Bioreactor Culture A – Gen 1


The current state of my sour beer cellar. 20+ vessels (mostly 1-gallon) in various states of aging.

It’s been well over a year since I started my bioreactor project. What started as a method to maintain a single ‘house’ mixed culture has grown into maintaining 3 separate and distinct mixed cultures. Each of these cultures is refreshed every 4 months by brewing a new 3-gallon batch of beer and splitting it into (3) 1-gallon jugs for each culture. In addition to the 1-gallon refreshes, with every refresh I grow up a separate large slurry of one of the cultures and pitch it into a larger 3-gallon test batch.

Over a year in, the first of the cultures, “Culture A” (I know, very creative) has begun to produce the first finished 1-gallon batches of beer. The recipe for this beer and review is below.

“Culture A” Provenance

“Culture A” started its life as bottle dregs grown up from the following commercial beers:

  • Cantillon Gueuze
  • Tilquin Gueuze
  • Russian River Beatification
  • Crooked Stave Surette
  • Jolly Pumpkin La Roja

bra1Bio Reactor – Culture A – Gen 1 – Recipe and Review

Size: 1.5 gal
Efficiency: 80%
Attenuation: 85%

Original Gravity: 1.054
Terminal Gravity: 1.008
Color: 3.95 SRM
Alcohol: 6.11% ABV
Bitterness: 0 IBU
Terminal pH: 2.86

Malt Bill:
2.25 lb (90.0%) Best Pilsner Malt
0.25 lb (10.0%) Briess Cara-Pils

Mash Profile:
158°F – 60m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
Added to mash: 2g Calcium Chloride

0.25 oz Aged Cascade Hops (0.0% AA) – 90m

Kettle Additions:
0.25 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15m
0.25 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – added during boil, boiled 10m

Bio Reactor “Culture A”

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 28B Mixed Fermentation Sour Beer

Aroma (9/12):
Quite fruity and tart on the nose with aromas reminiscent of sour cherry, berries, and perhaps a little tart apple. There is a fair amount of Brett funk on the nose—hay, leather, wet earth, and then some cinnamon-like spice with a touch of plastic-like phenol.

Appearance (2/3):
The beer paints a deep golden hue with crystal clarity. The beer pours with a nice, white foam, but quickly dissipates, likely due to lactobacillus’ ability to degrade foam positive proteins.

Flavor (13/20):
The beer leaves an initial impression of stark dryness and acidity though manages to balance with just a touch of residual malt sweetness. There is a low crackery malt character that is amplified by a hint of Cheerios-like THP. The beer has a tannic character that is reminiscent of apple skins. Most of the funk exhibited on the nose is subdued on the palate. The acidity is primarily lactic in nature, which is somewhat surprising considering the abundant amount of head space that was in the carboy during aging.

Mouthfeel (3/5):
The beer manages to feel crisp in spite of what is a fairly low level of carbonation. The acidity is soft and round not sharp or biting. A little bit more carbonation would be a welcome addition.

Overall Impression (6/10):
This is a very nice, refreshing sour beer with just enough funky Brett aromatics to keep it interesting. While blending is typical in sour beer production, this beer manages to remain somewhat balanced without any additional intervention.

Very Good (33/50)

Solera 2014 Review & 2015 Solera Recipe

2014 SoleraAfter slightly more than a year in a corny keg in the corner of my living room, my 2014 Solera beer was ready to produce its first round of finished beer. From the 5-gallon corny, I bottle conditioned 2.5 gallons of aged sour beer. On the same day, I topped the corny keg back up with 2.5 gallons of another batch which had already gone through its primary fermentation (recipe below). With this round of top-up beer, my goal was to steer the Solera towards a more traditional lambic-style wort while also inoculating the Solera with a more diverse culture that includes Wyeast 3278 Belgian Lambic Blend as well as microbes grown up from Sante Adairius Cellarman. My goal is to produce more acidity in future pulls from the Solera.

2015 Solera Recipe:

Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 74%
Attenuation: TBD (am expecting 90% +)

Original Gravity: 1.051
Terminal Gravity: 1.003 (projected)
Color: 4.06 SRM
Alcohol: 6.32% ABV (projected)
Bitterness: 0.0 IBUs

Malt Bill:
4 lb (61.5%) Dingemans Pilsner Malt
2.5 lb (38.5%) Briess Raw Wheat

Mash Profile:
With this recipe I completed a fairly complex turbid mash routine that involved taking the mash through a number of temperature steps. To get from 113 °F to 136 °F I used a simple hot water infusion. To get between the other steps, I pulled varying amounts of the thin portion of the mash, heated it to 185 °F, and then returned it back to the mash. The goal was to create a dextrinous wort that can provide abundant complex carbohydrates for an extended mixed-culture fermentation.

