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Mike T
07/02/10 02:20 PM  
Pre-boil Wort Souring
One of the great things about running a blog is that every once in awhile someone sends me interesting information (tasty beers are a nice perk as well). About a year ago I got an email purporting to give the production method employed by one of the more secretive sour beer producers in America. The information was given to him by a tour guide at the brewery, so it may not be 100% accurate, but it makes a good deal of sense to me. Since the owner of this brewery has always avoiding giving his process, so Iíll avoid mentioning it by name.


A warm wort ďstarterĒ has grain added as a source of microbes. This starter is held at ~120 degrees to promote the growth of lactobacillus. Three days later this starter is pitched into the rest of the batch and the whole thing is held at 80 for three more days (or until the correct level of sourness has been reached). At that point the wort is heated to kill the bugs, chilled, pitched with ale yeast and allowed to ferment as usual. It sounds to me like a good way to avoid many of the issues associated with sour mashes, so I thought Iíd give it a try.

At the moment Iím 2 days into the ďstarterĒ phase with 1 pint ~1.033 DME/nutrient wort with Ĺ cup crushed Marris Otter floating in it. Fermentation seems to be going well (in a 750, with a heating pad wrapped around it to keep the temp up). Tomorrow Iím planning on brewing a moderate gravity old ale, but Iím looking for feedback on my plan (especially because Iíve never done a sour mash).

Mash/sparge as usual.

Remove 2.5 gallons once the wort gets close to a boil, chill to ~80, pitch with the grain starter (filtered with cheesecloth to remove the grain). Should I flush the carboy with CO2 to reduce any aerobic bacteria from thriving?

Boil the rest for 90 min adding all of the hops (to avoid killing the lacto with IBUs). Chill, pitch S-04, allow to ferment around 65.

After three days Iíll boil the soured half, chill, combine with the clean half and allow to ferment as usual.

As I understood it he original procedure calls for boiling before souring, then just heating to ~140 to kill the bugs afterwards. Iíd like to boil to drive off any less-desirable byproducts, and avoid having to make the lacto deal with the hops (20-25 IBUs).

Hoping to give an otherwise sweet/malty beer a tart backbone like an Old English PorterÖ

Mike T
07/05/10 10:32 AM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Brew went smoothly yesterday. Nice lacto-y head on the half that got the starter (which smelled cleanly tart/cidery). I flushed the carboy before and after filling with CO2. Other half looks to be fermenting strong ~65.
07/06/10 01:52 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
This is quite interesting. I would like to hear your thoughts on the outcome, this could be a nice way to sour up a saison or other farmhouse beer.
07/06/10 05:49 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
What are the problems you mention associated with sour mashing?

I sour mashed a brown ale and it came out really nicely, planning on doing a Berliner Weisse in the next few weeks based on your recipe/methods on your blog (lacto/US-05 ferment). I bought a 4-pack of Dogfish Festina Peche and thought it was really nice, would like to do something of this vein.

07/06/10 05:51 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Come to think of it, I may end up doing this both ways, I'll do a 10-gallon batch, do the grain ferment-->boil-->US05 on one half, and do the boil-->lacto+US05 on the other.
Mike T
07/07/10 08:33 AM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Iíve never actually done a sour mashÖ but Iíve heard problems ranging from suck sparges, to inconsistent sourness, to weird off-flavors/aromas. Those issues may be a result of particular techniques and not sour mashes in general though.

I pulled a sample last night from beneath the slightly powdery pellicle and I was amazed at how clean the sourness was. Boiling/chilling/combining tonight, but with the heat Iím not looking forward to all that effort.

07/07/10 11:25 AM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
This is actually a similar procedure to how I have done "sour mashes" in the past. Basically I always soured the wort post runoff, instead of the mash itself. Just made more sense to not screw with the mash pH. You still run the risk of funky flavors, at least my similar procedure produced plenty, but I'm sure you're better off than souring the mash itself. Good luck!
07/07/10 12:35 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
This looks different from a sour mash in two ways:

1) You are souring wort, not a mash, because it is easier to handle a pure liquid, there's no reason it has to be a mash.

