Brewing Wild and Sour Ales 101 with Karen

Here are notes from my presentation “Brewing Wild and Sour Ales 101” to the Berks County Homebrew Club, given on 9/13/2016. It covers all aspects of brewing with brett and bacteria including GABF and BJCP categories, historical examples, sanitation, and brewing techniques.

Brewing Wild and Sour Ales 101: Berks County Homebrew Club 9/13/16

BJCP categories:

– European classics: Berliner Weiss, Flanders Red, Oud Bruin, Lambic, Gueuze, Fruit Lambic

– American Wild Ale: Brett Beer, Mixed Fermentation Sour Beer, Wild Specialty

GABF categories:

– European classics: Berliner Weiss, Flanders Red, Oud Bruin, Lambic, Gueuze, Fruit Lambic

– American Style Sour (no brett character)

– Brett Beer

– Mixed Culture Brett Beer

Meaning of “wild” and “sour.” Lab bred and spontaneous.

Brettanomyces. Pour Orval

Historical role of WY+B in all fermentation through time, across culture. Pasteur 1800s. British Brewing Fungus discovered by N. Claussen in English Stock Ales. Known as “wild” is just another genus of yeast that was always present in fermentation. But due to its unpredictable nature and weird flavor contributions, it was eliminated from beverage fermentation as soon as practice allowed. Saccaromyces, the red delicious apple of the yeast world, became the domesticated horse and Brettanomyces remains the untamable zebra. Knowledge of brett strains is developing constantly. Some of the most widely recognized right now include: B. anomolus, B. bruxellensis (also know as B. lambicus), B. claussenii, B. custersianus, B. naardensis, B. nanus. Note change in classification of Trois. Flavor profiles contributed to beer range from phenolic/spicy, estery/fruity and floral to horse blanket, barnyard musty and undesirable jockey, band aid and even the dreaded fecal. Brett can contribute a slight tanginess, tartness or acidity but is not responsible for sourness. With excess O2 post-pitch, it creates acetic acid (vinegar.)

Orval: Single infusion @145 with pale, caramel, candi syrup. Sacc 4-5 days @60. 2-3 weeks secondary in fining tanks with Brett. Dry hop, centrifuge, prime with fresh primary yeast. Condition for 3-5 weeks in bottle.

Brett Beer.

If you are brewing only with brett, and not adding bacteria, there is no need to make a special dextrinous wort. Easy breezy: brew any favorite standard Belgian, IPA, even a Pils. Add a vial of brett to secondary. If you want it ready fast (under 4-8 weeks), go with low ABV, choose a high attenuation primary yeast and use the Trois strain of Brett*. Most other strains of brett will take 6-18 months to develop. In all brett beer, funkiness increases with age in both fermenter and bottle.

To balance thinness caused by extremely low FG, intro glycerol (3711, oats, rye)

– Traditional: Brett in Secondary. Orval, De Proef Flemish Primitive, Blvd. Saison Brett. Classic barnyard flavors. Pour #26

– 100% Brett: Avery 15+22, Prairie C, Cap’n Lawrence Super Friends IPA, RR Sanctification, Bruery many more all the time. Pour Avery 22 and Peaches

A very different process because Brett gets to eat it all without that pesky sacc going first. Can be MUCH faster than above- ready to package in a month. Tends to be cleaner and much less funky, at least while young (but see below confusion over Trois, the most widely used brett strain for 100%. Sometimes, there can be almost no brett character- remember Fear of a Brett Planet? Or Mo Betta Bretta? Problem is that brett doesn’t phenols, only sacc does, and phenols lead to the distinctive flavor characteristics of Brett beers. Also, no glycerol produced

– Mixed Fermentation Brett: Pitch sacc and brett into primary for best of both worlds. This is absolutely my fav. Jason @ Trinity got me started on this. For example, 60% Dupont, 20% French Saison, 20% Brett into primary. You’ll hit a very low FG in a week. Pour #59 Saison Brett

Lactobacillus Bacteria (LAB): Pour Lambic- Cantillion or Cuve Rene

 There are two genera- Lactobacillus and Pediococcus- which both produce lactic acid and it’s characteristic sourness in beer, yogurt, pickles, kimchi, sourkraut and hundreds of other fermented foods and beverages worldwide. Also mostly eliminated from food and beverages in the western world until recently. Originally, the chief preservative effect of hops was to control the growth of lactobacillus and therefore sourness in beer. Most strains are hop intolerant but some such as L. brevis are hop tolerant. Homofermentive strains generate only lactic acid. Heterofermentive strains generate lactic acid, CO2 and alcohol. Pedio is slower to work but lowers pH more than lacto. Pedio can generate diacetyl but this can be cleaned up with time and brett. Some strains (not the Wyeast) cause “ropiness” due to exopolysaccharides. Brett also breaks this down. I think that pedio flavors are richer, deeper, smoother and more complex than lacto. Lacto seems brighter, sharper, one note.

