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Author Replies
SAH
11/12/07 11:02 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
Well mine is fermenting away. To re-cap/update:

- ~48 hours outside in the orchard, better bottle w/cheesecloth. Then brought inside w/airlock.

- 2 more days, basically no activity

- 3rd day, airlock action, sour smell, light krausen that looked like the head on a beer.

- Yesterday/Today, full small krausen. Fairly smooth texture with large rocky bubbles. Smell is fruity/estery.

My question is what's my next step?

When primary fermentation is complete should I take a gravity reading and taste? I assume it will need to age for many months, but how do I know it will benefit? Laslty, should it get a oak dowel for aeration like my pLambic and Flanders?

Thanks guys.

SteveG
11/13/07 09:44 AM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
At this point I leave it until the head has cleared completely then I tranfer to glass. I generally expect this to take at least weeks.
SteveG
11/13/07 12:24 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
SAH, one last comment. For this first go I'd drop the dowel idea. Find out what this process does on its own first, from that observation plan tweeks to later efforts. I can say I wooded my last effort and lived to regret it. Barrels would be used to pass bacteria along from batch to batch. I do one batch a year and have a means to innoculate (as do you) so functionally the wood is not necessary. That means the reason to add it is to add wood flavor. You might find the flavor of the beer does not call for it, but if you start with a doweled batch you may deprive yourself that info.
Baums
11/13/07 05:29 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
I think another reason you might want the dowel is for microoxygenation. I do think Steve is right that you should keep it simple, and avoid excess wood flavor, but I think you can do that and still keep the dowel by just minimizing the amount of dowel that touches your beer. Your call on whether you want your base "simple" recipe to be microoxygenated. The one tiny spontaneous ferment I did was not, and it fermented out just fine.
SAH
11/13/07 08:34 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
SteveG and Baums,

Thank you for the input. SteveG if I understand your last post you are mainly concerned about the oak flavor not being appropriate for the beer. I feel this may turn into a discussion of how much and where do you want oxygen in a sour batch...but here goes:

I don't rely on my dowels for oak flavor, they are small diameter, boiled in water that is dumped and new water added, and only sink into the beer a few inches. This is similar to what Baums was suggesting. I rely on toasted french oak cubes to provide the main oak flavor - which I like to add in very small amounts for an extended period.

So my question is, should this beer benefit from micro-oxygenation? Or is it asking for acetobacter to make a home if there's no Brett to form a protective pellicle? Will the taste, once it clears, give me any direction. I would like to use a dowel, but if it means risking excessive acetobacter than maybe not. The other option would be to add some brett once primary is complete to ensure a pellicle forms, but then it wouldn't be 100% ambient fermented. Thoughts?

Once again, thanks, you guys rock!

Baums
11/14/07 10:32 AM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
No personal experience with dowels--maybe someone who'se used them can comment on acetic acid levels. From what I've heard, production is usually no more than moderate.
SteveG
11/14/07 10:38 AM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
Never used dowels, won several awards. IMO they are completely unnecessary.
Mike T
11/14/07 11:03 AM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
My doweled (actually chairleg-ed) Roeselare Blend Flanders Red had no detectable acetic acid after a year in secondary at 62-65 (which is fine by me). From what I have read, using oak like that only lets in about 10% as much O2 per gallon of wort as a standard wine barrel. So, there shouldn’t be much chance for over-oxidation or acetobacter growth.

Steve are you just aging in an airlock sealed glass carboy? Do you vent the headspace or in anyway introduce O2 during the aging process?

SteveG
11/14/07 11:24 AM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
<<From what I have read, using oak like that only lets in about 10% as much O2 per gallon of wort as a standard wine barrel.>>

That seems logical to me. The barrel barrier has beer against one side and O2 against the other. Exchange makes sense. Doesn't seem like dipping in a dowel, surrounding it with beer, could have the same effect. Actually I thought the arguement for the dowel was more to give bugs a place to set up shop.

