Sour Solera

Sun Jul 14, 2013 4:05 pm

So it took me and Pete a minute to put everything together; we had about 5 years of brewing notebooks to go through! So I will try to make this as painless as possible. This is exactly what we did, and no doubt can't be replicated exactly, but the general process can.

The simple explanation:
Get a barrel, fill it with beer, innoculate with Brett, Lacto, Pedio, ect.
Wait until it reaches level of sourness you prefer.
Pull as much beer off as you like, then top back off with fresh beer - repeat as necessary!

The long explanation:

Step One:
Find a used barrel!
I bought a used Chardonnay barrel off Ebay. All I know about it is that it came from a California Winery. I had tried to source local, I'm from Chicago though so it was hard. Barrel was about $100, but shipping was more than the cost of the barrel for me, probably about $150-200 on shipping, lame right! If a club/group was doing this the expense could easily be distributed among members.

Step Two:
***CAUTION: Using chemicals is dangerous and should be treated with care and respect. PLEASE make sure you have done your homework before proceeding!
In ideal situations you would get a freshly emptied barrel and then just do a several-cycle water rinse, then fill with beer immediately (yay, no chemicals!). That was not our situation...
Anyone getting a barrel of indeterminate freshness should definitely go through this process because the wood staves need to swell to the point it can hold liquid again. Plus, you will want to make sure the barrel is clean of anything weird... Soak barrel by filling with cold water. We did this for about a week; it had to keep being topped off due to leakage.The cold water soak can last from 2-5 days. More Beer(Wine) has info on Barrel Care, however it is specific to wine use so just keep that in mind, not all the info will apply. At the point that the barrel stopped seeping water we filled it with a H2O/Citric Acid/SO2 solution. This is a holding solution used in the wine industry and over time it will strip your barrel of oak flavors. However, if you are at all concerned about unfriendly bugs in the barrel this will take care of it. This is a holding solution so you can store your barrel indefinitely, until you are ready to fill. We let the solution soak in the barrel for about a month before emptying, rinsing repeatedly, and filling with beer.

Step Three:
Brew, A LOT!!!
You should have already started brewing for the big fill day by now (maybe its really step one). We had already started the soaking/cleaning process when brewing like crazy began. We brewed roughly 60 gallons of beer using the following 10 gallon batch size recipe:

Belgian Blonde
22lbs Pilsner
2 lbs Flaked Wheat
Target mash pH 5.2
Mash @ 155F *mash high to ensure terminal gravity finishes high. Brett will dry it out in the barrel.
90 min boil
1.4 oz Willamette 4.4% alpha @ 90min
1.5 oz Sterling 6% alpha @ 30min
Pitched 4000ml starter WLP500 @ 67F, fermented @ 70/72F
*we also pitched WLP530 in about half the batches
Average OG 1.066
Average FG 1.015

Sour Beer to innoculate barrel
appx 8 gallon batch
8lbs Pilsner
8lbs Wheat
Mash @ 150F
Shoot for 10 IBU's @ 60min *any bittering hop will do
Pitched Wyeast 5112 Brett Brux, Wyeast 5335 Lacto, Wyeast 5733 Pedio @ 67F, fermented @ 70F
Pitched additional 1500ml starter grown from RR Temptation dregs. We may or may not have also tossed in dregs from a couple bottles of our favorite Cantillon and Lost Abby beers :)
OG 1.034
FG 1.006

Step Four:
Fill the barrel!
Once we had all the beer finished we racked it into our clean barrel. This may be obvious but… make sure the barrel is in its final resting place before you fill it up. We started with the Sour batch first, then kept racking the Blonde into the barrel until it was as close to the bung hole as possible. Then we placed a rubber stopper with an airlock into the bung hole and watched the beer go crazy for about two weeks. Once the second ferment stopped we replaced the airlock with a solid rubber stopper.

Step Five:
WAIT! and wait, and wait...
In hindsight we should have installed a "Vinnie nail", Google it... But we did not, so after about six months we pulled the bung and stole a sample using a wine thief. Just be sure if you are sampling beer through the bung hole that you disturb the pellicle as little as possible; don't go roaming around! It wasn't ready, so we forgot about it for another 18 months. Then, almost exactly 2 years after the original fill date, sour bliss!

Step Six:
Solera treatment (sort of)...
A true Solera uses multiple barrels where you rack a portion of beer from one barrel into the next in succession by year. No barrel is ever emptied completely, so some of the earliest product always remains present. In a homebrewing application, multiple barrels would require a lot more of everything: space, beer, patience... So we run ours as a single barrel Solera. This is the fun part! Once the beer reached the level of sourness we desired, pretty damn sour, we could start taking and giving back to the barrel as much as we wanted. Of course, you have to let some time pass in between pulls to allow the sourness to readjust after adding fresh beer. You will see this reflected in our schedule. Also, there is definitely a correlation between how much beer you pull/add back with how much wait time there is before you can pull again. Something else to consider is if you think the beer has reached a high point and you really love the flavor that's happening, by all means, pull 30 or 40 gallons. Just remember to be prepared to fill it back up, and wait again. Our Solera is almost 5 years in and we basically have an unlimited supply of sour beer at the ready. Plus, you can add any beer you want back into the barrel. We decided to try to turn ours red, and are in the long process of pulling the Sour Blonde out and adding back a Red.