Other microbes involved in sour beer production are acetobacter, enteric bacteria, sherry flor, and malolactic bacteria. Spontaneous waves of life and death, each contributing charcteristics along the way.

Sour Beer. Pour Wildberry.

– Highly dextrinous wort required through both higher temp mashing and 10-20% unmalted grains. Lambics are 40% wheat.

– Hops will inhibit the growth of most lactobacillus strains (but not pedio) so keep IBU low. However, you can reduce acidity in an overly sour beer by adding hops.

– While brett may produce a ‘tang’ it does not produce lactic acid. Only the addition of LAB (lactobacillus, pediococcus) makes a sour beer. Not capable of fully attenuating wort alone, though accounts vary. Pedio takes a very long time to metabolize diacetyl but I think produces richer flavors. Exopolysaccharides.

– Takes 1-2 years to fully develop, unless brewing a kettle sour or pre souring the mash.

– Most commercial cultures have wimpy strains. Dregs are especially useful for flavor complexity.

– Sour Mash. I have no experience but others do. You rely on bacteria naturally present on the grain by soaking grain and letting it smolder for a few days. The wort ferments with lacto only for a short period, then pitch sacc, then brett. Many variations on this popular process.

– Mixed Fermentation: Pitching all microbes at once at primary. Probably the best way. Historically, the only way through spontaneous fermentation with all microbes.

– My fav way is to introduce lacto by adding fresh fruit.


Sanitation: Standard sanitation practice in brewing is designed to kill all yeast and bacteria. The main differences between sacc. and WY&B is that it takes only a few cells of the latter to radically alter the flavor of a beer while a few cells of saison yeast will not be noticeable in an IPA. Also, the cells of WY&B are much smaller than sacc and can get stuck in much smaller crevices.

The best practice is to keep a separate set of equipment for anything plastic that touches these microbes: thief, tubing, siphon, bottling buckets, carboys etc…Separate areas or rooms should not be necessary to prevent contamination unless you are splashing beer around or doing open fermentation of clean beers. Spontaneous fermentation requires an extra layer of sanitation and monitoring of pH due to pathogens (enterobacters such as e. coli and salmonella) not present in other processes. Many commercial breweries keep separate sets of equipment (Cap’t Lawrence, Bruery) but some (Russian River) go further and require separate sets of clothes. Ithaca uses the same hoses and equipment for all of their beer, except the bottling lines.

Base Style: Any beer can be soured. Pilsen now, Helles!

Water: Any water will do except chlorinated. My favorite brewers take a minimal approach to treating water for brett and sour beer. If you have very hard water, dilute with distilled, spring or RO. Note very high bicarbonates in Trappiste beers historically. Note Yvan DeBaets debate with Orval over lowering pH and effects of “smoother bitterness.”


– Be careful with dark roasted, smoked or heavy spices= astrigency

– To balance thinness caused by extremely low FG, insure dextrins by including unmalted grains and specialty malts, or mash hotter. Increase mouthfeel by increasing glycerol (use french saison yeast, oats, rye) or by using herbs and spices or squash in mash like Jason. I put oats and rye into almost all beers. Brett does not produce glycerol by itself.

– 10-20 % Acid malt in mash is a great way to naturally lower pH and have a light tartness from the bacteria. Especially nice in Brett Beer- provides a light sourness that brings brett flavors


– Single infusion traditional and sufficient for most beers except lambics.

– Design wort for precursors: I don’t want smoky, vinyl, clove, 4-vinylguaiacol. So, I reduce ferulic acid and polyphenol extraction by avoiding a protein rest; avoid hot sparge, over-sparging, or sparging with high pH water.

– Mash Thickness: Water to grist ratio of 1.3 or 1.4 quarts of water per lb. of grain. Beechum 1.2 or 1.3. Chad 1.3. Jeffries 1.4. Too high, too dry.

