For some of us homebrewers, normal is a word with an almost negative connotation. Whilst normal is a perfectly fine realm to live in, sometimes it is a wee bit fun to venture off the well established BJCP path. Regimented beer styles are what bring order to a grain bill and hop schedule. This, however, is not a story of an ordered and regimented beer. This is a story of a beer with a short attention span.
Back in October of of 2017 True Grist’s very Own Peter Collins (pcolins) of Together We’re Bitter Brewery was kind enough to make an offer of free malt to the club. I suppose this is one of the many benefits of having Pro brewers in our ranks. Peter had acquired a large amount of Château Monastique and Château Black. I know there were a few of us that were more than willing to take this off his hands.
Not knowing what to do with this new supply of obscure malt, I set out on an internet adventure to find examples of Monastique inclusive recipes. A rational person would have read recipes and forums that mentioned this grain and its uses. Me on the other hand, I saw some shiny clickbait, got distracted, and ended up on an old episode of Brewing TV about Finnish Sahti (Brewing TV – Episode 24: Sahti Throwdown). I was instantly intrigued because I was already leaning towards doing a Gruit with a mixed variety of malts in order to mimic the inconsistency that medieval brewers would have had to work with. I figured using Monastique paired with 2 Row, Wheat, and unmalted Wheat would be a good example of brewing with what people would have had on hand back before the Reinheitsgebot. Sahti usually has both unmalted and malted rye, as well as oats and barley in it. Well, I didn’t have any rye or oats when I went to check my grain stores. So those were omitted because I am cheap. Being cheap is another reason I was drawn to making a Sahti. This style would allow me to forage for it’s primary flavouring ingredient, juniper branches. I particularly enjoy brewing with ingredients I find out in nature. It helps me get outside and stay active while not impacting my brew budget. Southern Ontario has a tremendous amount of wild produce just waiting to be fermented.
I had a good amount of time to think about this beer as I was in the process of moving and I didn’t have any time to brew or get out and find some juniper. So as time went on I read an article on Five Blades brewing called Intro to Sour Mashing. The part that grabbed my attention was the “Sources of Lactobacillus.” The first source listed was unmashed base malt. I did not know this but it turns out you can harvest the bacteria living on the grain by dropping a handful into unfermented wort. This again appealed to my love of all things cheap. I had grain and DME, so not having to buy a pitch of lacto was awesome. I felt that this would also help with the whole historic vibe I was aiming for. Before Pasteur we did not know anything about sanitizing brewing equipment so most beers were probably a little sour back then anyway.
So I now had my Chateau Monastique plan, all I needed was a source of juniper. I found a thicket of Juniper one day when I was walking through Waterloo park.
I cut myself off a nice big branch with lots of juniper berries on it. I took it back home and dropped it in my freezer until I needed it.
The Sour Starter
The next step was getting my lacto culture going. I made up a 1 liter DME starter and pre acidified it with some lemon juice because I didn’t want to buy acid. Pro tip here if you are going to use lemon juice don’t use the bottled stuff as it has preservatives. I didn’t clue into that fact until after I added it.
I chilled the starter down to 100 degrees F and threw a handful of the Monastique into the flask. I covered the top with plastic wrap and a rubber band to make sure it stayed on. After keeping it warm for about a week I had a very active little culture to which, I WAS IT’S GOD MUAHAHAHA!!!
Finally my brew day had arrived. In the mash went:
- 1 lbs Château Monastique
- 3 lbs 2 row
- 1 lb raw wheat
- 4 lbs wheat
- 4.7 oz juniper branch(cut up)
I mashed at 154 F for 90 minutes BIAB single step. Once the mash was complete I added in the juice of 1 fresh lemon to adjust the pH. I use pH strips so it’s more of a “yeah that kinda looks right” measurement. Then, I put the wort outside to chill with the grain bag and juniper still in the pot. Once the temp had dropped to about 100 F, I pitched my starter complete with the culturing grains. I covered most of the pot with plastic wrap and left a little opening. I poured a bottle of carbonated water into the opening in order to create a bit of a CO2 layer. I sealed up the pot and kept it warm for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, I checked the pH and it was where I wanted it. I boiled the sucker off, chilled and pitched Escarpment Labs Old World Saison Yeast.
It fermented out relatively quick. Afterwords it aged in the primary fermentor for three weeks. However, it was a little too sour. So with some good advice from Ryan (@r3dunlop), I added in a pound of frozen elderberries. It was just something I had on hand and I know elderflowers are great for flavouring Gin so I figured they would work well with the juniper.
I did not know what do expect for the finished product. It is very sour and herbaceous. I was not sure I liked it at first but it has certainly grown on me.
In summary, yes, I did this all on purpose. I definitely learned a lot making this beer. Hopefully, I will be able to refine my method for my second sour beer with some help and advise from my fellow True Grist brewers.