Saison Solera Project - Advice on Bugs and More

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cbsquared

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I am about to start a Solera project with my 53 gallon Stranahan’s barrel. The barrel has served me well aging two batches of dark high gravity beers over the past 6 years, most recently a 13% Russian Imperial Stout. The barrel’s value in imparting whiskey character, however, is about exhausted, and it’s now destined for a new life as the vessel for a mixed culture saison Solera project.

To extend the life of the project and minimize autolysis, I won’t be fermenting (primary, anyway) in the barrel. I have 40 gallons of saison already waiting in kegs, and the last 20 gallons of wort just went into primary this past weekend. I'm toying with the idea of filling the barrel before the last 20 gallons fully attenuate, however, to kickstart the bugs.

The recipe is about 75% Pils, 10% wheat, 5% Victory, and 10% flaked oats. The yeast is a blend of Imperial Napoleon and White Labs Saison II, so the base saison finishes quite dry.

The barrel is pretty neutral at this point, and I’d like to use it to produce a bright, tart, citrusy saison with a bit of funk in the background. As I tried to think of a beer that represents this idea well, Jester King’s Provenance series came to mind.

I’m looking for feedback particularly on which bugs to use for initial inoculation in order to produce this result. I’ve done a few mixed culture and 100% brett beers in stainless, and probably due to oxygen exposure, a couple of those have developed highly acetic character. I enjoy that in some blends, but wish to avoid that profile in this project.

Although I’ve aged other projects in this barrel, they’ve been clean beers, so this is my first Solera project and my first mixed culture sour in wood. I’m all about learning from the success and failure of others, so any other advice and input is also welcomed!
 

cactusgarrett

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It sounds cliched, but I'm a big believer in the Lambic blend from Wyeast and the Belgian Sour mix from White Labs. They have the big four (Sacc, Brett, Lacto, Pedio) and can do wonderous things in a barrel. If you wanted to get unconventional with it, you could try the Mad Fermentationist blend (lacks pedio) - you can pull a number of levers and never get the same beer from similar wort twice, if you wanted. If you're wanting to avoid acetic flavors, having the LAB can balance that, but you could also take mechanical measures like waxing some or all of your barrel.
 
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cbsquared

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Thanks for the input. Since the wort will already be fermented with sacc, would you advise adding simple sugars for the lacto to chew on? I think the brett will be fine with complex sugars from the flaked oats in the malt bill, but I'm not sure about the lacto.
 

cactusgarrett

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if you add simple sugars, I would imagine the sacc & brett would use it up before the lacto would have its way with it. Your better bet is probably to rely on pedio for long-term souring, then.
 

mashpaddled

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if you add simple sugars, I would imagine the sacc & brett would use it up before the lacto would have its way with it. Your better bet is probably to rely on pedio for long-term souring, then.
Agreed to all of your posts above. I am particularly fond of the Wyeast lambic blend. It was derided through most of the 2010s as not producing enough sourness but as people have come to prefer softer acidity it has become more popular. It has interesting flavor and will sour even in the presence of IBUs (I typically bitter my sour beers to around 30 IBUs). You can pitch dregs with it if you want.
 

cactusgarrett

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Agreed. I used to like mine super sour, but have since done an about-face on that, and am now trying to course correct a few soleras I have going with this blend. I've got a 25 gallon barrel going that's pretty sour, and with this year's fresh wort addition (18 gallons replaced in November) i tried to swing the pendulum harder the other way and added fresh wort with 40 IBU. No dice - it's still more tangy than I'd prefer it to be; certainly more tangy than 40 IBU would normally produce. I have a feeling the lacto is pretty supercharged and fairly hop tolerant at this point.
 

goodolarchie

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I’d like to use it to produce a bright, tart, citrusy saison with a bit of funk in the background
Boy, I would have said Imperial's Sour Batch Kidz a few months ago, but they got some kind of C&D on the brand so it will be a while before they re-release it as something else. It produces a perfect citrusy warhead/sour patch candy like tartness, and a lovely citrus zest plus a tad bit of barnyard funk with some hops around.

Hard to go wrong with Wyeasts Lambic blend as others have said. When you're committing you want to know that it will be a great base for lots of things. I'd be willing to throw a few ECY and TYB blends in a barrel this size too because I've used them several times with great results.
 

moreb33rplz

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Kind of a swerve, but what IBU do you all typically use for a wort that will be fermented with a mixed culture including lacto and pedio? I thought 10 IBU was the golden number but sounds like you're all going quite a bit higher than that.
 

cactusgarrett

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With my healthy soured solera, the 2/3 I replaced back in November was 35 IBU, on top of the 10-15 IBU the base beer was. The lacto/pedio seemed to blow past that. Doing it all over again, I'd make the entire thing no less than 30 IBU from square one.
 

moreb33rplz

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Would you recommend that high for a non-solera beer? ie, something that will live by itself in a carboy and not get blended
 

cactusgarrett

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Would you recommend that high for a non-solera beer? ie, something that will live by itself in a carboy and not get blended
I, personally, would, if you're long-term aging/souring (9+ months) or relying on pedio and lacto as your LAB. If just lacto, maybe a bit lower (20?), depending on the strain.
 

moreb33rplz

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Cool, I'll give it a shot. Your timing is fortuitous, I'm currently mashing my flanders red. I'll probably aim for 15 IBU or so. A couple days ago I did a sour saison with 7 IBU, so we'll see how sour that one ends up.
 
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