Solera via Foeder Sour beer project idea help needed

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stealthfixr

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I never heard or considered a Solera beer project until watching David Heath's recent video on the FoederSmith 0.5BBL foeder. From what I can find online, the possibilities are really interesting. I have always wanted to brew a 'true' lambic or Flanders Red, but held back due to the durations required for a one-off batch. It seems like using this foeder and occasionally pulling a corny keg and refilling would be a fantastic way to regularly produce a real, sour beer.
However, I cannot find some details in making it happen and interested in any HBT feedback from those with solera and/or foeder experience. My questions are:

- With a 0.5BBL capacity (21gal?), how does a brewer fill it if constrained to 5 gallon batches? It seems there is a minimum liquid level that must be maintained, but not sure what it is. Quadruple batch brewing weekend to fill?
- How much maintenance does a foeder require? What is it's expected lifespan?
- Related to maintenance above, how often would a solera foeder need to be completely emptied? Every couple years? Never?
- Since the foeder is not that movable, how do you all fill it? Brewing kettle to some intermediary transport vessel?
- Is it better to do a non-funky, primary fermentation outside the solera foeder, then transfer in afterwards to minimize yeast buildup over time?
- Does the funkyness need to be 'freshed' every so often, or is it fully self-perpetuating and engrained in the oak over time?
- How are the occasional drawings from the foeder done? From the fill/drain port to a pump, to a keg?
- FoederSmith instructions for the 0.5BBL foeder describe strict humidity requirements for storage, and I live in Arizona in a very low humidity area. How quickly must I fill it upon arrival, and can I store it dry to any amount of time?
- Must the foeder be steamed to prep it? Is there an easier way?

Appreciate any feedback. Never been down this road and want to make sure I can make this work before plunking down $1100 on the foeder. Thank you!
 

pursuit0fhoppiness

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A guy in my homebrew club has a full size wine barrel and a few years ago brewed 3 large turbid-mashed, aged hopped batches to fill it. Pitched some various cultures and dregs, and hasn't pitched anything since. Draws off a third each year and fills it back up. I would seriously take it over some real lambics, so homebrew soleras can definitely produce some great sour beer. Anyway, I'll answer as many of your questions as I can.

- 0.5 bbl = 15.5 gal. Personally I'd brew 5 gal 3 times, but ferment in another vessel for the first few weeks then transfer in to avoid a lot of trub in the foeder. If you brewed all 3 batches within a week or two, you could transfer all 15 gal into the foeder at the same time a few months later. I would fill as close to the top as possible to avoid a large amount of oxygen in the foeder with the beer.

- As for how often to completely empty the foeder, if it doesn't build up trub, or leak, and still tastes great, then no need. The guy I mentioned earlier has had his going for 3+ years now and I don't think he intends to empty it anytime soon.

- Not quite sure about your humidity situation but beer does evaporate from barrels (possibly more in very dry air?), called the Angels' Share, not sure if it evaporates less from foeders though.

Hopefully others can contribute more info. Sounds like a fun project, wish I had the space for it! Good luck.
 

cactusgarrett

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I've never heard of a foeder that small, but it sounds like it could basically just be a barrel stood on one of it's heads. I maintain soleras in both 10 gal and 25 gal barrels. Not lambic style, but closer to Flanders red or oud bruin, so hopefully I can lend some insight.

how does a brewer fill it if constrained to 5 gallon batches?
In my 25 gal barrel, I'm in it with 2 other brewers. The initial fill is a bear, but every year we just each brew 5 gal new and replace (15 gal total). If it's just you, yourself, you could go bigger batches, but multiple brew days and fill it over a couple weeks. The main thing is make sure it gets relatively full (to minimize headspace) before fermentation is done and long-term aging starts.

how often would a solera foeder need to be completely emptied?
This one's subjective. If you don't like the direction the base beer is going, instead of gradually changing it over time you could just empty and start fresh. Though, the bugs will stay (depending on how you clean it). But other than that, and other than something going completely wrong (like and acetobacter infection), you shouldn't need to completely empty it.