2) You are souring a larger portion of the main batch by adding the sour back into the full portion. Why are you only holding the second sour at 80, and not 110 for lacto?

Mike T
07/07/10 01:47 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
"Why are you only holding the second sour at 80, and not 110 for lacto?"

From a practicality point it is much easier to hold a large volume of liquid at 80 than 110-120. Especially when you are talking about a production brewery that would have to keep 100 bbl fermenters that hot. As a homebrewer it certainly might make sense to aim for a hotter temp (something I may consider for a future batch).

Mike T
07/08/10 09:40 AM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Last night the sour portion still tasted clean, with even more sourness. The gravity had only fallen .003 or so from when it was pitched. I had forgotten to take the effect of this second boil into effect initially, so I added a gallon of water pre-boil. The boil went smoothly, and it still had a nice sourness post boil. I had an extra half gallon left post boil (didnít get the boil-off I expected with the high humidity) so I pitched some Brett B into it.
07/15/10 05:16 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
I've been reading these BW threads and I'm really itching to brew one. The only problem is all my kegs are full at the moment (I know, a real bad problem to have).

Anyways, I was thinking when I do get around to brewing one, I would try the sour mash thing (let the mash temp naturally drop and toss in 1/2 lb of malt), let it sit for a few days, then sparge, boil 15 minutes, chill and pitch ale yeast. However, I have a couple questions:

1. How would I go about hopping a BW with this method?

2. What would be the turnaround using this method? I'm thinking if the lacto has already done it's thing, it should basically be ready to drink, but I don't really know.

Any help would be appreciated!

07/15/10 06:21 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
I got some starters going about 8 days ago.

1, Pitched 1/2 cup of local colorado 2-row into a pint of ~1.04 wort made from DME, it has slowly been fermenting and smells real funky. This will go into 5-gallons of berliner (I am also going to boil pre-pitching this starter), I'll let it go for a few days, then boil again briefly and add US-05 to finish.

2. Have a 1 quart starter of Wyeat lacto in apple juice with nutrients, it took about 7 days for me to see any activity but it seems to be putting off CO2 now. Going to pitch this into 5-gallons of berliner (again, boiled) and pitch US05 a few days later.

07/16/10 12:53 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Sour mashing, in my experience, and from talking to Will over at Cambridge, is all about keeping things warm and as anaerobic as possible.

You can get very clean results from a sour mash if you are able to keep things low oxygen and warm.

Will has recommended that you even go so far as to purge the mash tun before mashing in!

At work, I did not do that, but I mashed in as quietly as possible, and then purged the head space with beergas, at least once a day.

At home, since it is more practical, I would press saran wrap right down on the top of the mash/liquid.

I would also sour the wort post runoff. It seems to me that you would get a much much more predictable sourness if you were able to taste the full volume of your wort as opposed to wort that is going to be diluted by quite a bit.

I have still only personally done one sour mash. I am getting ready to do my second next week with the annual Golden City Gose brew (which will be at GABF), and I really want to start experimenting with them at home. If my berliner at work had just a touch more sourness, it would be my favorite out of the ones I have brewed.

It is my belief, that if you are careful about it, sour mashing may be the cheapest, most reliable way to make the best berliner.

Mike T
07/20/10 08:54 AM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Finally got around to putting up a post with the recipe and some pictures (including an especially nasty one of the pellicle): http://www.themadfermentationist.com/2010/07/sour-old-ale-quick-oud-bruin.html

Just added an ounce of oak to it last night. After a month or two I'll see how it is and figure out if I want to pitch Brett into half of it.

07/20/10 12:35 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Great post. I'm slightly biased because I'm the guy who originally emailed you regarding the approach.

I've been meaning to post something more timely, but I've been barely able to brew beer lately, let alone write about it.

Check out the "Fast Lacto & Brett" thread @ homebrewtalk dot com where I employed this approach with an all-Brett L primary ferment. I got a pretty good beer in 6 weeks.

