Guest Post: Souring the Sausage•
Posted on November 27 2017
We made a triple-decocted sausage-spiced caramelized-first-runnings hefeweizen which blew off all its yeast, spontaneously soured and spent 5 days bottle conditioning in my oven. Then we made beer judges drink it.
My brewing buddy Mike and I decided to brew a Spice, Herb, or Vegetable entry for the Royal Finger Homebrew Competition. To test some ideas, I made tinctures and concentrates of blueberry, ginger, cranberry and orange zest to mix into a pleasant English porter I had made earlier in the year. The results varied from undrinkable (astringent cranberry) to unpleasant (biting ginger).
Several beers and much discussion later, we started joking about making the weirdest beer we could imagine because the judges would be obliged to taste and comment on it ($7 to make Rob drink weird shit? SOLD!). I remembered a recipe in Experimental Brewing called "Bratty Brat" which is a decoction-mashed Hefeweizen with seven different spices that are used in German bratwurst (full recipe at bottom). Looking online, I couldn't find anyone willing to admit they'd made this beer. Having no tasting notes or anyone else's experience to draw on, we followed the recipe as closely as possible. The only modification we made was the addition of 8oz of acidulated malt to compensate for my rock hard tap-water.
We brewed using spices from Bulk Barn (hand crushed), malt & hops from Short Finger and Waterloo tap-water decholramined with campden. The recipe calls for a single decoction to rise from a 120f protein rest up to a 150f mash, but it took us three decoctions to finally hit temperature (then a little cool water because we overshot to 156f).
Vorlauf and fly sparging went well and, in a large stainless skillet, the first quarts of runnings were reduced to one cup of syrup-like goo that we scraped into the kettle with the rest of the wort. It was really interesting to see how thick it became; it was at least as thick as maple syrup and that was when it was still hot. A little more reduction and it would have been a malt-based hard candy.
The boil and chill were uneventful and went according to plan. A single 1/4oz Hallertau Magnum hop addition at 60 minutes and a 1/2 whirlfloc tablet at 10. The spices were added at 5 minutes and stirred in well to prevent them sticking to the sides above the fluid level. The boil was a bit foamy at first but not excessively given the 5lb of wheat malt used. Chilling was relatively quick for summer: 25 minutes to a 68f pitching temperature using a 25' copper immersion chiller.
We aerated by shaking two half-filled growlers of wort for a few minutes them dumping them into the fermenter with the rest of the wort. We pitched the 1L yeast starter that had been made the previous day using 100g DME and WLP380 Hefeweizen IV liquid yeast on a stir plate. OG: 1.058.
We also put an equal quantity of the same spices into a cup of vodka in a sealed mason jar to create the tincture the recipe suggests so we could adjust the spice level at bottling.
Fermentation started within 3 hours and increased from "weak" to "active" to "very active" to "fucking berserk" over the next 24 hours. The 1/2" tube on the blowoff cap was full of rapidly moving krausen that was blowing into a gallon of Starsan in a 5 gallon bucket. The Starsan appeared to be almost boiling there was so much activity. A water bath with wet towels and ice packs were used to keep the temperature pretty steady in the 70-7f range.
By 48 hours, fermentation had slowed considerably and then practically stopped. A sample was taken on day 4 to assess progress: it was still a bit sweet and the spices strange but not unpleasant. No reading was taken and I replaced the blowoff tube with an airlock and left it another 6 days. When I emptied the blowoff bucket, I found nearly a centimeter of yeast settled in the bottom.
On day 10 the reading was 1.018 and the airlock was very slowly bubbling. Half a packet of US-05 was added to give it a kick and we left it 17 more days and checked again. Day 27 the gravity was down to 1.015 (hooray!) but the taste was kinda... sour? (oh shit)
We left it for 12 more days and bottled it to 3.2 volumes using corn sugar. It was still at 1.015 and more noticeably sour but not really bad tasting. The spices were present but very much in the background with the sourness now taking center stage. We filtered the spice infused vodka through two coffee filters and added zero, 10, 20 or 30 drops to each bottle to create a range of spice levels. Our expectations were low but we'd invested too much in the batch to abandon it without following through with bottling.
