On Friday June 21st we will be tapping our second real sour beer at the Schlafly Tap Room at 11:00. Second? Real? Let me explain. In 2010 we made a batch of Oud Bruin for our HOP in the City beer festival at the Tap Room in September (if you have never been, it is easily our best festival.) We had tasted a sour cherry brown ale earlier that year at Repeal of Prohibition Festival from an out of state brewery and we all loved it (I cannot remember which brewery it was, or even which state we were hosting that year.) We liked it so much that we decided to recreate it to the best of our abilities. What was so interesting about this beer was that it was sour, but it didn’t take years to make.
The way they did it, was by making a regular beer (usually 4 weeks or so in tank) and adding tart cherry puree and pure lactic acid. The result was a nice sour beer that could be ready in a month. So that’s what we did for HOP, and I thought it turned out great (some people thought otherwise, which is the great part about beer, it’s always subjective.) We simply ordered lactic acid from a brewery supply company and added it in while we were filtering the beer. Lactic acid is one of the main acids produced by Lactobacillus, one of the main beer spoiling bacteria that lives in many breweries. It is also the same acid you build up in your muscles when you work out, hence the burning feeling. With “real” sour beers brewers add Lactobacillus among other bacteria and wild yeast, and let them sit for years until the bacteria produces the lactic acid itself. Part of the problem is that Lactobacillus adds all sorts of acids and other components, not to mention all the flavors added by the other commonly found bacteria and wild yeast. So in some sense the HOP Oud Bruin was too simple, and might be considered cheating.
Since we were making a beer called Oud Bruin, however, we decided to take some of it out of the tank and make some real Oud Bruin. We had just got two used Les Bourgeois Norton barrels, and we ordered up some of the Roeselare blend from WYeast laboratories. After the beer was done fermenting with our house Belgian yeast (that we then pitched into a batch of Quadrupel) we added the tart cherries, immediately filled the wine barrels and added the sour bacteria blend.
After a year or so the beer was nice and sour, and to this day the best sour beer Schlafly has produced. You AR (alert readers as Tom Schlafly would say) might be saying, wait a minute, that beer was ready over a year ago. Since you are indeed ARs you are correct, the beer was ready to drink in the early part of 2012. The problem was that we only had two wine barrels worth or ~118 gallons, which sounds like a lot, but would barely wet all the thirsty pallets at the Tap Room. So we took the 100+ gallons and mixed it with 500 gallons of a fresh batch of Oud Bruin. We also mixed in some more cherries, as well as some raspberries and blackberries (mostly as food for the bacteria). After another year in the barrels we finally have enough real sour Oud Bruin to serve. Once we only have 100 gallons left, we will brew 500 more gallons to mix in with it and hopefully in another year we will have another batch to serve. Every batch of Oud Bruin that Schlafly ever sells, will have an ever smaller amount of the original 2010 HOP in the city Oud Bruin mixed in.
Hopefully we have enough to keep this new sour on tap for a few months, but that is no guarantee. We also have decided not to do growler sales of any of our sour beers, mostly because we want to spread it around to as many people as we can, and they are very labor and time intensive. In the end, a beer is always best enjoyed with some good friends at a fine establishment served by good knowledgeable people in a great atmosphere. Enjoy.