I think my conclusions were similar to yours. I could have gone more aggressive in souring the beer...either through a higher fraction of the wort (i.e. all of it), or allowing it to ferment with the lactobacillus longer/hotter. Like you, I only got 1-2 pts drop in gravity, but was unsure how lactic acid production affects gravity readings.

Anyways, great post and topic. I'm additionally thinking about using this process in conjunction with a mixed fermentation. Seems like my sour ales don't get super sour, and this might be a novel way to boost the sourness (instead of adding lactic acid) and make a Flanders red in 6 months instead of 24. (This idea kind of dawned on me while reading the end of Raj Apte's page, where he discusses something similar.)

07/20/10 02:40 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Lactobacillus will only get you so sour before it quits. That seems to happen around the 3.8pH mark.

So I figure, if you want the most sour beer possible from a sour mash and still mainly use lacto, you would want to mash and sparge, and then wait for the pH of the whole batch to reach that 3.8 mark.

To give you a reference, when you mash in with about 1.25qt per pound and let the mash reach that 3.8 mark, the pH of the batch AFTER sparging and adding well over 3.8pH water, and after boiling/fermentation, the pH gets back down to 3.9. So you went from about 30% of your total volume being a pH of 3.8 and 70% (represented by the sparge water) being a pH of ~7 to getting back down to a pH of 3.9.

So if you were to sour the entire volume of wort down to 3.8, I would have to guess that your finishing pH will be somewhere around 3.3-3.4. That is a ridiculously sour beer.

3.9pH is pretty sour for a beer like a berliner where you want to be able to drink liters of it at a time.

And I love the idea of starting a beer with a sour mash and then finishing with a full bug cocktail. Will at Cambridge does something similar for Cerise Casse. And Vinnie does it with I believe Beatification?

Mike T
07/20/10 03:47 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
"And I love the idea of starting a beer with a sour mash and then finishing with a full bug cocktail. Will at Cambridge does something similar for Cerise Casse. And Vinnie does it with I believe Beatification?"

Exactly. I just got a pound of aged hops, in preperation for trying sour-worting followed by a spontaneous fermentation this fall. Seems like a good way to start playing with the bugs in my neighborhood.

IIRC in his brewing network interview Will said his sour mashes end up around pH 3.4.

07/20/10 04:12 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Did Will send you his article he got published in this month's issue of New Brewer, Mike?

He name dropped you and Nathan. It is an awesome article on solera sours.

Mike T
07/20/10 06:36 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
He shot me an email a few hours before his deadline, glad it made it in. Good excuse to go bother him next time I'm up in Boston. I ordered a copy of the issue to have a hard copy.
07/21/10 02:14 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Good article in the New Brewer by Will, congrats Mike.

This is a great thread because it shows there is many ways to skin a cat (sorry to any cat lover out there).

Will is doing a 72 hour sour mash then boiling, fermenting, and adding to secondary. It is important for flavor to purge with an inert gas into the mash tun, ChrisK's saran wrap is a pretty good idea for the homebrewer. The pH will actually rise during fermentation if you start at 3.8 and can get your fermentation to take off... Brett will go forward with great results depending on the strain at low pH's. Otherwise fermentation could be tricky as 3.8 is acidic.

This whole method needs to be better developed and it can lead to some very interesting if not great results.

I love sour mashing if some level of control can be had. Otherwise pre-boil souring is a great way to get some sourness into the beer without adding the bugs... I don't believe it gets sour enough to be a true sour beer, only barrel aging achieves that complexity, but to each there own.


07/22/10 11:10 AM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Mike, Did your grain starter start growing any mold? My roommates idiot friend decided to turn on the over (with my starters in it) so my smaller grain starter got fried, so I started a new one...fortunately the lacto starter was 2L at that point so I don't think it got too warm, it is still putting off CO2.

My new grain starter though is fermenting, but also has some mold growing on top of it...white hairy stuff...should I start a new one?

07/22/10 01:29 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Colorado.. you can remove the mold, but there's a chance more will start growing. It is easy enough to just start a new one..

In malt is also wild yeasts, so thats the reason for the fermentation. I've gotten some nice spicy phenolic, wit type yeasts from growing starters as your doing.

