A Belgian Sour with Kambucha?

I like sour beers, so I wanted to try making one, but I wanted to avoid infecting my equipment. I’ve been told that the bacteria you use in a sour beer can get into your plastic and rubber fittings and it’s nearly impossible to get it out.

One way to avoid that problem is to sour some wort first, then boil it to kill the bacteria.

Some people use grain to sour the wort. To do this you just make a small batch of wort, drop some grain in and allow the bacteria that lives on the husks to get to work. I’ve been told that method works, but I hear it’s a pretty smelly process.

A while ago I decided to try my hand at kombucha. You can read a little about that on this page.

Kombucha is fine. I don’t like sweet drinks, like soda, and I try to stay away from too much caffeine, so a batch of decaf kombucha can be nice after work. But I’d rather drink a beer, so I decided to experiment with souring some wort with my kombucha mother and using that in a Belgian-style sour.

Here’s how I did it. These procedures are designed for a 3-gallon batch. I did 3 gallons because I do kombucha in a one gallon jug, and 1 gallon of soured malt in a 3-gallon batch seems to be about the right ratio. Your mileage may vary.

To start you have to have a batch of regular kombucha, which means you’ll need a scoby. You can buy one or you can grow one. Here’s a good page about kombucha.

Assuming you’ve got all that straight, here’s how you make Kombucha Sour Ale.

On the day you’re ready to bottle your kombucha, boil 1.5 cups of amber DME in 13 cups of water and let it cool. When it’s cool, reserve 2 cups of your kombucha and bottle the rest. Inspect your scoby to make sure there’s no black spots, rinse it off and set it on a clean plate.

Rinse out your kombucha jar, add the reserved two cups of kombucha, add the 13 cups of malt you boiled and cooled, then add the scoby. Cover it with a cloth and let it sit for 2 weeks.

On brew day, prepare whatever you’re going to put on your scoby next — whether that’s tea or more malt. Remove the (now soured) malt from the kombucha jar and reserve two cups. You’ll use those for your next batch of kombucha.

Pour all the rest of your soured malt into your kettle then proceed as if you’re doing a very simple extract recipe.

4 pounds amber DME
1 oz. Saaz (60 min.)
1/2 oz. Saaz (30 min)
1/2 oz. Saaz (10 min)
Irish moss (10 min.)

Boil for an hour, cool, add water (if necessary) to get to 3 gallons and pitch Belle Saison Ale Yeast. Ferment and bottle or keg like any other beer. (Since you boiled your soured wort, there’s no risk of infection in your kegging equipment. Also, if you choose to bottle remember to adjust your priming sugar for a 3-gallon batch!)

I’ve tinkered with this recipe a few times — sometimes using a little more DME, sometimes leaving it on the scoby a little longer. But each batch has been very good.

Top Homebrew tips for extract brewers

There’s an attitude among some homebrewers that you start off with extract brewing and then, if you’ve got the moxy, you “advance” to all grain brewing.

All-grain brewing definitely has its advantages. The ingredients are less expensive, for one thing, and you can control your final product with a lot more precision. All-grain brewers can modify the chemistry of their mash water, the temperature or stiffness of the mash, or even the style of mash. All these things can help to fine-tune the character of the wort and therefore the flavor of the beer.

But don’t be deceived. There’s a lot you can do with extract. You absolutely do not need to enter the wonderful world of mashing to brew excellent beers!

So recently I’ve been doing some research on “top tips” for extract brewers, and comparing that with my many years of extract batches. Here are the first couple suggestions.

1. Try a full volume boil.

Most extract brewers start off with a relatively small volume of wort — say 2 gallons — and then when the boil is over they pour the wort into a fermentation vessel and add enough cold water to bring the volume up to five and a half gallons. (The extra half gallon allows for any loss when you transfer to secondary, and/or into your bottling bucket.)

There are two big advantages to that method.

  • You don’t need to buy a huge pot or a fancy burner, and
  • Adding the cold water helps cool the wort after the boil.

But there are also advantages to a full-volume boil.

