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MarkO
03/22/07 11:00 PM  
pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Hi folks,

I am looking for some pointers on using a teeny oak cask as a home for pLambic. I have been brewing these puppies for 3 years now (finally long enough to start some blending), with a great deal of success. I am hooked bad.

Last year, however, I picked up a 6 gallon (22 L?) Hungarian oak cask for a song, and filled it with a newly brewed pLambic (and innoculated with some bugs cultured from various Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen bottles).

It is a year in the cask today, so I went to taste it -- it is disappointingly acetic. This is not a huge surprise, of course, with the increased surface area: volume ratio of a teeny cask.

So I am wondering two things:

1. Should I rack it into glass right away to curtail further acetification, considering that temperatures here are on the rise?

2. Has anyone run across this problem before, and successfully overcome it? I really want to keep that cask in the rotation . . .

Thanks in advance,

Mark

SteveG
03/23/07 07:59 AM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
MarkO, can you be more specific about "acetic"? Do you mean vinager-like?
Al B
03/23/07 08:39 AM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
It sounds like your idea of racking to glass is a good idea, how is the brett character?

Just out of curiousity, how was the barrel prior to adding the fresh brew, and was there much headspace/air in the barrel?

MarkO
03/23/07 09:32 AM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Yes, unfortunately "acetic" means vinager-like, to the point where the beer is already rather unpalatable. It is probably already too late to save this one, but I would like to try.

The brett character is well-developed, nice and horsy, and there is a healthy pellicle on top. The barrel was brand new when I received it, but I aged a couple of non-sour ales in it prior to filling it for this batch, in an effort to leach out the oak tannins. Oak character is present, but not overpowering.

There is, however, a lot of headspace in the barrel -- a year's worth of evaporation has left the beer a couple of inches below the bunghole. Perhaps in the future I should consider "topping off" the contents with a little fresh wort, to reduce this and possibly correct the vinegar problem. And I will definitely taste it before a year has expired, to better monitor progress.

Al B
03/23/07 09:50 AM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
I don't know of a way to save vinager brew unless you dilute it.

It probably developed quickly (and it can with O2) before a pellicle was formed. If you have a CO2 tank, you could periodically purge any headspace on future projects, that may help.

Baums
03/23/07 10:12 AM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Just some thoughts:

1. Surface area to volume in a 6G barrel is actually only about double what's in a "standard" ~60G wine barrel (see rec.crafts.winemaking archives for the calculations). To me that seems okay (which is why I just bought two 5-gallon barrels myself).

2. Some people want MORE acetic in their stuff. At the worst, you have one cask that can provide this element to your blended beer.

3. As Al says, oxygen is probably your culprit. To avoid further oxygenation of this batch you can put it into a totally airtight container (glass) as soon as possible.

4. Doubt there's anything to do with your current batch but blend it (maybe put some into a blended lambic, and mix some with a batch of "clean" red/brown ale and age it in glass?)

5. It seems like you were getting lots of oxygen into your barrel somehow. What kind of bung are you using? I agree that purging the headspace periodically may help--though I think topping up would be even better. Taking some late, weak runnings from all-grain batches and sterilizing them might provide a good source of top-up material. Also might want to "clean" your cask as aggressively as you are comfortable with, to reduce the numbers of any acetobacter that may have flourished.

Baums

Al B
03/23/07 10:22 AM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Yes, topping off is better. I like the idea of using second runnings to top off - I hadn't thought of that. Hmmm.

I was eyeballing a 5 gal barrel yesterday.......

Baums, what are you gonna fill yer barrels with?

Ted Manahan
03/23/07 11:50 AM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
I use a 50 liter barrel which is about 13 gallons. I have had trouble with too much acetic. In my case I believe the oxygen was introduced when I used a plastic bucket to age the beer on fruit. Now I have five gallons of a very nice raspberry vinegar. It is totally undrinkable.

The 50 liter barrel does let in enough air for some acetic to form, but it is not overpowering. I am trying to minimize this, as I do not enjoy overly vinegar tasting beer.

