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Author Replies
03/20/10 11:40 AM  
Best approach to Start Solera
Hi all, 1st post. I see some of you from other places

I visit ;)

I have a medium toast 50 liter hungarian oak cask

that was used to hold red wine freshly dumped enroute

to my location.

I want to do a solera and harvest 5 gallons at a time.

Methinks going from lighter color beer to darker makes

sense. And starting with sacc yeast ferments then moving into brett ferments as the barrel ages.

Advise and discussion is welcomed.

Thanks in advance

03/21/10 12:45 AM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
Might try this website.



03/21/10 12:07 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
Thanks B-Dub, I read that post and listened to the radio clip. Some good information there. I prolly got the cart before the horse and actually need to inspect the keg, which might help my decision process along. Now I am leaning toward a rochefort clone (Hermann Holtrop's).

Altho I cannot imagine why I would sour that recipe it is so good as is...

Mike T
03/22/10 09:46 AM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
I think a wine barrel aged Rochefort clone sounds delicious. Be aware though there is a good chance the beer will end up souring on its own since it is nearly impossible to keep a wine barrel sanitary.

If you take out half of the beer each year you'll end up with a blend with an average age of 2 years, seems like a good place to start, but you can adjust your timing/amount based on how the flavor progresses.

A friend and I just started a solera in a wine barrel in my basement, just a simple pale pils/oat/wheat sour beer. We did the primary fermentation in the barrel, but I wouldn't suggest that for a clean beer since it would be less forgiving on sitting on the trub for a couple years. We are going to pull 15 gallons a year and top off with 20 (assuming me lose ~5 gallons a year to evaporation) that will give us an average age of 3 years eventually. If it gets too sour we may step it up, or maybe ferment the top-off beers to reduce the food the bugs get.

03/22/10 12:44 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
Keep in mind that the first beer that you put in the barrel will absorb most of the residual wine flavors and oak tannins. Subsequent beers will need much longer contact time for effects. I would start with a dark rich beer that can handle the intense flavors that will be drawn from the barrel.
Rob B
03/22/10 02:32 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
-->Mike T

If you pull 15 gals a year and plan to top off with 20gals, does this mean you are not topping off along the way? So, you will have approx. 5 gals of air/CO2 space at the top of your barrel? I know with the bugs you will likely have a pellicle for protection...is this the way traditional lambic brewers age their barrels, without topping off?

Mike T
03/22/10 03:31 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
That's correct, we aren't planning on doing top-offs between pulls. I believe that is how most traditional lambic producers age their beers as well, and we've had good luck not topping off our other two (non-solera) sour barrels, no acetic issues, oxidation etc...

We did pull 5 gallons out of the barrel to leave room for primary fermentation, but now that we added that portion back we won't touch it again (aside from a taste ever few months) for the next year or so.

03/22/10 05:11 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
I know I've been a bad brewer, and don't need to be told it is to early.

However, I have 2 solera barrels in the garage and taste them when I top them off. So far they are about 2-3 months old. I am wondering what type of flavors would I expect to taste in the early stages? Knowing full well the flavors will develop over time, I am also interested in how they will evolve.

Today they are sulfury and just taste off. It maybe the fantastic Belgian style blond my friend sent me or the sour Red I drank before that. Either way the p-lambic tasted better last month.

I am on the fence about topping vs. not topping barrels. Working around the wine culture from time to time, I am more likely to top them off. Glad to hear some guys are getting good results from letting the barrel go for a year without topping.

Time of a 3rd beer?? Yes, it is!


03/23/10 01:09 AM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
I was under the impression that one needs to top off

the barrels to keep the integrity of the wood, i.e. if

it drys out too much it is not a good thing. As far as the

barrel souring on it's own, I plan to hit it with Brett lambicus from Wyeast AND I hope to get my hands on a sixer

of Avery's Depuceleuse and the bugs in those bottles.

I may be able to guide the innoculation of my Oak.

Mike T
03/23/10 08:46 AM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
With a smaller barrel you may need to top-off since your surface to volume ratio is higher and your wood is thinner. As a result you'll be losing a higher percentage of the volume, especially if the barrel is somewhere hotter/drier than a DC basement. I have no experience with barrels smaller than 55 gallons (oddly), so someone else might be able to give you some more applicable advice.

