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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > Lambic & Wild Brewing > How to sour mash homebrew (AKA: sour beers for impatient homebrewers)
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Old 06-20-2013, 06:01 PM   #1
joshrosborne
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Default How to sour mash homebrew (AKA: sour beers for impatient homebrewers)

I posted this on my blog and thought it might be of interest to the forum. As I note on the bottom, if any of the info or nomenclature I use is incorrect, please let me know so I can edit it. I'll be following this general post up with an pictorial example (a strawberry Berliner Weisse) that I'll be starting tonight and will post here as well.

As the thirst for sour and funky beer has taken over the craft beer scene in the form of lambics, Berliner Weisses, and various other Brettanomyces and bacteria-inspired beers; homebrewers have also taken a hankering for trying their hand at these unique beers. There is a large gap, however, between the ease of acquiring a bottle of many sour/funky beers and being able to drink a bottle of your own creation. In the former case, you merely have to skip down to your better beer store and part ways with some cash; the latter involves much, much more time and effort. Particularly time: many lambics and sours take upwards of one to two years to 1) reach an acceptable flavor profile and, 2) reach terminal gravity so you don’t have exploding bottles as fermentation continues in them.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder that there hasn’t been an explosion of homebrewing sours. Sure, I’m certain more people are doing so than 1, 5, or 10 years ago, but the number of these people are dwarfed by both the number of new homebrewers and the number of new fans of sours. It makes sense since patience is not a virtue that is widely held by the human race. I bottled my last IPA 8 days after brewing it; I bottled by first sour 13 months after brewing it. Is there no hope for sour beer lovers who would hope to crank something out in a month or two that is both sour and drinkable? This is where sour mashing comes into play.

With most sour beers, a number of critters, both yeast and bacteria, come into play. In Wyeast’s Lambic Blend, for instance, there exists a Belgian style Saccharomyces Cerevisiae (this is the yeast strain of most, if not all brewer’s yeasts), a sherry yeast strain, two Brettanomyces strains, a Lactobacillus culture, and a Pediococcus culture. Both Lactobacillus and Pediococcus are souring bacterias; in a lambic, most of the sourness will come from the Pedio, which takes much longer to create sourness than Lacto. It also provides a much more complex flavor than Lacto. Taste a lambic and then taste a Berliner Weisse and you will understand the different I refer to. Acetobacter is also a souring bacteria, but the souring flavor it provides is vinegar-like and is not desirable in most style of beer except Oud Bruins and Flanders Reds. Also, I would like to note that in most cases, despite what many people believe, Brettanomyces yeast will not provide sourness except in rare instances. Tart yes, sour no.

Sour mashing basically involves one of these critters and that is Lactobacillus delbrueckii. Other strains of Lacto (acidophilus) are found in yogurts and is responsible for its signature tangy-ness. It thrives in high temperatures, which is why we will be sour mashing our wort at somewhere between 104-111 Fahrenheit. Not only is this the temperature at which the Lacto is going to make your beer sour the quickest, but it is also at a high enough level that most other undesirable spoiling bacteria will not reproduce effectively. Lacto will reproduce (and sour your beer) anaerobically, which is great because the exposure to air will invite Acetobacter, the undesirable bacteria noted above.

Sour mashing in beer is not a new process, but it’s not one that has been nailed down to a science. The general process is this: get a fermentable-rich wort ready, through all-grain methods or by dissolving malt extract in water; cool the wort down to 110-115; introduce the Lacto, either by throwing in a handful of grain which is covered by it, or by using a commercial culture; eliminate or at least reduce air exposure by flushing vessel with CO2 or by laying plastic wrap over the wort’s surface; hold temperatures at where you have it; and wait. Monitoring every day or so is a good idea to make sure you can pick when it’s as sour as you like. I find that 2-3 days is about ideal.

Once it’s to your likings in terms of sourness, boil with a tiny bit of hops. The boil will kill the Lacto and fix the sourness at the level you chose. After boiling, chill as normal and pitch your preferred yeast strain to ferment out. You don’t need to worry about spoiling your equipment with the bacteria, as the boil has killed all of it already. Bottle, wait for carbonation, and enjoy your quickly brewed sour!

