettle and go directly to a fermenter, this is a sour mash.
For extract brewers, 5 gallon batch:
Start with 4 lbs wheat malt extract. Heat to just about 100F and kill the heat. Stir in the extract and add the hops in a hop bag for 20 minutes.
(The truly sour way)
Once the wort has reached 90 F. transfer to a fermenter add a small pitch (10 to 15 grains) of pale malt directly to the wort. Grain is the perfect vehicle for inoculating with all the bugs that create sour, tart, citric flavors. Keep the fermenter as close to 90F as possible for 2 or 3 days. This will create very stinky, very gross looking wort. If you are truly brave, you can pull a small sample after 24, 48, and 72 hours to taste the sourness develop.
After you reach the sour level you want, transfer the wort to a boil kettle, boil for 15 minutes and chill to pitching temp. Pitch European Ale yeast and let ferment to completion (about a week).
(The slower sour ferment way)
Whitelabs and Wyeast both have Berliner Weisse yeast blends. These blends can be a great way to be introduced to sour ales. Brew as above, boil for 15 minutes, chill, and pitch yeast blend. The issue you will run into is that the blend will take 2 to 3 months to truly “sour” but will be more controlled and less likely to be funky.
(The non-sour sour ale)
Brew as above but ferment with clean neutral ale yeast like WPL001 or Wyeast 1056. Once the beer is fully fermented, taste. The object is to use/add food grade lactic acid to create the sour flavor. Pull a small sample, measure, and slowly add lactic acid. The key here is to be able to upscale the number of drops per ounce to be able to sour the entire batch.
(One last sour method)
The same as the Truly Sour Way but skip the boil! After letting the wort sour for 48 to 72 hours, chill down to pitching temp and simply add European all yeast. This way is the most funky, sour, tart, and unique (as well as traditional) way to brew a Berliner Weisse. The lactobacillus continuous to sour for a bit more before the yeast out competes it.
No matter what method you choose to brew a Berliner Weisse, you won’t be displeased. This beer is a great summer ale! I brewed a double batch just over a week ago and took the no boil road. I’ll let you know how it turns out soon.