113 °F – 20m
136 °F – 5m
150 °F – 30m
162 °F – 5m
170 °F – 5m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
4g Gypsum (to mash)
2g Calcium Chloride (to mash)

2oz Aged Hops (0% AA) – 90 m

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15 m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – 10 m

1 Pack – WYeast 3278 Belgian Lambic Blend™
500 ml – Sante Adairius Grown up Culture

2014 Tasting Notes:

Judged as 2015 BJCP Category 28B. Mixed-Fermentation Sour Beer

Aroma (6/12):
Low to moderate lactic tartness on the nose, no real perception of acetic or other acids. There is a medium to medium-high peppery phenol accompanied by medium Brett aromatics reminiscent of hay, earth, and leather. There is a relatively strong, tart pie cherry Brett character, which is pretty nice. Some toasty malt hides behind the fermentation aromatics and features a touch of honey-like malt sweetness. At the very end there is a bit of rubbery phenol that isn’t particularly pleasant.

Appearance (0/3):
Deep gold with a light haze. No head whatsoever, although abundant fine bubbles rise from the glass. The head appears to be a casualty of the proteolytic lactic acid bacteria in the mixed culture.

Flavor (10/20):
The beer approaches the palate with a very lean and slightly toasty malt profile. Despite using aged hops that were labeled with 0% alpha acid, there is some definite low to medium hop bitterness that feels a bit out of place in the beer. Acid levels in the beer feel quite low compared to most commercial beers, exhibiting only a mildly acidic lactic tang. Overall the beers is quite mellow and austere. There are some biting phenolics on the finish that are a bit harsh.

Mouthfeel (1/5):
Very low body with a sharp carbonic bite. There are some tea-like astringent components that do not pair well with the sharp carbonation. The carbonation comes off almost soda-like.

Overall Impression (7/10):
In general, this beer comes off quite simplistic, especially considering the complexity of its fermentation and aging. The overall acidity levels could certainly be increased to round out the mouthfeel and bring another layer of complexity to the beer. As it sits now, it is primarily a showcase for Brettanomyces in both a pleasant sense (pie cherries) and negative sense (harsh phenolics).

Good (24/50)

Mixed-Culture Saison Recipe and Review

It seems that more and more breweries are beginning to incorporate Brettanomyces into their brewing repertoire. When done well, I’m a huge fan. By and large, my favorites are those that focus on creating a pleasant and complex fruity character rather than a horsey, phenol-heavy Brett character typically produced by many strains. I’m not a huge fan of that type of aggressive phenolic Brett character, which I find to be at times overly harsh and perhaps even biting. I think this is one of the biggest mistakes being made by contemporary brewers trying to make funky beers. Bigger Brett character is not always better.

saisonThe key to this beer recipe is the oats which provide a nice silky component to what could otherwise be a very dry, thin beer. Even more important is achieving proper fermentation character. In my brewery, I am achieving this by utilizing a mixed culture which I’ve been propagating over a number of generations. The culture is composed primary of fruit-heavy Brett and Sacc strains, as well as a touch of Lactobacillus, which is kept in check through the IBUs in the beer.

Mixed Culture Saison Recipe

Size: 3.25
Efficiency: 68%
Attenuation: 96%

Original Gravity: 1.052
Terminal Gravity: 1.002
Color: 5.54 SRM
Alcohol: 6.57% ABV
Bitterness: 12.8 IBU

Malt Bill:
5 lb (69.0%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
.75 lb (10.3%) Briess Flaked Oats
.75 lb (10.3%) Weyermann Pale Wheat Malt
.75 lb (10.3%) Weyermann Munich TYPE I

Mash Profile:
144 °F – 50m
154 °F – 15m
170 °F – 5m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
2g Gypsum (to mash)
2g Calcium Chloride (to mash)

6g Centennial (10.5% AA) – 90 m

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15 m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – 10 m

1L Starter of my house saison culture. The mixed culture is made up of cultured Saison Dupont dregs, The Yeast Bay’s Amalgamation Brett Blend, and White Labs Lactobacillus Brevis.

Tasting Notes:

Judged as 2015 BJCP Category 28A. Brett Beer.

Aroma (10/12):
This is a very fruity expression of Brettanomyces. The beer’s fermentation character dominates the aroma, imbuing the beer with impressions of ripe fruit — cherry, honeydew, and even some tropical pineapple. A very light phenolic pepperiness is in the background with only the faintest hint of rubber. The malt character is very minimal and clean. There is a light tartness on the nose and just a hint of acetic sharpness. As the beer warms, some hot alcohol comes out which detracts slightly.

Appearance (1/3):
Beautiful deep gold with brilliant clarity. A large fluffy white head forms, but quickly dissipates — likely attributable to the Lactobacillus in the mixed culture.

Flavor (17/20):
The overall flavor is really clean considering that this is a mixed-fermentation beer. There is a touch of a leatherlike earthiness from the Brett, but most of the fermentation character is bright and fruity. The malt is really crisp and nice — like a good German pilsner. The beer is about six months old at this point and only has a hint of the Cheerio character it had exhibited only a couple months ago — something I attributed to THP from the Brettanomyces ferment.  There is a touch of acidity to the beer that is quite pleasant — not something I’d consider ‘sour’, but more of a complementary note to the fruitiness.

