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An evening with Michael Tonsmeire, The Mad Fermentationist and sour beer brewer

June 20, 2013 By: grant Category: Beer learnin', Homebrew

Grapefruit American Pale Ale Recipe

Tonsmeire recently brewed a Grapefruit American Pale Ale

Last week Michael Tonsmeire joined the Bluff City Brewers & Connoisseurs via the magic of teleconferencing to talk primarily about brewing sour beers.

Tonsmeire writes about his homebrewing experiences at The Mad Fermentationist, and I hope he’ll soon be blogging about his upcoming adventures helping San Diego’s Modern Times brewery with some pilot batches.

Huge thanks to Tonsmeire for sharing his knowledge and to Jeff Kinzer for setting the evening up.

I’ve only used regular brewers yeast to produce ales (though I tried my first hybrid Kölsh recently), so I’ve never brewed a sour ale before.

Tonsmeire’s basic process is like this:

  1. After single-infusion mash, pitch:
    1. brewer’s yeast
    2. microbe blend from Wyeast or White Labs
    3. 2-3 bottles of sediment from unpasteurized sour beers
  2. If you’re going to rack to secondary, wait 3-4 weeks
    1. add oak cubes if you like
    2. store in carboy at 60-75 degrees for 6-18 months.
      • If adding fruit, 2-3 more months before bottling
  3. Bottle when gravity is stable and it tastes good

Additional knowledge dropped:

  •  There are different types of yeasts/microbes. The big ones are:
    • Saccharaomyces cerevisiae/pastorianus – brewers yeast
    • Brettanoymyces bruxellensis/anomalus – a yeast used in some sour beers to produce specific esters. Wyeast is fresher, White Labs is a bit more “horse blanket”
    • Lactobacillus delbrueckii/brevis – a bacteria that produces tangy lactic acid
    • Pediocococcus damnosus – a bacteria that produces even more lactic acid, but also some diacetyl, which is a buttery flavor. It can also be kind of “ropy.” Used in combination with brett, which will take care of both the diacetyl and ropiness.
  • Sour beers aim for no more than 5-10 IBUs.
  • Let your sour beers fully ferment, or you might get sick. The ole standby “You can’t get sick from bad homebrew” really only applies to beers that have fully fermented. Leave a few gallons of wort outside for while and yeah, bad stuff can grow in it.
  • If you’re going to add fruit, add it to secondary after a few months. Freeze the fruit, drop it in an empty vessel and dump the wort on top. Puree also works.
    • Make sure there’s no oil on the fruit; rinse the fruit in fruit and veggie wash or star-san before freezing.
  • If you’re going to reuse wood, keep it wet to keep those little microbes alive till next time.
  • Lightly damaged fruit has natural Saccharomyces and Brettanoymyces on it.
  • Brett is hardcore. It doesn’t need sugar from the wort — it can eat yeast byproducts, hop compounds or wood sugar.
  • When hoping to capture wild yeast, Tonsmeire will make a couple different starters. You can taste which one is best.
  • Keep sour beer gear and nonsour beer gear separate; use your older gear for  sours to avoid contamination.

Maybe it’s time to start replacing some gear and making sour beers…