Mark O
03/23/07 11:57 AM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Second runnings for topping off is a really good idea -- that is a keeper. As for a bung on the barrel, I am using none at all! I have left my previous seven batches (in glass) open as well, sometimes closing them with an airlock in hot summer months, and have never had the acetification problem. I have also been messing around a lot with spontaneous fermentations, and have had some surprisingly good results when I left the fermenters open.

This will definitely be a batch for blending, though. I will rack it and seal it off ASAP. Thank you for the suggestions everyone.

SteveG
03/23/07 12:13 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Not to sound like a nay-sayer, but I have a more negative slant on this. Maybe the culpret is that acetic bacteria has infected the keg, that's why it was available for a song. I made a plambic years ago, 03 I think, and shockingly it was not complex but really good within a few months (ambient fermentation). Sadly though, that was my first big lession on why lambic production is seasonal. It started to get vinagery and never stopped. I saved a little, today the smallest sip makes you choke. I've held onto some for blending potential since I really like a hint of vinager in a sour beer. So far every attempt at blending has only brought the primary beer down.

Anyway, you folks who are far more bug saavy than I - do you think the problem could be in the keg? If so I suspect the thing might be worse than usless, it may only serve to ruin beer that would otherwise have been great.

Mark O
03/23/07 01:02 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
It is entirely possible that the barrel has a vinegar problem, but I guess I won't know until I try again. I plan on two more pLambic brewing sessions before the end of the season, so one of them will go in the naughty barrel. I just won't wait a year before tasting this time!
SteveG
03/23/07 01:43 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
MarkO, just to rule out an ambient component I'd suggest you time you brew sessions very carefully. I recommend November. If I brew in the summer I get vinager (I ambient ferment). If I brew in the late winter/Spring I will possibly get vinegar. But if I brew in November, after acetic bacteria have gone to sleep, the beer will be well enough along to be pretty safe come their return. I know you probably won't be going ambient, but avoiding those guys in the air will give your experiemts conclusions greater certainty.
Al B
03/23/07 01:47 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Open Fermenters are fine as long as there's a layer of CO2 over it. I am also unsure on how much a Brett pellicle really protects against Acetobacter and O2. But certainly the wood barrel can play host with the acetic bacteria, too (one would suspect that O2 permeation be minimal through the wood, creating slight vinager instead of salad dressing). Those are my thoughts, not experience.

But you had aged 2 non sour brews before this one in the same barrel, correct? So it sounds like the bugs were introduced. Either way, I think its safe to assume the barrel is now an Acetobacter host.

After initial open fermentng or once CO2 activity has decreased, I would add an airlock - at least with that naughty barrel. Good luck.

MarkO
03/23/07 04:42 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Just as follow-up, I racked the stuff to a closed carboy, and decided to blend some of it (after a small trial) with a very nice tangy 3-year old. They taste good together.

And Steve, what do you mean by ambient? Is that the same as "spontaneous"?

Thanks again,

Mark

SteveG
03/23/07 04:51 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Sorry, I guess I like my own termonolgy! Yes, "ambient" means "spontaneous". I made the beer, put a cheese cloth over the top and let the critters in my basement have at it. There's probably a lot of references here to this one, it worked out really well. Well, once. Two other times it went down the sink. Hopefully forth times a charm. I bet if you typed ambient in the search box you'd find a lot.
MarkO
03/23/07 06:38 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
No worries, Steve, I think "ambient" is actually quite a bit more descriptive, I had just never heard it before. I will definitely do the search you suggested, as I have performed similar experiments here (in Oregon). Oddly enough, the only times it worked well were, as you suggested, November and December. For other months, I have cultured a local wild yeast/bacteria blend which does the job great -- it seems to include some saccharomyces (or at least something that acts like it) and lactobacillus (or something that produces lactic acid). I am not sure if it contains a brettanomyces equivalent, as I typically add this myself. Maybe I will have to hold off on this one of these days, and see what happens.
Baums
03/26/07 10:55 AM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Based on what you've said MarkO I have to agree with those who suspect that a new bug has been introduced to your cask, possibly acetobacter. But I'm not sure it's a big deal. Acetobacter is everywhere--my house, your house, Cantillon. It can only make acetic if it gets oxygen. So, maybe this just means you have to start bunging that cask.