Mouthfeel (5/5):
The beer is very dry, but there is a bit of roundness to the body that prevents it from being too austere. There is a nice mellow acidity that combines with a relatively high carbonation to give a bright clean finish to the beer.

Overall Impression (8/10):
I am really happy to see how my house saison culture is expressing itself in the beers fermented with it. The Brettanomyces personality of this beer is much more in-line with ripe fruit than the earthy funk that can sometimes dominate Brett beers.

Excellent (41/50)

G.Y.O. – Rare Barrel, Firestone Walker, De Garde Dregs

G.Y.O. – Grow Your Own

Step One: Enjoy sour beer.
Step Two: Propagate live mixed-culture from the sample.
Step Three: Build up the propagated culture, and use it to brew your own sour beers.

Harvesting commercial dregs offers incredible utility to homebrewers of sour beer. By implementing cultured bugs into your recipes, you’re able to add a diversity of characteristics simply not available from commercial lab cultures.

For example, some cultures can produce tremendous acidity without any attenuation (The Rare Barrel). Others are highly attenuative, but only moderately acidic (De Garde). Taking advantage of these individual attributes, I believe it is possible to create custom blends that express the best features of individual cultures. I’ve completed sensory analysis for three sour cultures harvested from some of the best sour breweries in the country. All cultures were stepped up gradually from bottle dregs and allowed to ferment for two weeks before tasting and measuring gravity and pH.

The Rare Barrel - Forces Unseen

The Rare Barrel – Forces Unseen

The Rare Barrel – Forces Unseen

OG: 1.040
FG: 1.040
Apparent Attenuation: 0%
pH: 2.69

Sensory Analysis Spidergraph







Firestone Walker Sour Opal

Firestone Walker – Sour Opal

Firestone Walker – Sour Opal (Barrelworks)

OG: 1.040
FG: 1.014
Apparent Attenuation: 65%
pH: 2.91

Sensory Analysis Spidergraph







De Garde - The Duo

De Garde – The Duo

De Garde – Duo

OG: 1.040
FG: 1.008
Apparent Attenuation: 80%
pH: 3.01

Sensory Analysis Spidergraph

ProAm Collaboration with Yonkers Brewing Company

Mucking out the mash tun.

Big brewer, tiny mash tun. Doing my fair share of cleaning at Yonkers Brewing Company.

Opening a commercial brewery is the ultimate fantasy for many homebrewers.There is something incredibly thrilling (and cool) about taking a beer that you have conceptualized and crafted and bringing it over to the commercial beer world. This is a big part of the reasoning why most homebrewers jump at the opportunity to have one of their recipes scaled up and brewed on a commercial scale.

This is precisely the spot I found myself in a couple weeks ago when I had the opportunity to brew my Oast House Saison at Yonker’s Brewing Company. All of this was the result of winning the Brewer’s Choice award at the Westchester Farmhouse Ale Competition — not a bad prize!

One interesting thing I have realized over the course of this experience is how non-brewers perceive brewers and the work they do; recipe formulation is viewed as alchemy and something to protect. But I’ve always taken the mindset that recipe is fractionally important compared to the technical skills of the brewer. I think it is somewhat absurd that I have been asked multiple times if I am being monetarily compensated for this recipe being brewed at Yonkers. Honestly, the value in seeing firsthand how a commercial brewery operates is far more valuable than the recipe. The marketing and experiential value has been enormous for me — especially as I consider perhaps one day opening my own brewery.

This was my third time taking a personal homebrew recipe and scaling it up to a commercial batch. This is always a challenge as commercial brewers may not have the same stock of ingredients used in the original recipe. Being malleable is critical for a successful ProAm collaboration. Remain humble and realize that this is a profession for those you’re working with and that there are economic considerations that simply don’t exist in homebrewing. Try to stay true to your vision, but allow yourself to be creative in achieving the same end despite the means. It is important to play the role of the humble homebrewer — these types of collaborations are fun and should be positive for all parties involved. I think we achieved this on all ends of this collaboration.

If the case of my beer, I used a complex mixed-culture of saccharomyces, brettanomyces, and lactobacillus to ferment my beer. This fermentation was critical in achieving the appropriate level of acid and funk in my complete beer, but something that could not be achieved at Yonkers Brewing without running the risk of contaminating their brewery. The suggestion of their brewer was to kettle sour half of the batch and then blend it back with the other half that was cleanly fermented with saison yeast. The idea is that the kettle soured half would bring the tartness exhibited by my homebrew while keeping any souring organisms to the hot side of the brewery where contamination would not be a risk. Additionally, we tweaked the recipe slightly, adding approximately 10% corn sugar to encourage the high level of attenuation exhibited by my homebrew and attributed to the atypical fermentation.

Right now the beer is finishing fermentation and conditioning. Stay tuned. I’ll post details soon about when and where the commercial version of Oast House Saison can be enjoyed.

Brew Day Play-By-Play