I will be following up this post with an actual example of a strawberry Berliner Weisse that I will be doing over the next month or so. I am actually starting the sour mash tonight. If you have any question about the above, or the process in general, please submit them in the comments and I will answer them to the best of my ability.

(Note: I am not a scientist or even a brewing expert, so if any of the science above is incorrect, please let me know in the comments and I will edit as needed.)

Edit: Accidentally swapped Lacto acidophilus for Lacto delbrueckii above. They are not the same thing, as noted in the posts below.
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Primary: De Bom sour (Gen. 2), De Bom/Embrace the Funk Brett blend saison'ish beer
Secondary/Aging: ECY01 Sour #1, ECY01 Sour #2, The Yeast Bay Melange Sour, Bourbon Barrel Quad, De Bom on tart cherries
In bottles: Mango sour, Lambic, Brett tripel, Sour brown, Brett L/B Porter
Kegged: Jamil's Sweet Stout with Raspberries, Dry-hopped Berliner Weisse (Lacto Brevis), 3-2-1 IPA

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Old 06-25-2013, 06:48 PM   #2
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Amazing write up. My only question with sour mashing is how do you keep the 110-120 temp for days at a time? I have never done a sour mash but I am very interested.

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Old 06-25-2013, 07:52 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by dozer5454 View Post
Amazing write up. My only question with sour mashing is how do you keep the 110-120 temp for days at a time? I have never done a sour mash but I am very interested.
My chest freezer fermentation chamber actually serves to heat and cool. I need it that way since my basement gets too cold for most ale fermentations during the winter. I have a reptile tank heating cable that I have taped up to line the interior of the freezer. I have no idea how hot it can get, but it can get to 110-120 and hold that very easily.

I think it's this cable: http://www.amazon.com/Zoo-Med-Reptil...=reptile+cable

By the way, I finished the sour mash I'm going to be following up this with. It's currently fermenting with some US-05.
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Primary: De Bom sour (Gen. 2), De Bom/Embrace the Funk Brett blend saison'ish beer
Secondary/Aging: ECY01 Sour #1, ECY01 Sour #2, The Yeast Bay Melange Sour, Bourbon Barrel Quad, De Bom on tart cherries
In bottles: Mango sour, Lambic, Brett tripel, Sour brown, Brett L/B Porter
Kegged: Jamil's Sweet Stout with Raspberries, Dry-hopped Berliner Weisse (Lacto Brevis), 3-2-1 IPA

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Old 06-25-2013, 08:27 PM   #4
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I should note, before I had a fermentation chamber, I did my best to maintain the temperature by keeping the cooler in a very, very hot space in my house and adding hot water as needed.

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Primary: De Bom sour (Gen. 2), De Bom/Embrace the Funk Brett blend saison'ish beer
Secondary/Aging: ECY01 Sour #1, ECY01 Sour #2, The Yeast Bay Melange Sour, Bourbon Barrel Quad, De Bom on tart cherries
In bottles: Mango sour, Lambic, Brett tripel, Sour brown, Brett L/B Porter
Kegged: Jamil's Sweet Stout with Raspberries, Dry-hopped Berliner Weisse (Lacto Brevis), 3-2-1 IPA

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Old 06-25-2013, 09:57 PM   #5
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A few points to contribute...

You mentioned Lactobacillus Acidophilus. Another, more common Lactobacillus used in beer making is Lactobacillus Delbrueckii. This is what Wyeast and White Labs offer for their Lactobacillus options.

With regard to temperature for the sour mash, Lactobacillus Delbrueckii will achieve optimum cell growth between 104-111°F (40-44°C), but should still do well in the 90s, if you can't keep it that hot.

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Old 06-25-2013, 11:40 PM   #6
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I have no temp control but I have sour mashed at room temp. I actually sparged and drained first, so it wasn't a traditional sour mash, but basically the same thing. You just need an extra few days, if that. Then I brought it to a boil, did my hops, etc. I think it is a great way to control your product. I thought that it was only the yeasts that produce complexities over time. I mean, lacto is a 1-dimensional creature, right? It produces lactic acid and in some cases alcohol, and lowers the ph which is nice for brett and all, but does it make esters, phenols, etc., or digest and transform flavor compounds in a stressed environment?