I start with a lot of exposed surface area, so big time initial O2 exposure. Then when things settle down it goes into a carboy for 3 or 4 months. I try to get it into a keg before summer for protection.

MarkO
11/14/07 03:22 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
I too am skeptical about the necessity of sticking a dowel in the fermenter, aside from, as Steve says, giving the bugs a place to "set up shop," to permit the re-use of a culture in different batches.

I certainly don't think the presence of wood is necessary at all for the growth of functioning yeast and bacteria.

Baums
11/15/07 10:14 AM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
I think there's a bit of a misunderstanding. The dowel setup we (SAH, me, MikeT) are talking about is the one I think MikeT has pictures of on his site, where the carboy's rubber stopper is bored out and one end of a dowel is stuck into it. The other end of the dowel goes down into the beer a little.

While it may add a bit of oak flavor or transfer some bugs, this setup was designed (by Raj Apte at first, and then improved at some point to use a dowel in a stopper instead of a tapered chair leg) with the intent of providing a small amount of oxygen. The dowel isn't surrounded by beer--it forms a barrier between the beer and the air. Hence there's some oxygen exchange, and more than one might think because Apte claims that oak is much more permeable along the grain (as in the dowel) than across it (as in a barrel). Which I find pretty believable.

As for the "necessity" of long term microoxygenation, it sounds like Steve has shown you don't need it to make good beer. My best sour beer had none either, though it was not a spontaneous ferment. Meanwhile all of our favorite lambic breweries have oxygenation. For a given place and time, who the hell knows?

SteveG
11/15/07 10:48 AM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
<<Meanwhile all of our favorite lambic breweries have oxygenation.>>

Yes but in their world the process takes 3 years and can involve up to 80 varieties of bacteria. My world looks very different, kegged in 5ish months with a small handful of bacterial contributors. Lambic is similar in theory but not application, I think folks should consider that before closely emmulating Senne valley brewing.

SAH
11/15/07 03:24 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
<<Yes but in their world the process takes 3 years and can involve up to 80 varieties of bacteria. My world looks very different, kegged in 5ish months with a small handful of bacterial contributors. Lambic is similar in theory but not application, I think folks should consider that before closely emmulating Senne valley brewing.>>

Is this(above quote) in terms of ambient fermentations or all our Lambic style beers?

In terms of homebrewing pLambics why not try to emulate as closely as possible? Using AlB's bugs, or bugs from actual Lambic bottles why not simulate the oxygenation, oxidation, and evaporation of Lambic beers and age them 3 years?

SteveG
11/15/07 03:46 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
The slow introduction of O2 makes sense for a beer that has to stay alive for 3 years. And with as many as 80 bacterial types in there who can say what their O2 needs would be, especially over that length of time? Neither of those considerations apply to my personal ambient fermenting practices though. Lambic brewering practices are in place for specific reasons. If those reasons do not apply here then neither should the practices.

There was this idiot girl I used to work with. She observed me making this low-cal lunch dish a few times. I put a crown of microwaved brocolli on a plate (paper was all we had), laid on some spaghetti sauce and cheese. Then into the toaster oven to heat the sauce and melt the cheese. The moisture from the sauce stopped the plate from catching fire, it only darkened the slightest amount.

So one day there's a fire in the kitchen at work. It was her, she just put microwaved brocolli on a paper plate and stuck it in the toaster oven despite having no cheese to melt of sauce to heat. No moisture, plate caught fire. I said "what were you thinking??" she replied "It was your recipe!!" She could not grasp that if you take out 2 of the 3 ingredients the rules change!

SAH, we are not in the Senne Valley, the rules are not the same. I recommend doing what you do cause your conditions call for it, not because someone whose conditions are very different from yours calls for it.

Ryan
11/15/07 04:30 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
Steve

do you mash the Brocolli in your lambics or is it steeped like an adjunct?

SteveG
11/15/07 04:55 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
Yes, I find a good thick mash will also stop it from catching fire.
SAH
11/15/07 05:27 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
SteveG, I think those are excellent points and its great to think about really keeping my yeast/bacteria and methods local.

