Home Brewing Sour Beer

Sour beer is taking the craft beer industry by storm.  No, I don’t mean there has been some sort of infection and everyone’s beer is going bad.  I’m talking about a particular brewing style that began in Belgium and is finding a niche market in the US craft beer industry.

If you have not yet tried a sour ale, I highly encourage you to give it a shot.  It’s not for everyone, and the taste can definitely be unique.  Some would even call it an “acquired taste,” but the experience is definitely worth trying.

Natty Greenes BrewingThere is a variety of different types of sour beers.  The one that seems to be most popular in the US craft beer world is the sour ale.  The style is very unique and is somewhat of a mystery to brew, so I consulted one of the experts, Scott Christoffel, the head brewer at Natty Greene’s.  Scott gave me some insight into the history of the sour ale as well as some great advice on how to brew one at home.  Below are his comments, as well as some sample recipes that you can use to make your own sour ale.

If you have any questions about sour ale or the recipes below, feel free to post them in the comments section below!

Sour ales come mainly from an area of Belgium called Flanders, one of the last Flemish speaking populations of Belgium. What’s unique about the beer is its formulation is very simple with many similarities to Lambics. Most mashes are composed of malted 2-row, unmalted wheat and caramel malt and could have rye, spelt, oats or sugar. The color ranges from amber to brown. The biggest contribution comes from fermentation and wood aging.

Primary fermentation begins with ale yeast and lactobacillus. It is then moved to a wood barrel where it is dosed with bayanus (wine yeast). After three weeks, brettanomyces and pediococcus is added and it continues to age for eighteen months. This type of sour beer was fading from production but is is becoming a trend again. Mainly due to the craft beer industry as well as health-conscious drinkers who enjoy the benefit of the probiotic wild strain of yeast and bacterium.

Here’s my suggestion to get started. First be patient, it will take some time to develop the sourness to your liking, approximately 8-18 months.

5 gallon extract version of Flanders Sour Red Ale

  • S.G. 1.052-1.056 (13-14° Plato)
  • 5 lb Amber malt extract
  • 1 lb cracked malted wheat, steeped in a bag in a brew pot at 155° F 30 min prior to boiling or a 1 lb of cracked unmalted wheat, boiled in a bag for 30 min in the brewing water (make sure the bag doesn’t scorch or touch the bottom of brew pot). Tie off the bag to pot handle and stir often.
  • 1 lb cracked caramel 20 L, steeped in a bag in brew pot at 155° F.
  • If using hopped malt extract don’t add extra hops at all. Lactobacillus’ growth is inhibited by Alpha acid in hops during fermentation, otherwise use 3 HBU’s or 8 IBUs of your choice hop (recommend Goldings or Fuggle).
5 gallon All Grain Version of Flanders Sour Red Ale
  • Grist Bill  9lb  1.052-1056 (13-14° Plato)
  • 2 row pale malt  5.75 lb
  • Munich malt       .75 lb
  • Caramel 40       1.25 lb
  • Caramel 60         .5 lb
  • unmalted Wheat .5 lb
  • unmalted Rye     .25 lb
  • Boil time 90
  • Boiling hops only, (2.5 HBU’s or 8 IBU’s of Goldings or Fuggle).
  • Turbid run-off desired. Don’t rack of cold break

Note: Mill the pale malt, munich, caramel in one container. In a separate container mill the unmalted wheat and rye. Run it through the mill twice. You may need a tighter mill setting so check your mill. You need to make a cereal mash to gelatinize the raw grain, (UNMALTED WHEAT AND RYE ONLY).

sour_aleAdd 1 gallon of water to your pot and add the unmalted grains plus 1 cup of the milled malted barley mix from first milled container. Raise the temperature to 158° F and rest for 10 min. Then bring to a boil for 20-30 minutes, stirring often. Watch this mash because it will scorch if not stirred.

Let the cereal mash cool down and add 2.5 gallons of water and the remaining milled grain to start the main mash. Mash for 1 hour at 152° F. Sparge at 175° F to collect roughly 6 gallons of wort.

Don’t forget to have fun! This works really well with your favorite Sour Brown Ale recipe. Experiment… word to the wise watch your IBU’S!

Best yeast choice will be Wyeast Roeselare #3763 and Lactobacillus #5335 for primary fermentation.

Note: start the Lactobacillus #5335 in 100ml of apple juice two days before brewing then add to primary fermentation along with Roeselare #3763. This will increase the Lactobacillus cell count for quicker souring of the beer.

The Roeselare culture will become more interesting after reuse, so plan on making more. A second and third pitching produces increased fermentation characteristics. This culture only gets better, share with your friends!



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