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01/31/11 08:53 AM  
Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentation
On January 7, 2011, while laid up recovering from some surgery I was bored and decided to give spontaneous fermentation a try. mashed in 3 lbs of 2-row with 1.25 lbs of wheat flour, collected some run off, boiled it for an hour with some old northern brewer hop pellets. Then transferred to a large pot where I let it sit in the breeze for a couple of hours then put it into the green house where I had quite a number of tomatoes ferment this fall.after about 2 days there was about 1 cm of pure white Krausen on the wort and the airlock was bubbling about once a minute, lots of little bubbles. BUt it smelled pretty bad, definitely sour. I then forgot about it for 3 weeks

after the initial krausen had dropped. I went into the store room on two days ago only to find that the bloody thing had come alive again and was actually coming out of the airlock. Fermentation is going like mad, much more then last time. It smelled very fruity, vaguely peachy or apricoty. Why would it suddenly come to life again. I made

up two small jars of dme, 250 ml each and scooped about 1 tablespoon of krausen off the main container and into the smaller container -boom - fermentation took off in each with an inch of rocky krausen in each jar.

Remember I have added no commercial yeasts and the container is not sitting in a place I have ever brewed. The small batches also smell quite nice.

I would like to hear your thoughts on what might be going on.

01/31/11 09:30 AM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
First observation is that different microflora will propogate at different speeds. As brewers our only point of reference for the performance of our fermentation agents would be how we see cultured yeasts behave. Our understanding of how to approach making a starter and the time it takes for activity to begin and conclude is actually kind of narrow. When you start employing fermentation agents outside of that realm you often have think in terms of months and even years instead of days or weeks.

It may be that when you pulled off the small batches a more desireable microflora had taken hold. At that point it would have been king of the mountain, so thats what the smaller jars would have reflected.

I think the data point that's missing here would be a gravity reading after the initial krausen disapated.

01/31/11 02:44 PM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
Unfortunately I was pretty slack in measuring it, I wrote it off once it started to smell bad..... I have been all gain brewing for 7 years so I should have known better. Aside from getting a microscope is there anyway tell what creature I have on my hands.... any tell tale signs that will give me a heads up what might be breeding in my basement?
01/31/11 04:51 PM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
I think the microscope method is the only answer, assuming you are trained in recognizing microflora species. Under glass I wouldn't know brettanomyces from a hole in the wall!

As a guy who has hit a couple home runs with ambient fermenation (and flyed out twice into left field!) I'd have to say the choice of a greenhouse for innoculation site is pretty interesting. My hot spot is in the basement, I could imagine though a lot of interesting things going on in an indoor garden.

01/31/11 05:09 PM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
SteveG, it's funny you mention the basement. I always read people mentioning orchards, gardens, optimal outdoor spring weather, etc. I'm of the opinion that basements are the way to go. Funky unfinished basements in particular!

There was an occasion a year ago where I forgot to clean my kettle out after dumping my beer into the primary. Due to an injury, I didn't get to it for almost a week. When I dumped the little bit of leftover stuff down the drain to clean it it smelled fruity and *really* good. I've been meaning to do an actual ambient basement ferment for a year now. Maybe this'll be what I need to get me going on that!

01/31/11 09:00 PM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
<<It smelled very fruity, vaguely peachy or apricoty.>> This seems to be a very common charcter. I know I picked up these notes in Steve ambient beer during the gueuze swap. My ambient fermentation also had stone fruit / peachy ester profile. The yeast was very powdery (low floculation) and super attenuative. As for identification, I think a microscope and specialty growth media plates.
01/31/11 10:24 PM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
Hey Jaymo, the cellar thing is undoubtably tied to a brewing accident I has many, many years ago following an oud bruin innoculation. Tragic at the time, but I think over the years escaped yeasts "found themselves" in the dank labrynth of casa Gale.

Witsok - actually I forgot that! Now that you mention it though, the peachy thing does ring a bell. Very interesting parallel.

Jason, can I ask where it is geographically that this experiment took place?

02/01/11 05:37 AM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
East Coast of Newfoundland, Canada
02/01/11 08:47 AM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
More interesting still. The main thing I need to watch for here in New Jersey is the presence of acetobactor. I have only been successful brewing ambient ale in January. Eariler and the risk of developing a very vinegary beer increase, later and it won't be fermented enough when acetobactor returns and again it will be vulnerable.