  • You get better hop utilization. Two ounces of hops boiled in two gallons of wort will not produce as much bitterness, flavor or aroma as the very same two ounces of hops boiled in five gallons of wort.
  • By boiling all the water, you may avoid possible sources of contamination (in the unlikely event your tap water is infected), and you may drive off unwanted chlorination.

If you have the equipment, give a full-volume boil a try. However, note that your kitchen stove might not have the gumption to give you a good rolling boil with a five-gallon batch. Especially if you have an electric stove. Also, if you do a full-volume boil you really need to do #2 as well.

2. Use a wort chilller.

Rapidly cooling the wort after the boil can dramatically improve your beer.

  • The “cold break” you get with rapid cooling can precipitate some unwanted gunk,
  • The sooner you cool the wort the less chance you have for hot-side aeration, and
  • You lessen the chance of bacterial contamination when you cool the wort quickly.

If you can’t use a wort chiller, immerse your fermenter in a bath of cold water (or even snow, in season). The sooner you chill the wort to fermenting temperatures, the better.

Homebrew Recipe — Here Comes Summer Wheat Ale

After the Blizzard of 2010, which buried our neighborhood in more than three feet of snow and inspired Blizzard Bitter, I had a craving for warm summer days, wheat beer and citrus.

I love the winter, but enough is enough!

So I dreamed up Here Comes Summer Wheat Ale, which is made with half malt and half wheat, and is a very pleasant, easy to drink brew.

Here Comes Summer Wheat Ale is mildly hopped to make sure the other flavors — spruce, coriander and orange — get a chance to toy with your taste buds. None of these flavors are terribly assertive. There’s just enough for the discerning palate.

Except maybe the spruce.

I had a great experience with a spruce beer once, long ago, when I used cuttings from the Christmas tree for flavoring. My wife thought I was crazy, but the beer was excellent.

Then I had a horrible experience with spruce extract. I used too much and made a medicinal, nasty brew that I simply couldn’t drink.

This time I was very careful with the spruce. You might want to try this one as I have it, and then if you want to experiment, you might try doubling the spruce extract to see what happens.

Ingredients

1 pound Crystal 20 malt
1 3.3 pound can Briess Golden Light
1 3.3 pound can Briess Bavarian Wheat
1 ounce Amarillo hops
1 ounce Liberty hops
1/2 teaspoon spruce essence
1 tablespoon freshly ground coriander seed
the zest of one orange
1 teaspoon Irish Moss
Safale 05

Procedure

Put the Crystal malt in a grain bag and add to 2 gallons of cold water. Slowly bring the water to 150 F and let the grains soak for 10 minutes.

Remove the grains, add the malt and wheat extract and give it a good stir. (If you let the extract sit on the bottom of the pot, you’ll carmelize it.) Bring it to a boil.

Add the Amarillo hops and the spruce essence.

While it’s boiling you’ve got work to do. You can crush the whole coriander seeds in a mortal and pestle and grate the orange peel. (If you have one of those four-sided graters, use the fine side.)

Of course you should also have a homebrew at hand while you’re doing this, and you should be listening to your favorite tunes. Homebrewing is about enjoying life!

Add the coriander and Irish Moss at 50 minutes. Add the zest of the orange and the Liberty hops at the end of the boil (60 minutes).

Transfer to your sterilized fermentation bucket and add cold water to make 5 gallons. Cool the wort and pitch the yeast.

Brewing Tip

I should note that some homebrewers recommend a full wort boil. They would say that you should boil the whole 5 gallons (actually 6, and boil it down to 5) rather than boiling a portion and diluting later.

If you choose to do it this way, you’ll increase your hop utilization. That is, you’ll get more hop bitterness in a 5-gallon boil than you’ll get if you follow my procedure. I’ve never done a head to head comparison, so I can’t say how much difference there will be.

Another possible benefit of a full wort boil is lessening the danger of contamination when you add unboiled water. (Save us!) But I don’t think that’s a big problem. Municipal water in America is very safe. (You drink it every day, don’t you?)