Topping off is more about preventing oxygen in the headspace than preserving the integrity of the barrel. That is only really a concern if you let the barrel sit completely empty for an extended period of time.

03/23/10 11:43 AM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
FWIW, I was just in Belgium and had the opportunity to visit both Cantillon and Boon; and neither of them top off the barrels after they have been filled.

Cantillon uses the "standard" of used wine barrels, whereas Boon has big foeders, similar to Rodenbach, although not nearly as large. As well as their own coopers to maintain them.

So, that is what at least two traditional Lambic brewers do. If it were me, for a pLambic style beer, I probably wouldn't top off.

tom sawyer
03/26/10 02:30 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
Won't oxygen promote acetobacter? I'd top off for this reason.
Mike T
03/26/10 03:52 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
From what I've heard of Russian River's system Vinnie is more concerned that oxygen will get in if he takes off the bung to top-off. He takes all his samples from a small stainless steel nail filled hole to avoid disturbing the pellicle as well (haven't tried that yet on mine, and we still didn't have any acetic issues even without topping off).
03/29/10 02:10 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
^ That same method or similar is a pretty common practice. At Boon they actually have nice valves in the barrels to sample from. Same thing at Rodenbach. I don't remember seeing any of the nails at Cantillon - but that doesn't mean they weren't there.

We also got to try some barrel aged Quad from the new barrel project at La Trappe/Koningshoeven, and they DID use the SS nail trick there. Probably more important for them as they don't want bugs in there just yet. Although they told us they were going to start some experiments with their Quad and brett. Sounds fantastic.

tom sawyer
03/29/10 10:30 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
Does a barreled wild brew grow a pellicle, and if so do you ever have to empty it to get rid of the stuff that has dropped to the bottom?

And I suppose you dso a primary fermentation priot to racking to the barrel?

I'm excited to give this a try, I have some Zin in an 11gal barrel right now and am tempted to use this for my solera. I could buy a new barrel but I worry that the first beer would have too much oak flavor. I'm thinking a nice dubbel recipe would be good in the wine barrel.

03/30/10 01:24 AM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
tom sawyer,

I cannot answer that pellicle question. I think you need

pediococcus to get the pellicle so if you have that organism, you will get the pellicle.

I am doing a primary saccromyces ferment before putting

the beer into the solera. because I do not want to

put the brett into my fermenters.

As for emptying the dropped stuff, I say NO, it is in the

beer anyhow and just enjoy it..there is talk of the cherries that are left in barrels till the pits are eaten up...gone...yeilding a good almond amaretto flavor...go figure.

Oak flavor is an issue, but one I don;t mind. I will

prolly rack 5 gallons off in 2 months or so and replace

that volume with some fresh wert.... it is a living experiment at my house...

Mike T
03/30/10 09:29 AM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
Yes, our barreled beers have all grown pellicles, but after we pump one out we have yet to do any cleaning. That may change after the second round since we don't want too much trub in the barrel.

This post has some pictures from the most recent bottling day: http://www.themadfermentationist.com/2010/03/bourbon-barrel-wee-heavy-bottling.html including an iffy shot of the pellicle on our Beatification inspired sour pale and the "dregs" of the bourbon barrel sour wee heavy before we filled it back up with porter/stout.

We have two barrels where most of the beer going in has already been fermented out (generally we add 5 gallons of fresh wort to feed the bugs right off the bat), but the solera primary fermentated in the barrel. We'll decide whether or not to keep that up based on how the beer tastes when we get ready for the first exchange.

03/30/10 10:17 AM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
to auote the last line of text in your link above,

"With all three of our barrels filled in the last few months there probably won't be much we have to do with any of them until late in the fall at the earliest."

That is the part I am concerned about to a degree. It is how to open and extract the beer with the least amount of

fear of any contamination and O2 exposure. I may build

a co2 gas pusher out of a couple tubes and the bung to try

to minimize exposures. I don't really want to drain

the barrel each harvest, but rather would prefer to pull

5 gallons at a time every few months...and replace that beer with fresh beer. I cringe at the thought of putting a stainless nail in the barrel ends/wood.

tom sawyer
03/30/10 12:25 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
If you put a little fermentables in with each addition of fresh beer, some CO2 would be generated that would purge your headspace wouldn't it? Even residual CO2 in a beer right out of primary might have enough CO2.
03/30/10 01:27 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
<<I think you need pediococcus to get the pellicle so if you have that organism, you will get the pellicle.>>

Actually all you need is Brett and a small amount of O2. The pellicle is created by the Brett as an O2 barrier. Pedio creates the "sickness". Ie, the snotty, ropey, slime.