I wonder what the impact will be on that front being located so much further north?

02/01/11 11:45 PM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
Ok, so I decided to check the gravity. It is sitting around 1.014. It is still actively fermenting. The smell is definitely sweet/fruity. I decided to actually taste it from the hyrometre container. .... arrrgggghhh gasp ... actually its not bad, don't know if I would want to drink a pint of it right now .. but it wasn't horrible. Here is what I tasted. Big Pineapple - up front lots of pineapple both on the nose and in taste, followed by a distinct sourness, very fizzy. There is definitely hints of Orval, but I was surprised at the pineaple, it was if I was drinking the juice from a can of Dole pineapple chunks ... thoughts
02/02/11 06:13 AM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
No thoughts on the current flavor profile, tasting it now and drawing any conclusion would be like posting a final score on a baseball game after 1 inning.

But it is interesting that the gravity is as low as it is after just a month. I bet that is due to "the greenhouse effect"! There must have been an unusual high concentration of airborn yeasts and such in there, it really does sound like an excellent twist on the whole idea of ambient fermentation. Now I kinda wish I had a greenhouse!

02/02/11 10:19 AM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
I am going to pitch it into a batch and see what happens. I would note that I choose the greenhouse because of the way things went this fall. We had taken a vacation in the fall, as a result the greenhouse was neglected for a couple of weeks. When I left there was a bumper crop of tomatoes and zucchinis. As well I had a grape vine growing in there as well as pumpkins. Duringt he vacation everything decided to ripen at once and when we came back and I opened the door it smelled like "tomato beer" Everything had overrippened, split open and had started to ferment. So when I went in in January, I stirred up the soil, moved things around to get the stuff into the air. This is one of the great things about homebrewing, there is alot of fun to be had even when you are not stirring a mash tun or standing over the kettle. Cheers
Brian S
02/02/11 11:56 AM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
If you really wanted to geek out on the subject of what organism you have, why not email white labs or the brewing science institute to see if they'll do a custom analysis?

If this is too costly, I can do a RFLP based analysis (see below), but would have to order the necessary primers (about $18 per species you wanted to check for). If there were a bunch of people with this same problem the test could be batched (i.e. it would cost the same to do 20 samples as 1).

I realize this is way off the deep end, but it might be fun. At the end of the day you still probably have a slurry of different bugs, and you're only looking for certain ones with RFLP, so I don't know if its more interesting than useful. You may end up with a subclone of Brett B, for example, whose flavors you like better than that you can get from WL or WY. You may end up with some crazy yeast species that we'll never know what genus/phylum it belongs to.


02/03/11 08:56 AM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
I might be interested in the RFLP analysis. I recently set up a mini-sour mash using a handful of malt to inoculate. I decided to take it a step further since I work in a bio department, and cultured out what was in the fermentation. In addition to lacto, I got two distinct yeast colonies. Superficially they look like Brett under the scope, but grow at different rates and have noticeably different cell sizes. Small batch test fermentations are under way. If either produces something drinkable and interesting, I'd be up for some sort of molecular analysis.
02/04/11 01:57 AM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio

I'm assuming you mean you can only do the "open" portion of the fermentation in January. How long do you leave it open when you do them indoors? Do you leave out some starter wort to inoculate or just leave an entire batch of wort out for inoculation?

02/04/11 10:31 AM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
Its been a couple years, but as I recall it was maybe two weeks. I placed one of those hair-netty looking covers over it, tight enough weave to keep out any passing insects but air flow would be unrestricted. I'd keep it open until activity had clearly commensed. I have to say, even when the process worked out great (I ran 3 for 5 here) it was the most butt ugly fermentation I've ever seen.
02/08/11 06:55 PM  
Re: Question about ambient/spontaneous fermentatio
In Oregon, I generally just leave a pLambic wort exposed to the elements in a jury-rigged koelschip for one or two nights. Usually just one, and it works just fine. It might take a week or two for visible signs of fermentation to appear, but a couple of years later I'll end up with a drinkable, and sometimes decent, beer.
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