Sunday, July 6, 2008


There's at least one flavor that the majority of beer drinkers would, I'm sure, insist does not belong in beer. There are likely many more, but the one I speak of today is: Sour. Yup, sour. You might not think that Sour would be a very good flavor in beer, but let me tell you, there are some wonderful sour beers!

Currently, I am drinking a Rodenbach, a red ale from the Flanders region of Europe (on the boundary of France, Netherlands, and Germany). The sour in this beer is awesome, not a mouth-puckering sour, but smoothly sweet and sour. It's really a treat. Another sour beer that I have tried and REALLY enjoyed was Festina Peche from Dogfish Head. Festina Peche was a Berliner Weisse (sour, light German wheat beer) fermented with peaches.

In the Flanders region of Europe, and in Belgium, many sour beers are produced through spontaneous fermentation, in other words they let the natural yeast and bacteria in the air "infect" their beer and ferment it. In this case, the infection can come from many agents: Saccharomyces (regular beer yeast), Brettanomyces (another yeast), Lactobacillus (bacteria in Yogurt), Pediococcus (bacteria that makes Sauerkraut), and others less desireable single-celled beasties. In the production of the Lambic style of beer for example, the cooled wort it allowed to sit uncovered for a period of time to allow the infection of yeasts native to the Senne valley around Brussels.

So this led me to wonder... Are there enough native yeasts and bacteria in the Grand River Valley around Portland for me to get spontaneous fermentation? The answer is... yes. After brewing my Colin's Colsch recipe the second time last Friday, I took my gravity sample and left it outside all night, and in a window sill all day. As of this morning, something is causing some bubbles and fermentation to occur. I don't know yet what it is, it could be weeks before it even ferments out, but I'm very curious to find out what I harvested! So we'll see if that pans out and if I can brew a Wild Portland ale!

But in researching everything I could about wild ales and wild yeasts/bacteria, I found some good notes on how to make Berliner Weisse. Apparently the key is... DON'T BOIL! A guy had posted a recipe in a thread on BeerAdvocate. It was very simple. Do a step mash with lots of wheat malt... and then let it cool and ferment for 6 months. See the missing step? Straight from Mash, to chill, to ferment! And apparently what ends up fermenting the beer is Lactobacillus spores on the grain itself! The trick is (apparently) to mash up to 175F, which will kill most of the nasties but leave the Lacto to live. So, I plan on trying this in November. I will probably buy a new fermenter just for this, since it's going to take 6 months... but I would LOVE me a Berlined Weisse come next May or June!

I'll let you all know how my wild experiment turns out!

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