The 2006 NHC Sour Ale winner was from a couple from my new homebrew club, they won with an ambient fermented ale. Hopefully I'll get to talk to them soon about their methods.

My concern is that I won't be able to tell at 5-6 months whether the beer is done, or if it needs another 5-6 months or more to improve. I guess if the gravity is ultra-low that's an indication. Doing multiple batches would also help.

-Thanks

SteveG
11/15/07 09:28 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
No kidding, I didn't know an ambient beer had done that well, that's awesome!

SAH, after 5-6 months taste it. Measure the gravity. If you think it might be ready you can bottle or keg most of it, just hold a gallon aside to continue aging. You'll have a lot more under your belt then come batch #2.

Mike T
11/16/07 10:21 AM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
I got a chance to talk to Dave a few meetings back. I’m not sure how ambient their lambic is, it sounded to me like he used a lambic blend at some point in the past in his 4 wine barrels, but now just uses the resident microbes to do the fermentation. I also got a chance to try a “recent” batch of his, really fantastic stuff.

My personal feeling is that even if you are using a simplified version of the true diversity/complexity of the Belgian microflora, you’ll still have the same main contributors (Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, and Lactobacillus or Pediococcus). It seems to me that these microbes will want similar conditions whether they are fermenting in Belgium or America. Most of the best commercial sour beer brewers in the US started with commercial strains and use oak (Russian River, Pizza Port, New Blegium etc…) if they could get the same results just by using a conical and some oak chips, why wouldn’t they be doing so on all their sour beers?

“The slow introduction of O2 makes sense for a beer that has to stay alive for 3 years.”

Could it be the opposite, that traditional beers take so long because they have micro-oxygenation not that the other way around? After a year I switched the oak topper on my lambic for a regular stopper/airlock, that seemed to kill the pellicle which before had been full and thick, but after losing the O2 became broken and sparse.

SteveG
11/16/07 10:33 AM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
<<My personal feeling is that even if you are using a simplified version of the true diversity/complexity of the Belgian microflora, you’ll still have the same main contributors (Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, and Lactobacillus or Pediococcus). >>

Mike, you may well have these same contributors but I have to say again, Senne Valley lambic can have over 70 additional components. I can say that my ambient is pretty distinct. You could tell it from a real lambic, though I say that as someone who is true proud of the beer. To be honest, there are aspects to some lambics I've had that I personally don't care for. My ambient is cut from a similar cloth, but is definately a simpler beer. IMO, it is simpler in a good way.

>>Could it be the opposite, that traditional beers take so long because they have micro-oxygenation not that the other way around?<<

Al, help!! Mike could be, I don't know nearly enough to say. I will say though that I associate O2 with life, an organism slowing down in the presence of such a key life sustaining element seems counter-intuitive to me.

I thought the pellicle served as an O2 barrier, isn't it supposed to become broken and sparse?

Mike T
11/16/07 11:12 AM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
What sort of FG do your ambient beers hit? My thought is that maybe the oxygen promotes “life” allowing some of the microbes to chew through a bit more residual dextrins than they would be able to without it. There are also some microbes in sour beers that are slowed by oxygen, Pediococcus for example.

The pellicles I have seen in pictures from commercial breweries seem to be thick and cover the surface of the wort/beer completely. It seems like it protects the beer from what has been dubbed “macro-oxygenation” that is oxygen that is in direct contact with the beer, the wood allows oxygen to be transferred through it into the beer slowly bypassing the pellicle and being used quickly by the Brett before it can oxidize the beer.

If there is no oxygen in the headspace sour beers do not seem to form much of a pellicle because they do not need to defend themselves.

All of that said, I can’t argue with results! If you like the beers that you make, I see no reason to change what you do. That is what homebrewing is all about, there are no “right” answers, just what is right for your tastes and set-up. At some point I’d love to set up a side by side experiment, same wort/bugs/temp, but one vessel getting some oak/oxygen exposure and one with just oak cubes and an airlock.