Mike T
07/22/10 01:34 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Are you sure it's mold? Take a look at the picture on my blog of the main fermentation, not sure what that stuff is, but it was white and rather scary looking.
07/22/10 05:22 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
I started a sour mash yesterday, and this morning after 24hrs it was still in the mid-130s down from 152F.

The craziest thing was it was already down to 4.3-4.4pH.

I am going back in a bit because I might actually have to brew tonight. We only want it to get down to 3.9.

I am amazed that there was that kind of drop in pH so fast with such a small drop in temperature.

07/22/10 06:54 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Mike the photo your talking about is the one with the crusty bubbles right? looks like pellicles I've seen before in mash sour starters.
Mike T
07/23/10 08:56 AM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Yeah, although I believe that was after two days and it only got weirder looking. My point was that I doubt it was mold, but you certainly might confuse it.
08/02/10 11:48 AM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Well, I finally got around to brewing this yesterday.

Did a 11g batch of a BW (8.4# Pilsener, 6# pale wheat, 15 min boil w. 2oz Tettnanger 3.2%). 1.036 SG

Split the wort into two carboys and put in my fermentation cabinet with a ceramic heat lamp plugged into my temp controller set to 85*F. Did not aerate either half.

One got a big lacto d. starter (wyeast 5335 or whatever) with the apple juice decanted. As of this morning about 18 hours after pitching, there is a 1" krausen on it and it is putting off CO2 strongly...wouldn't have thought that lacto would ferment this strong but I will take a gravity reading and taste after work today.

The other half got a 1L grain starter with the grains filtered out, the started smelled sour and funky. It has some bubbles on the surface and looks like it is slowly starting to ferment. Will also take a gravity reading and taste after work.

We'll see what happens with these two, I am planning on pitching some US-05 into each when they hit a reasonable sourness. Was going to boil the grain half before adding US-05, but if it is tasting good, I may just let the yeast I pitch eat up most of the sugars and see where they both go. If one batch ends up too sour, I may blend the two, or do something else with them. Maybe I'll get some great beer, maybe this will be a failed experiment, who knows.

08/08/10 12:45 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Hey ColoradoXJ13,

Chances are either the Lactobacillus that Wyeast sells is L. brevis a Obligately heterofermentative bacteria which produces lactate, ethanol, acetic acid, and CO2 in equimolar amounts. Or that you have yeast in your fermentation.

Lactobacillus delbrueckii is a Obligately homofermentative bacteria and does not produce CO2 as it converts 2 molecules of pyruvate into lactate without the production of CO2.

At least this is what text books say. Sometimes organisms behave differently under different conditions... I have seen what was believed to be an all pedio starter produce CO2 and it is also a homofermentative bacteria...

Al B. what have you seen?


08/08/10 08:37 PM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Two weeks ago I pichted a sizable lacto starter into a high OG Belgian inspired brew with D2. The beer was fermented completly. Within a day it have a 1/2" cap of fine white bubbles.

Any one know if the White Labs is brevis or delbrueckii?


08/09/10 11:03 AM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring
Well, the lacto half of my Berliner Weisse fermented from 1.036 to about 1.020 in 4 days, I then added a US-05 slurry from a prior beer. It is down to 1.010 now (7 days) and tastes really nice, a little thin (not carbed) but nicely tart, I'll leave it in primary for another couple weeks and then rack to a keg and let it condition for a while.

The 'lambic' half on the other hand is a little odd...it has a weird yeasty/pellicle thing starting, but the gravity is still 1.036, it tastes a little funky but not sour...I am probably going to let it sit for another week, then pitch some US05 and hope for the best.

08/09/10 11:51 AM  
Re: Pre-boil Wort Souring

[Any one know if the White Labs is brevis or delbrueckii?]

I can't say for sure whether their pure culture is L. Brevis or L. Delbrueckii, but I know that the lacto in the Roeselare culture is L. Brevis. So, it's at least possible that the pure culture is also Brevis. Contact White Labs and ask them. They've always been more than helpful in answering those sorts of questions for me. That's how I found out about the Roeselare lacto strain.



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