There's been a lot of interest in this beer since we tapped it,including a lot of questions from home brewers, so here we go. This project has been years in the making since I can recall having my first ever sour mash beer, Spuyten Duyvel, a Flemish-style red ale from the Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon, New Hampshire ( at the time the sister brewery of Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington, Vermont) way back in 2001 . I believe the beer originated at VPB with Greg Noonan (R.I.P. )& his crew and made its way to 7B, as the long time brewer there Paul White( R.I.P.) once mentioned to me " I hate that fucking beer, Greg makes me brew it". Paul was always one to tell it like it is and his statement about the Duyvel could never be more true that some beers are extremely polarizing, even to brewers.
So why has it taken me a decade to make an attempt such a procedure? Well, the situation was never right to try it. In my mind two things would need to come together for this to happen, 1) the proper brewing facility and 2) an owner who would give me carte blanche to try such a crazy endeavor. So now 10 years later equipped with a mash tun that has not only the ability to seal and hold pressure but can also sustain temperature due to its own heating jacket I was off to the races.
One small piece of equipment was eluding me however, an Argon regulator. You read that right,Argon and its not typically found in a brewer's tool box so even after many attempts at reaching out to brewers near and far to borrow one, contacting tool rental companies and even the company that was going to rent me the tank of gas I had nothing. Finally I was able to locate a equipment supplier locally who had one for sale so one small investment latter I had a new tool for my box.
Brew day was actually split into two days, day one consisted of mashing in a grist consisting of Pilsner, Rye and Munich malts into the mash tun and holding it at 147 F for 90 minutes. Then the mash was recirculated and run off into the brew kettle. After the spent grain was removed, the mash tun was rinsed out of as much remaining debris as possible. Then using the heat exchanger the wort was pumped back into the mash tun from the kettle bringing the temperature down to just above 120 F. Fresh pilsner malt was then milled into the mash tun to inoculate the wort with the naturally occurring lactobacillus that is present on the surface of the grain. The heating jacket on the mash tun was then set to 120 F in attempt to keep Acetobacter ( a bacteria that will convert ethanol into acetic acid in the presence of oxygen ) out of the wort otherwise we'd be producing vinegar. To aid in the anaerobic aspect of this process we used Argon gas to flood the mash tun and keep oxygen out of the wort. Then we waited...
After two days and a significant PH drop in the wort we returned to the brew house and ran the wort from the mash tun into the kettle,boiled and processed it as any other normal beer. Repitching our house Saison yeast and allowing the fermentation to free climb. The temperature reached the upper 80s and the resulting combination of an acidified wort and high fermentation saison yeast fermentation was nothing short of amazing.
I've never encountered in beer what I was smelling and tasting in the days after fermentation. Never in beer is what I said, and that's because what I was encountering was that of a young white wine. Reminiscent of young Chenin Blanc in appearance as well as aroma and flavor, it was remarkable. The unique aspect was a sharp note of citrus, very much like freshly squeezed grapefruit juice lingering in the background.
As this beer has aged the sour character has smoothed out and the wine character is a little more subtle, as is the grapefruit. All in all this was a fun project and the results were delicious. Look for more sour mash beers to come.