Here is the schedule for our Solera thus far:

Jan '09 - Filled barrel
Dec '10 - pulled 10 gal, racked in 20 gal Red *note the extra 10 gal we had to add to top off barrel, greedy angels
June '11 - pulled 8 gal, racked in 10 gal Red
Nov '12 - pulled 5 gal, racked in 5 gal Interpretation (Temptation clone)
April '13 - pulled 8 gal, racked in 15 gal Red *note again the extra gallons needed to top off

Red, 10 gallon
20lbs 2 Row
1lb Vienna
1.5lb Munich
1lb Special B
.5lb Aromatic
2oz Carafa II
Mash @ 155F
90 min Boil
56g Fuggle 4.2% alpha @ 60min
Pitched 4000ml starter WLP001 @ 67F, fermented @ 70F
OG 1.054
FG 1.014

Interpretation, 5 gallon
14lbs Pilsner
.75lbs Wheat
Mash @ 154F
90 min Boil
.5oz Super Styrian 7% alpah @ 90min
.75oz Sterling 6% alpha @ 30min
.75oz Sterling 6% alpha @ 0min
Pitched 2000ml starter WLP550 @ 68F, let free rise to 76F
OG 1.061
FG 1.014
Racked to a new carboy, then moved to cellar and pitched 500ml starter WLP650 Brett Brux
*this beer was actually brewed in 2008 as a Temptation clone. Fast forward to Nov '12, our Solera had taken on some diacetyl flavors. We were lucky to have this Brett bomb tucked away to add back into the barrel; it really cleaned everything up. So, if you are considering doing a sour solera I would recommend making a Brett beer and just keeping it on hand in your cellar for emergency situations :)

So, that's it! The last pull we made in April '13 was the beer that was served at the BN booth on club night at NHC. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask :)

Love, Angry Megan
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Re: Sour Solera

Sun Jul 14, 2013 5:14 pm

THanks for the post. You mention that the barrel started getting a diacytel flavor and added a full brett beer that cleaned it up. Do you think it would have cleared up on it's own with more time? Pedio getting too prominent? Would adding an active brett culture have had the same effect?

Eagle Dude

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Aging: Flander's Red in a 60 gallon Merlot barrel
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Re: Sour Solera

Mon Jul 15, 2013 2:23 am

Awesome thanks for the post
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Re: Sour Solera

Mon Jul 15, 2013 1:09 pm

I can attest that beer was DELICIOUS! Thanks for posting the process Megan and it was great meeting you in front of our very own BN booth!

Cheers -
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Re: Sour Solera

Mon Jul 15, 2013 1:12 pm

Ditto, what a great fucking beer.....and thank you for the fantastic write up!!!

Now to find the patience for a 5 year beer!!!!

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Re: Sour Solera

Mon Jul 15, 2013 3:34 pm

Whitebeard_Brewer wrote:Now to find the patience for a 5 year beer!!!!

Now to find the cash for a barrel. Damn you Megan! I've already picked out the spot in my basement for it.

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Re: Sour Solera

Tue Jul 16, 2013 2:58 pm

Ozwald wrote:Now to find the cash for a barrel. Damn you Megan! I've already picked out the spot in my basement for it.

Found one for you Ozwald
You just need to hurry on over to MI and hijack the delivery before it makes it to Jolly Pumpkin.
100 bbls, so get brewing! :drink
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Re: Sour Solera

Fri Jul 19, 2013 2:04 pm

EagleDude wrote:THanks for the post. You mention that the barrel started getting a diacytel flavor and added a full brett beer that cleaned it up. Do you think it would have cleared up on it's own with more time? Pedio getting too prominent? Would adding an active brett culture have had the same effect?


Yes, I definetly think the diacytel was caused by the Pedio, and no I don't think that it would have ever cleared up on its own. The beer that you are adding back in is not in an active ferment any longer (sort of) so there is nothing to eat all that shit up. Adding an active brett culture I think would have the same effect, just don't know what size pitch you would need, its all still an experiment for us! Also, something I just realized I never mentioned, whenever you add back into the barrel make sure you replace the bung with an airlock for at least a couple of days to be sure you haven't re-activated a ferment in the barrel, just in case...

Love, Angry Megan

P.S. Money is no reason to not get a barrel, ours was a Christmas present from me to my husband, or you could sell your plasma :) and you don't have to wait 5 years either for great beer; we started pulling sour at 2 years, but we are up to 5 now. Don't wait, do it now!
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