SteveG
11/16/07 11:28 AM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
>>What sort of FG do your ambient beers hit?<<

Actually I can't say off hand, I'll look at my notes tonight (if I remember!).

>>The pellicles I have seen in pictures from commercial breweries seem to be thick and cover the surface of the wort/beer completely.<<

But do they not dissapate in time (back to the "isn't it supposed to become broken and sparse?" question)?

Al B
11/16/07 11:55 AM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
If it were only that simple.

Just because a pellicle falls doesn't imply that the brew is no longer alive. All of my brett beers have evolved under anaerobic conditions in the bottle. Bretts "prefer" O2- hence the formation of pellicles. Since there are many other strict oxidative yeasts that play a part in lambics (Kloereka, Pichia for example), aging with some micro-aeration still seems best. But I don't think that is the reason why lambics take so long.

Populations of all bugs start off very low and go through phases. I'm sure if Steve ferments the ambient ale for a long period of time, it to will evolve. As cells die, they release nutrients, feeding other survivors. As Pedio creates "slime", the slime is devoured by Bretts, and so on until everything slows down, which may take years.

Well, those are my initial thoughts. What was the question again?

Baums
11/16/07 12:31 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
As we all know, with microoxygenation you get more long term contribution from brett, oxidative yeast, and possibly aerobic bacteria.

I think we'd all agree it's *likely* that this extra contribution will add some sort of complexity, but judging whether that complexity will be good or bad for a given person and their environment, is impossible.

I once made a tiny (3 qt all grain, which was kind of stupid) batch in my environment that was not microoxygenated and ended up with less complexity than I'd have liked. But there was no way to know that in advance. Just got to try something and build from that.

SteveG
11/16/07 12:58 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
Baums, nothing stupid about it at all. On many occasions I have offered people an answer they don't want to hear. I'm a real big advocate of building a foundation of understanding by doing. Advice is terrific, but nothing beats a series of test batches.

Oh, I agree with sentence 2!

But Al ... what do you think of the wood dowel?

Al B
11/16/07 01:17 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
The wood dowel? good idea for these types of brews. My air locks eventually let air in over time, the pellicle will protect the brew.

O2 vs No O2 will yield different profiles I would think - and would be an interesting experiment - but it is still one variable in mixed fermentations. No wonder blending is performed!

Baums
11/16/07 03:46 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
I meant that it was kind of stupid of me to make a 3 qt all grain batch, when it takes almost as much time/effort as making 5 gallons...

Not sure what you mean about answers people don't want to hear. I think the dowel setup makes some sense if you want to allow a bit of oxygen in, and if you don't then it doesn't. Probably we all agree on that too--actually I don't know what, if any, disagreement there is here.

SAH
11/16/07 03:55 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
<<The wood dowel? good idea for these types of brews. My air locks eventually let air in over time, the pellicle will protect the brew. >>

AlB - Is there any guarantee a pellicle will form on my ambient ale? How long should I give it to form with the dowel before being concerned about acetobacter taking hold if it doesn't?

SteveG
11/16/07 04:15 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
<<Not sure what you mean about answers people don't want to hear.>>

I think there are a lot of brewers in the world who want a quick answer to how to make awesome beer. I tend to throw the "build a foundation" card a lot, which of course is not the quick answer. But IMO its the right one. Asking is great, it can set you on the right path. But you really can't leapfrog experience. I think many brewers would like to hear is that there is a special ingredient or secret mash temp out there that will yeild the beer of their dreams.

Anyway, there is little in the way of disagreement here, 'cept that I personally see no benefit to the dowel. That is though, of course, relative to the way I do things and might not work for everyone.

Al B
11/16/07 05:57 PM  
Re: Ambient /Spontaneous Fermentation
SAH -

I'm no expert on ambient fermentations but there is no guarantee of a pellicle forming on ambients. If one was to form, I suspect it would take a few months.

So I would guard against Aceto until one forms.

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