But I also suspect that, at least to some extent, more acetobacter gives more acetic acid, even for a fixed amount of oxygen. So maybe it's worth thinning out their numbers a little as well? Rick Theiner of Logic (makers of Straight-A, One Step, etc) makes a product called "Barrel Oxyfresh" that is supposed to "sweeten" casks, whatever that means. You might want to email the company and ask him about it. And you probably already know of some ways to "clean" casks, with various levels of intensity.

--

Al, we're going for lambic in both casks. One of them we'll put in pure cultures--but only bugs we know we like. Not sure which yet, but WY Lambicus is one. Anyone have good experience (acceptable levels of diacetyl) with either the WLP or WY pediococcus?

The other cask, I think we'll dump in dregs (possibly stepped-up) of "cleaner" but still traditional gueuze--maybe 3 Fonteinen and Boon. Probably a little sacc too, at least in the first batch, just so nothing nasty gets too good a chance to take hold early.

Any suggestions?

SteveG
03/26/07 11:57 AM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Baums, do you know Rick?
Baums
03/26/07 01:08 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
No Steve, I don't know Rick, but he's been really helpful when I've emailed Logic with questions. At some point I asked him about his Barrel OxyFresh for stripping oak flavor out of new oak, and he said it is not meant for that. He said one of the things it is meant for is reclaiming barrels that have "gone off," but I don't have any more detail than that.
SteveG
03/26/07 01:23 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Ah, just wondering. In the later 90s, '97 I think, he was the President of CompuServes virtual homebrew club (the VVHS), I was his VP. Met him a couple times in Baltimore. When I was club prez I thought up this romp I called the "VVHS EuroStar". Lunch in the UK (Olivers Wharf Rat), drinks in Germany (the now defunct De Groens) and dinner in Belgium (The Brewer's Art). Cool weekend!
Perkeo
04/10/07 04:50 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
This may be slightly off topic, but has anyone ever tried completely covering small casks in plastic wrap to try and minimize oxidation? Just wondering...
SteveG
04/10/07 05:47 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Hey Perk, how's things in good ole OR? When I make ambient beer I do you one better. I cover the bucket with a thing that looks a bit like a hairnet. Tighter weave of course. Flying insects can't get in but air sure can. And of course anything small enough to ride the air in.
Perkeo
04/10/07 05:55 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Hey just fine Steve, hope you're feeling better! Things are great, just headed off to a tasting at the local Rockbottom where ten local breweries all made beers using the 1762 wyeast except for Hair of the Dog who are using the Roeslare(sp?) yeast, should be interesting - anyway I just thought that acetic build up could maybe be held back in small casks by making the wood slightly (but not completely) less breathable, which I think could make a difference whether you're using a bung or not. Good idea with the netting on an open ferment though, when you're dealing with long term open fermantation you never know what's gonna fall (or fly) in!
MarkO
04/12/07 04:09 PM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Thanks for all of the great tips. As an update, I did rack the "problem" beer into a closed glass fermenter. I also blended a small portion of it 50%/%0% with another one-year-old (without any heavy acetic quality) and am serving it on draft as a jonge lambiek (without carbonation); in these proportions, the taste is very nice.

And to weigh in on covering bungs with a screen, I generally don't need to worry about it, relying solely on the yeast plug that inevitably forms from my ambient fermentations; the barm rises through the bung (on both carboys and wood casks) during the initial phase of fermentation, and then hardens into a gas-permeable plug that keeps non-microbial beasties out, for the most part.

I did brew another pLambic last week, which went into the same (cleaned) cask, which I plan to rack into a closed fermenter after six months to see if there is any difference in acetobacter propagation.

Cheers!

MarkO
11/03/07 01:58 AM  
Re: pLambic fermentation in small oak casks
Okay, necromancing a long-dead thread here, but for a purpose:

Right after I posted this last year, I racked the culprit beer out of the barrel, then cleaned it as well as I could, and filled it again with a fresh lambic.

Now, seven months on, the beer in the cask is very promising, in my opinion. I did not leave it open this time, or at least in the hot (and fruit fly-ish) weather. It does have a very subtle vinegar character, but is fairly tasty (still a bit "rough", but worthy of further aging.

So in other words, the barrel was not a lost cause.

Thanks again for all of the advice.

 
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