– Mash temp: Tons says that mash temp is the most effective way to influence the composition of sugars and dextrins in the wort. Low temps (145-148)= more fermentables= faster ferment= less sourness. 150-156 is normal range for classic sours. 156 is what I use for sours. 147 for Saison bretts. 145 for Orval.

Hops: For Brett beer, anything goes! But the beer is going to be bone dry, and dryness accentuates bitterness. For sour beer, IBUs must be kept at 0-15 since most LAB strains are hop intolerant. L. brevis is not. In fact, one way to control sourness is to raise IBUs. The Yeast Bay even specifies how 0-5 ibu vs. 5-10 ibu changes the sourness produced by some of their blends. For beers aged over a year, most hop flavor or bitterness will dissipate. If you want a HOP kapow, dry hop. Dry hopped sours are the best!!!! For spontaneous, large quantities of aged hops are used for their anti-microbial properties without contributing bitterness or inhibiting growth of LAB.


– Consider open fermentation. Main purposes of doing this are ester formation; off gassing of sulfur compounds; and yeast harvesting. FYI, Beechum et al say that Saison strains are pressure sensitive- open ferment or use foil instead of airlock during primary. Jeffries only open. La Rulles. Anchor Steam.

– Pitch rate same as ales, 1 million cells/ML/degree plato. Please note that cell counts in brett vials/packs are extremely low since they were designed for use in secondary only. They are also highly variable!!! Note my experience counting of Brett C and then talking to White Labs. Brett grows very slowly so growing enough for primary takes 7-8 days on a stir plate. If you are doing 100%, make sure you have enough cells. FYI, there is ongoing discussion of under pitching to stress the yeast in order to get more esters and flavors. Yacobson is up to pitch rate of 1.25. WL now has cell counts available online!

– Oxygenate to 10-12 ppm. Ongoing discussion of effects of 02 on brett and sour beer. Some think less 02= stress=more flavor but most O2 at normal rates. Micro-oxygenation essential during fermentation.

– Temps: Chad 168-172. Tons up to 80! WLabs lists several strains at 85+. I pitch at 68 and free rise to 75. Most beer aged long enough to spend a summer at close to 80 in basement.

-Packaging: See separate presentation on my site. Main thing is to get FG low and stable. Please re-yeast using neutral high floc sacc (T58 best) for Brett beer and DV-10 or other wine for low pH sours. Aim for at least 2.5 vols of carb. Condition at 70-75. Bottling with Brett my favorite way to go.

Strains of Brett. Yeast Bay, Bootleg Biology

All strains work and each has a unique profile. See experiments on strains by Chad Yacobson “Roy G. Biv,” Jason Yester, and “Funk in the House” by Andrew Kazanovic. New strains being developed regularly. See Yeast Bay and Bootleg Biology and White Labs Yeast Vault- crazy!!!

Brettanomyces bruxellensis: Classic horse blanket, leather. WL ferment temp is 85+!!!

Brett lambicus: classic cherry pie. Most often used with brux. Fairly tart

Brett claussenii: low intensity brett character. Very fruity. Great for bottle conditioning

Trois: Up until April 9, 2015, “WLP644 Brettanomyces bruxellensis Trois” was thought to be a Brettanomyces species. Following the analysis of the genetics of Trois by Lance Shaner at MTF that showed this strain to be S. cerevisiae, White Labs said that their DNA analysis also showed that Trois was a Saccharomcyes species. No wonder it fermented so fast:) Now you can get the 644 or 648 Brettanomyces bruxellensis Trois Vrai, what the 644 was supposed to be. Both tart and very fruity. Very fast to ferment. Great for primary.

There are many places to obtain wild yeast and bacteria:

– Commercial cultures. See later notes on significant difs in cell density of popular brands. Availability of new strains and producers is sky rocketing. Yeast Vault at WL incredible.

– Dregs of unpasteurized, unfiltered beer

– Spontaneous fermentation from the air

– from the skin of local fruit, vegetables, grains

– from bodies including skin, fur, hair, or surfaces of almost everything


– Michael Tonsmeire, The Mad Fermentationist Blog and American Sour Beers

– Chad Yacobson at Crooked Stave

– Milk the Funk Wiki

– Dr. Lambic at the Sour Beer Blog

– Stan Hieronymous- Brew Like a Monk

– Jeff Sparrow- Wild Brews

– Phil Markowski- Farmhouse Ales

Brewing Wild and Sour Ale with Karen Palcho

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