Saturday, 28 March 2015

Solera Top-off Wort

Next week is my solera's birthday, and I'm looking forward to it! With my sour beers it's like I get to celebrate my (beer) child's 1st birthday every year! It's funny to think that I have some beers that are older than my friend's children.. I guess it's kind of morbid to think of it this way since I consume them for my enjoyment, but I digress..

I know very well that you can make a pretty damn good sour beer without using traditional methods, but I like the romanticism of doing "Ye olde brooing" once or twice a year. I typically do one in October for my yearly spontaneous fermentation, and the second in April for my solera (of course last year that meant "ye olde brooing" 3 days in a row (60L)). I've found that after enough time doing brewing, the brew days can seem a little repetitive, so it's nice to refresh the joy in brewing by playing with new ingredients or new techniques. 

Traditionally, the grist for a lambic is made up of 30-40% raw unmalted wheat with the rest made up of malted barley. In order to get good conversion with the unmalted wheat, a cereal mash is typically done. The traditional way to do a cereal mash involves doing a short mash with 10% malted barley in order to lower the pH and get a small conversion. Following this short mash, you boil the grains in order to gelatinize the starches and burst some of starch stores to make them more available for the amylases in the full mash.

I then got the full mash going - I went with 30% wheat, with the rest being Canadian 2-row malt and a pound of Munich for some melanoidin character. I mashed high - around 158*F, which is the temperature where many of the beta-amylases denature or don't work as efficiently, while the alpha amylases do their work. This high temperature leaves much longer sugars and dextrins left over for the bacteria and wild yeasts to eat during the year long fermentation, as they are better equipped with enzymes to digest the longer sugars whereas the basic brewer's yeast can only process the smaller simpler sugars. For a turbid mash, a portion of the mash is taken off and boiled within the first few minutes of the mash. This denatures all the enzymes and leaves some starches intact for the bacteria and wild yeast. I removed 3L of turbid liquid and boiled it down.

I wanted to try something interesting, so I took the 3 litres, boiled it for the protein break, and then put it into mason jars and pressure cooked it for an hour during the boil. I didn't want to do a super long boil and waste the propane, so i was hoping that by pressure cooking the wort I would see some caramelization in the wort. Previously when pressure cooking wort for starters in order to sterilize it, I've seen caramelization happen in as little as 15 minutes, but even with an hour running the cooker hot there wasn't much caramelization. I added some yeast nutrient hoping that the nitrogen would help with the maillard reactions, but alas there was not that much. I realize now that the reason for the lack of caramelization is likely due to the lack of sugars, since the wort was taken off in the first 10 minutes of the mash and there likely wasn't much conversion from starch to sugar. I'd like to try this same experiment with a Scottish ale.

The runoff with this beer was painfully slow, and I had to restart it several times. The sparge was a little better. Typically you sparge at 170*F to make the sugars more soluble and easier to take off, but with a lambic you sparge with 200*F water to pull more starches, dextrins and sugars out. Usually you would be worried that the hotter sparge would lead to tannins and astringency, but in this case the super long fermentation with all the different bacteria and yeast leads to the tannins being either digested or precipitated. Following the hot sparge water addition, the wort flowed out a lot easier.

I used 3 year old whole leaf cascades that have been sitting in a bag in my basement. When hops age they go through cycles, and for quite a while these were smelling like parmesan cheese and grass. On a long enough timeline they will go past the cheesy stage and start smelling just grassy and herby. These have gotten to that stage. Typically, using 3 oz's of hops would lead to quite a bit of bitterness, but as time goes on the alpha acids degrade leading to beta acids in the hops. This means that the bitterness is lost, but some antibacterial ability is conserved. Traditionally, this is much more important in spontaneous fermentation in order to steer the beer to the better bugs you want in a lambic, but again I really wanted to keep this beer as traditional as possible.

After leaving it overnight to cool in the garage, I racked it into a fermentor and pitched a 1.5L starter of Scottish Ale yeast. I'm fermenting it warm hoping for more esters for the brettanomyces to transform into crazy compounds.

The solera is plenty sour right now.. I want it a bit more sour but not a lot more sour. I'm hoping that fermenting first with Ale yeast, but leaving a lot of complex sugars and starches will leave enough food for more sourness, but not too much..

Solera Top-up Wort.

6 gallons
OG: 1.065

Mashed at 160*F
7# 2-row Base Malt
4# Unmalted Wheat
1# Munich Malt - 8*L

3 oz 3 Year Old Cascades

Fermented with Wyeast Scottish Ale - Pitched 80*F, fermented at basement ambient

Calgary north tap water - untreated.

Update: Due to THP flavors in the Solera, I'm letting it age longer before pulling from it. In the mean time, I've innoculated this top off wort with sour house cultures from wild captures and collected dregs.

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