Over the years, Andrew and I have both grown more and more fond of complex sour ales like Belgian Lambics, Flemish reds & browns as well as many of the American Wild Ales. While these beers can be immensely satisfying, they often take years to reach their full potential. Although we've brewed several examples of these styles, we often find ourselves longing for a quick way to produce complex sour beers.
We've brewed several beers that rely on a quick souring with Lactobacillus, followed by fermentation with Saccharomyces or Brettanomyces to good effect (Berliner Weiss/Roggen, Gose, Farmhouse series), but they still lack some of the complexity and true sourness that our long-fermented Belgian style ales have.
Rewind to the Low Dive years and our first Saison; my original idea was to brew a Saison fermented with a commercial Saison strain augmented by the addition of dregs from the funky Saison master Dany Prignon at Fantôme. This first attempt was satisfying, but the contribution from the dregs was negligible. For our second attempt we made a yeast starter from the dregs of Fantôme bottles and used this slurry as our yeast. This version exhibited a complex sour ale within just a few months and proved to be a great compromise between the quickness of something like a Berliner and the years-long process involved in something like a Lambic. We have used this same method several times now to produce some really fun beers, including a blueberry infused version (Elila), a wet-hopped harvest version (Harvester of Sour) and a pumpkin & spelted version (Ghost). For our last couple batches we changed our method by harvesting yeast from our own beers instead of relying on bottles of Fantôme to get things moving. All of this experimenting over the last 4-5 years with this method gave us the idea to figure out a way to perpetually produce this base beer while building our own 'house' character into process.
The answer Drew and I came up with was to re-pitch the slurry from our previous batch (Ghost) into barrels and ferment entirely in the barrel. By way of Spiteful, we procured two FEW bourbon barrels and proceeded with our plan. After just two weeks of fermentation, we were almost amazed to find that this fourth or so generation of mixed culture produced what previous batches took two months to accomplish. At this point, there is a very pleasing sourness, complimented by an earthy funk & spicy complexity.
We expect to package this beer soon and plan to keep our yeast housed in these barrels with the plan to perpetually barrel-ferment our quick, complex sour ale.
—Written by Matt Kanable