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Old 06-26-2013, 01:19 AM   #7
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Quote:
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A few points to contribute...

You mentioned Lactobacillus Acidophilus. Another, more common Lactobacillus used in beer making is Lactobacillus Delbrueckii. This is what Wyeast and White Labs offer for their Lactobacillus options.

With regard to temperature for the sour mash, Lactobacillus Delbrueckii will achieve optimum cell growth between 104-111°F (40-44°C), but should still do well in the 90s, if you can't keep it that hot.
Thank you about the delbrueckii correction. I meant to make that differentiation in the original, but never managed to get to it.

Do you have a citation for the optimum temperature? I thought I read 111F somewhere as the optimal, but I have absolutely no idea where. I'm sure you're right; I'd just like to know where to find it for my records.
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Primary: De Bom sour (Gen. 2), De Bom/Embrace the Funk Brett blend saison'ish beer
Secondary/Aging: ECY01 Sour #1, ECY01 Sour #2, The Yeast Bay Melange Sour, Bourbon Barrel Quad, De Bom on tart cherries
In bottles: Mango sour, Lambic, Brett tripel, Sour brown, Brett L/B Porter
Kegged: Jamil's Sweet Stout with Raspberries, Dry-hopped Berliner Weisse (Lacto Brevis), 3-2-1 IPA

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Old 06-26-2013, 01:23 AM   #8
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I have no temp control but I have sour mashed at room temp. I actually sparged and drained first, so it wasn't a traditional sour mash, but basically the same thing. You just need an extra few days, if that. Then I brought it to a boil, did my hops, etc. I think it is a great way to control your product. I thought that it was only the yeasts that produce complexities over time. I mean, lacto is a 1-dimensional creature, right? It produces lactic acid and in some cases alcohol, and lowers the ph which is nice for brett and all, but does it make esters, phenols, etc., or digest and transform flavor compounds in a stressed environment?
In my experience Lacto does nothing but sours the wort and give it a slight fruitiness that varies between citrus and berries depending on the batch. Strangely enough, the sour mash I just finished yesterday reminds me a lot of blackberries in flavor. I usually just use US-05 for a clean finish, but I bet a high attenuating saison yeast like 3711 would be great.
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Primary: De Bom sour (Gen. 2), De Bom/Embrace the Funk Brett blend saison'ish beer
Secondary/Aging: ECY01 Sour #1, ECY01 Sour #2, The Yeast Bay Melange Sour, Bourbon Barrel Quad, De Bom on tart cherries
In bottles: Mango sour, Lambic, Brett tripel, Sour brown, Brett L/B Porter
Kegged: Jamil's Sweet Stout with Raspberries, Dry-hopped Berliner Weisse (Lacto Brevis), 3-2-1 IPA

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Old 06-28-2013, 09:25 AM   #9
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Thank you about the delbrueckii correction. I meant to make that differentiation in the original, but never managed to get to it.

Do you have a citation for the optimum temperature? I thought I read 111F somewhere as the optimal, but I have absolutely no idea where. I'm sure you're right; I'd just like to know where to find it for my records.
Here's one: http://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index....us_delbrueckii
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Old 06-28-2013, 11:16 AM   #10
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Great, thank you. Looks like I'll have to do it a few degrees cooler next time!
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Primary: De Bom sour (Gen. 2), De Bom/Embrace the Funk Brett blend saison'ish beer
Secondary/Aging: ECY01 Sour #1, ECY01 Sour #2, The Yeast Bay Melange Sour, Bourbon Barrel Quad, De Bom on tart cherries
In bottles: Mango sour, Lambic, Brett tripel, Sour brown, Brett L/B Porter
Kegged: Jamil's Sweet Stout with Raspberries, Dry-hopped Berliner Weisse (Lacto Brevis), 3-2-1 IPA

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