Bottling and Baking the Beer:
We opened a bottle after two weeks at 68f. No hiss. No carbonation. Nothing has happened since we bottled it. It's drinkable but not good.
A week later we decide to dump it and crack the caps on the first case of bottles. Some of them hiss... they taste... OKish. Only a few had carbonated. We figured they were stored too cold, and maybe the other case could be saved if we heated it up a bit to wake up the yeast.
The Royal Finger competition deadline was 6 days away. The house was cold. How could I heat up an entire case of beer? Wait, I have an appliance purpose-made for heating things up! Into the oven it went! My bread-making experience had taught me that my oven light throws off enough heat to keep the oven interior around 120-130of for proofing sourdough. So, for the next 5 days, my oven was home to a case of beer and every few hours I checked the temperature and cycled the light on or off as needed to keep it in the 85-90f range.
The day before the contest deadline, the bottles had carbonated! But not all of them. Interestingly, only the bottles with no spice tincture added had reliably carbonated. Very few of the 10 drop bottles did and none of the 20 or 30 drop bottles. Perhaps one of the spices was suppressing the yeast & wild bacteria that was carbonating the bottles?
We entered two bottles into the Royal Finger Homebrew Competition as "Oncle Kraut's Sour Sausage." We thought it a good idea to acknowledge the sour character of the beer to make it seem intentional. The judges were kinder than we expected: 20/50 and 24/50 with the general consensus that it was an interesting attempt but that the lactic sour flavour overwhelmed the spices and other flavours. I can't disagree with them.
Looking back on our process, what seems to have gone wrong was the massive blowoff on day 2. So much yeast was lost and the beer so lightly hopped that wild bacteria (probably lacto from the taste) were able to establish themselves and take over from the yeast. It was fortunate that much of the sugar had already been consumed by the yeast so the bacteria has less to work with and the sourness was not able to build to extreme levels.
The remaining bottles are in my garage being used occasionally for braising cabbage, onions and bratwurst.
The original recipe is called "Bratty-Brat" and appears on page 174 of Experimental Brewing by Drew Beechum and Denny Conn:
For 5.5 gallons at 1.057 OG, 13.8 IBU, 4.0 SRM, 5.9% ABV
6 lb. Pilsner malt
5 lb. wheat malt
1 lb. rye malt
Protein Rest: 124°F 20 minutes
Saccharification rest: 150°F 60 minutes (raise via decoction)
0.25 oz Magnum | 14% | 60 minutes
(5 minutes in boil)
1/8 tsp allspice, lightly crushed
1/8 tsp black pepper, lightly crushed
1/8 tsp caraway seed, lightly crushed
1/8 tsp celery seed, lightly crushed
1/8 tsp clove, powdered
1/8 tsp ginger, powdered
1/8 tsp nutmeg, grated
Take the first quart of runnings and reduce to a cup, allow it to get scary dark to add a bit of smoky complexity to the beer.
Wyeast 1010 American Wheat (for a neutral profile)
WLP380 Hefeweizen IV (for a mild German Hefe profile)
WLP410 Belgian Wit II (for a spicier finish)
Ferment cool and check spicing. Adjust via tincture.
About the Author:
Martin Williams is a Waterloo-based homebrewer and stay-at-home Dad. An active member of True Grist, he's also the very recent co-founder of the Mashematics Society, a tiny (3 person, 5 math degree) homebrew club. While this particular brew didn't win any accolades, Martin recently earned a gold medal and an Honourable Mention in the BOS round at Brew Slam for his "Miserable Fat Belgian Bastard" Belgian Pale Ale.
We won’t lie, it was a nice break. Social media can be a ton of fun, but it is also exhausting to run for a small business. For us, a month away wa...Read More
Short Finger is Hir...
Do you love beer and hanging out with fun people? Do you love homebrewing or have an interest in learning about the hobby? Short Finger is looki...Read More
HACK: An Origin Story
Barley Wine is a weird one for SFBC so, as you might expect, we dropped it in the Darkest Timeline series. The idea of a tobacco aged Barley Wine ...Read More