Have you ever brewed a sour beer before? You might just want to when you see how I just brewed my new one which I named Berglinzer Weisse (details on my naming convention below).
Sours beers are characterized by an intentionally bold acidic, tart, and sour taste. Any beer style can be soured, but the most common styles that lead to the most drinkable sours consist of lambics and gueuzes.
How is it traditionally soured? Instead of brewing in a sterile environment to guard against the intrusion of wild yeast, sour beers get their tart flavor profile by allowing the wild yeast strains or bacteria into the product.
Belgian brewers used this process by allowing the wild yeast to enter naturally through the barrels, but many brewers of today tend to avoid this process due to its unpredictability and risk of producing an inadequate finished product.
Enter “Berglinzer Weisse”
I like coming up with interesting and meaningful names for my beer recipes. I have a few “hat” themed recipes, like my Straw Boater Blonde Ale and the Sunbonnet Lemon Wheat. Sometimes it’s just for fun, like my Ottertoberfest (I really like otters). Sometimes the name is obvious. I mean, when you use Centennial and Warrior hops, how can you NOT name it Hundred Years War IPA? And sometimes you get Dad-shamed into a beer name.
What’s in a name?
It started when I named a beer for one of my friends. It was a no-brainer. I decided to brew a beer for my friend Amber’s birthday. It was only natural that it should be an American Dark Lager named Amber’s Amber. And then there’s the spiced beer I like to make for the winter holidays, King Duncan’s Holiday Porter. Duncan’s my cat (Okay, it’s a long story, but you have to know the cat).
So recently, my daughter chided me for not naming a beer after her. I rejected the idea of a Disowned Daughter Dubbel and decided to try formulating a recipe for a sour beer. She likes sour beers, and I’ve never tried to brew one. This would be a real custom beer, just for her.
Some Scary Research
I thought a Berliner Weisse type would be best, and I could name it “Berglinzer Weisse,” incorporating two of my daughter’s nicknames (another long story).
But sour beers are not easy styles to brew, as I found out from my research. There are some diverse and challenging techniques that can be used.
These challenges include, but are not limited to:
- Adding food-grade lactic acid just prior to bottling or kegging
- A controlled lactobacillus infection, provided you can keep the wort at 100 degrees for a couple of days
- Pitching a lacto culture as you would yeast, hoping you didn’t use too much or too little
- Using a yeast blend such as White Labs Berliner Weisse Blend, which is a traditional German weizen yeast blended with lactobacillus bacteria
All of these seemed iffy to me, if not outright impossible. There was also the knowledge that lactobacillus can permanently contaminate plastic equipment, which is what I use.
My Berglinzer Weisse carboy might become a permanent dedicated sour beer carboy. Cutting the kid out of the will was looking like a better option every day.
My Local Home Brew Shop (LHBS) to the rescue
I mentioned my dilemma to Joe, the Assistant Manager at Cask & Kettle Homebrew, my LHBS in Boonton, NJ. He and the store owner, also named Joe, have been very helpful in more ways than I can say. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to put together my keezer without their help. They’ve gone out of their way to special-order items for me. And the quality of their ingredients matches their outstanding level of expertise and service. If you live anywhere near Boonton, you owe it to yourself and your beer to shop there.
Joe happens to love sours, and he had some suggestions for tailoring my process to my individual needs and concerns. Eventually, I settled on adding an amount of Acidulated malt at the end of the mash. Not only would that give me the fruity tartness I was looking for, but it wouldn’t require dedicated equipment. He also suggested eliminating the boil in favor of bringing the wort through hot break, then shutting down, adding a full ounce of hops at flame-out, to be kept in during the cool-down. DMS formulation would be suppressed by the acid, eliminating the need for a 90-minute boil for Pilsner malt. Regular German ale yeast could be used. It seemed to offer me the control I wanted, but it was also very counter-intuitive to me. Still, I trust Joe, and I went over my recipe and procedure a couple of times with him as I came closer to taking the plunge.
Berglinzer Weisse recipe
Batch size – 2.5 gallons
1.5 pounds Wheat malt
1.5 pounds Pilsner malt
1 pound Acidulated malt
1 Oz. Tettnang
White Labs WLP003 – German ale II
I kept the Wheat and Pilsner malts separate from the Acidulated. I crushed them separately and mashed only the Wheat and Pilsner with a water volume calculated for four pounds of grain, to accommodate the late mash addition. Mash temperature was 155F. At the end of the mash, I stirred in the Acidulated malt and immediately collected the first runnings. I sparged as usual.
I was left with approximately 2.25 gallons pre-boil. I topped up to 3 gallons.
Once the wort hit hot break, I used a spray bottle with cold water to knock the break down, as usual. I immediately flamed-out and added hops. The hops remained during the ice-bath cool-down. To allow for trub, I ended up racking approximately 2.75 gallons to the carboy.
As I mentioned, I had my doubts. Compared with the traditional process for creating a Berliner Weisse, this is quite a departure. Heck, compared with the traditional process of brewing most beers, it’s quite a departure. I’ve never made a beer this way, and I had a lot of difficulty not only in selecting the best way for me to proceed, but in actually pulling the trigger on it. Happily, I knew I could trust the advice of Joe at Cask & Kettle.
One other thing that soothed my nerves was the fact that I took the opportunity to munch on a few of the acidulated malt grains before crushing them. They had the apple-like tartness I was looking for, so that boosted my confidence. It’s actually not a bad idea to taste-test new grains this way. Your LHBS should be more than happy to do this for you.
The beer turned out well, I thought, and my daughter was pleased with it, too. While she likes all manner of sour beers, her husband and I don’t want them too sour. This was balanced well, satisfying the thirst, providing a refreshing tartness that complemented the wheat and pilsner, and all without turning anyone’s face inside out.
One final thought: I realize this is not a traditional sour beer, at least as far as the procedure goes. Maybe it could be described as a beer with sour flavor.
Purists may take issue, and the debate will continue ad infinitum.
My personal brewing philosophy is, if you like the beer you made, you did it right. Besides, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…