I wouldn't worry too much about contaminating your barrel. Any small amount of O2 will be consumed by the brett.

I also wouldn't worry about the stainless nail, as it's very common practice. Although remember it's really only for sampling. In order to remove larger portions of beer you still need to rack out the bunghole. ;)

03/30/10 02:18 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
All this is good to know, I thank you all

for the commentary. I have been builiding

a rolling rack for the solera to reside upon.

It is a wheeled furniture dolly with 2x6 uprights

and a couple saddles for the hoops to sit upon.

Got the cultures of brett lambicus today. I read

the destructions and they said to put the bugs

into the beer before it is finished fermenting.

I did not want to put the bugs into my primaries,

and prefer to wait to put them into the oak solera only.

03/30/10 06:35 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
You should be fine doing either. Especially if you design your recipe to leave a little residual sugars for the brett. If your primaries are glass or stainless, then I wouldn't worry about it. I use the same carboys for all my beers, sour or not.
tom sawyer
03/30/10 07:52 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
You can transfer near the end of primary and still have some sugars left, or add some candi syrup or sugar when you rack to the barrel.

I've fermented wild brews in plastic and glass, and with a good sanitization I used them for regular beers without contamination. I don't think there's anything especially hard to kill about these wild bugs, unless you are talking about a surface like oak.

Post a photo of your rolling drum dolly if you can. Sounds like a good idea.

03/31/10 01:07 AM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
tankdeer "You should be fine doing either. Especially if you design your recipe to leave a little residual sugars for the brett. If your primaries are glass or stainless, then I wouldn't worry about it. I use the same carboys for all my beers, sour or not."

My Primaries are buckets but I did put in a quarter lb of maltodextrins food for brett...I am planning on adding some sour pie cherries soon as well.

I will put photos somewhere and link you to em. I still

got a learning curve to travel on this bbb.

03/31/10 12:09 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
rolling rack photo is here


tom sawyer
03/31/10 03:13 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
Nice rolera.
04/01/10 10:57 AM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
I have probably mentioned it before, but I have some sort of a solera going using 2 Better Bottles. I thought about using a barrel, but I would only want a used 55 gallon barrel, and that is just too damn big for me.

So, I have 2 Better Bottles.

#1 - 5 gallons of the current batch of flanders red

#2 - 5 gallon blend of previous years' batches

After a year of aging, I rack off 2.5 gallons from each and bottle. The blended carboy gets topped off with the remaining 2.5 gallons of the current batch. And then I brew another batch, repitching some of the slurry from the previous year.

I started this in 2008, and bottled the first blend about 3 months ago. It initially had that "cheerios" taste Mike T has alluded to, as well as bottle rings, but they have since calmed down and are quite tasty. Not quite as sour as I would like (I am entering them in comps as Flanders Brown), but I expect future blends to be up to snuff.

04/06/10 02:13 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
Well the Solera is begun. I put the rochefort

beer into the Oak this AM. |;)

tom sawyer
04/06/10 04:59 PM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
On your mark, get set,...WAIT!

Mine is cooking along, thanks to my adding a little WLP530 slurry to the brew. I kind of regret that but I'm sure it'll sour/funk up just fine. That little measly bit of stuff in the vial of sour mix, just seemed so inadequate.

I'm tempted to throw in a packet of WY lambic blend when I brew the next installment to fill the barrel. That should really seed the barrel with lots of different organisms.

04/14/10 01:13 AM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
I want to make at least one pull from this solera with

beer that has not been intentionally soured. Think I will

brew this weekend another rochefort as replacement liquid

so that I can make a pull when the replacement beer is finished primary fermentation. That way I have something

to work with...

If I don't care for the taste at this point, I can go ahead

and sour the barrel and move to Kriek land.

tom sawyer
05/05/10 08:22 AM  
Re: Best approach to Start Solera
I topped my barrel up last night with some wheat beer brewed with WY3278. It is completely full now and will rest this way for a year. I still have nearly 2gal of the wheat beer, and it smells pretty good. I might keg it just so it doesn't go to waste. I'm going to use the yeast cake for another batch.

The basement is filling up with wild beer!

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