- Is it better to do a non-funky, primary fermentation outside the solera foeder, then transfer in afterwards to minimize yeast buildup over time?
What's "better"? You will get differing flavor profiles from each. For one solera, I ferment clean in stainless with a lager strain, then transfer to the barrel for funkification and storage. For another, I transfer sweet wort directly to the live barrel to take care of fermentation. Yeast build-up is a concern, but that'll take years. My racking cane reaches to the bottom of the my barrels, so i could remove trub if i desired. You could just open your bottom drain if it came to that.

Does the funkyness need to be 'freshed' every so often, or is it fully self-perpetuating and engrained in the oak over time?
Self-perpetuating, especially with a solera you're always leaving a good portion of funky beer behind. In this case, the organisms in the beer is driving the funk, not so much what's in the wood.

How are the occasional drawings from the foeder done? From the fill/drain port to a pump, to a keg?
Just pull it via your preferred means to the preferred next vessel (keg, bottle, aging on fruit, etc.)
 

goodolarchie

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- With a 0.5BBL capacity (21gal?), how does a brewer fill it if constrained to 5 gallon batches? It seems there is a minimum liquid level that must be maintained, but not sure what it is. Quadruple batch brewing weekend to fill?
Brew three batches. Not too hard to do in a weekend! You could do fine brewing two 6 gallon batches and leaving headspace.

- How much maintenance does a foeder require? What is it's expected lifespan?
Very little if it's a solera and will always have liquid in. If you do ever decide to store it dry, it will need some help rehydrating. If you want to wipe out the culture and start over, you'll need a source of steam, or perhaps sulfur sticks.

Beyond that, having paraffin wax to seal leaks is helpful. I use a culinary torch to melt it into seams like where staves meet at the head.

- Related to maintenance above, how often would a solera foeder need to be completely emptied? Every couple years? Never?
Never, potentially, if it's a solera culture. Eventually you might get a build up of trub, but most "foeders" have a dump port to control that. I built one out of a barrel set up on its head, the dump port works well.

- Since the foeder is not that movable, how do you all fill it? Brewing kettle to some intermediary transport vessel?
Bring the beer to it, and get it in a room or space where you have stability. It's easy enough to move 5 gallons. I have barrel racks on wheels for what it's worth, a little caddy. You could build one for the mini fouder, but you generally don't want to disturb aging beer.

- Is it better to do a non-funky, primary fermentation outside the solera foeder, then transfer in afterwards to minimize yeast buildup over time?
It's a good question, this is primarily what I do, but not avoid yeast, rather to avoid trub build-up. It's a personal question, because true lambic sits on the trub for years. You can get some wonderful fatty acid secondary brett metabolites for more fruity and interesting beers. I primary in stainless, then add in after it's slowed to the brett action. Periodically I do add a small amount (few hundred ml) of boiled, sweet wort.
- Does the funkyness need to be 'freshed' every so often, or is it fully self-perpetuating and engrained in the oak over time?
It does not, but you mind find your beer too oaky at first, requiring you to move beer out of it faster (think every 2-3 months) at first, and eventually only ever 12-18 months. If anything then funkiness has to be reigned in and fed with new beer.

- How are the occasional drawings from the foeder done? From the fill/drain port to a pump, to a keg?
Yep, or straight to a keg if gravity can be on your side.

- FoederSmith instructions for the 0.5BBL foeder describe strict humidity requirements for storage, and I live in Arizona in a very low humidity area. How quickly must I fill it upon arrival, and can I store it dry to any amount of time?
You can rehydrate it with 180F water swirled and dumped (don't leave it in too long). Humidity will have an impact on evaporation though, which can make keeping it filled over time a bit of a challenge. That depends a lot on grain and other factors though.

- Must the foeder be steamed to prep it? Is there an easier way?
It's what I do, steam is great so you don't have to slosh heavy water around. Pro's use a steam gun/vac for this reason. New oak shouldn't have too many leaks. But have some paraffin wax on hand for when you do fill it, just in case.
 
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