Also, there’s an advantage to doing a partial boil and topping off. Your tap water has plenty of oxygen in it from the little aerator in the end of your spigot, and the yeast needs lots of oxygen to get started.

So if you choose to do a full wort boil, make sure you do something to get oxygen in the wort — like a vigorous stir!

Homebrew how to — Ben’s Mild Porter Recipe

My son Ben drinks enough of my beer. Okay, he drinks too much of my beer. In any event, it’s about time he pitches in and brews a little, too. Here’s one of his recent efforts.

Ben’s Mild Porter is a very nice homebrew extract porter we brewed a couple weeks ago. This post is a little how to guide so you can make it for yourself.

This is a very dark brown, very mildly carbonated porter. At room temperature (as I’m drinking it right now) it’s silky smooth with wonderful mouth feel and slight hints of the chocolate malt. The hops are unassertive.

This brew is deceptively easy to drink, so you’ll need to come up with some clever combination of relaxing and not worrying — which you must do while drinking homebrew beer — while still keeping a weather eye! We don’t want you to spill your beer!

Ingredients

1 pound chocolate malt
1 3.3# can Briess CBW Traditional Dark
1 3.3# can Briess CBW Pilsen Light
1 oz. Fuggles hops (4.0% alpha)
1 oz. Liberty hops (4.8% alpha)
Safale 04 dried yeast
2/3 cup priming sugar

Procedure

To 5 quarts of cold water add 1 pound of chocolate malt in a grain bag.

Slowly heat to a boil, and remove the grain bag before the boil.

Add both cans of malt extract and return the mixture to a boil.

Add the Fuggles hops.

After 50 minutes, add 1/2 of the Liberty hops.

After 8 more minutes, add the rest of the Liberty hops.

After 2 more minutes (bring you to a total boil of 60 minutes), remove from heat, top up to five gallons with tap water and cool. Pitch the Safale 04, ferment to completion and bottle.

We used 2/3 cup of priming sugar to make this a very lightly carbonated beer. If you prefer more carbonation, use 3/4 cup.

Blizzard Bitter — An Intermediate-Level Home Brew Beer Recipe

I kegged this beer during the epic East Coast snow storm of February 2010. As I type this entry, a second large storm is dropping up to 12 more inches of snow on our already blanketed neighborhood. Total accumulation from the two storms could be 4 feet.

Now that’s a storm that calls for relaxing, not worrying, and having a homebrew. And this is just the beer for the job.

Blizzard Bitter is a rich, malty, satisfying English-style ale with a deep amber color and a foamy head. It goes down easy and steels the soul for the bout of shoveling in the icy weather that you know is just waiting around the corner.

The hops provide a pleasant background bitterness with little aroma. I kegged this batch and kept the CO2 levels low to give it the perfect draft look and feel.

This is classified as an intermediate recipe because it includes grains, but a beginner should be able to handle it just fine.

For more information, see A Beginner’s Guide to Homebrewing Beer.

    Procedure

Put a pound of Crystal 20 in a grain bag and add it to 1.5 gallons of warm water. Heat slowly to a boil, and remove the grain bag. (I like to set the grain bag in a large pan and collect whatever drips off, adding it back to the boil.)

Add 1 cup of dark molasses, one cup of brown sugar and 2 3.3 pound cans of Briess CBW Golden Light. Return to a boil.

Add 1 oz. of Northern Brewer pellet hops. (8.5% alpha.) (60 minutes)

After 30 minutes add 1/2 ounce of Northern Brewer pellet hops. (30 minutes)

After 10 minutes add 1/2 ounce of Liberty pellet hops. (20 minutes)

After 5 minutes add 1 tsp. of Irish Moss and 1 tsp. of Gypsum. (15 minutes)

After 5 minutes, add 1/2 ounce of Northern Brewer pellet hops. (10 minutes)

After 5 minutes, add 1/2 ounce of Liberty pellet hops. (5 minutes)

Cool to 80 degrees or less and pitch Safale 04 dried yeast.