Monday, April 27, 2015

Barclay Farmstead: Spontaneous Fermentation

"Coolship" next to the window.
Last fall my family and I gave up city living in Philly and moved to a nearby suburb just across the bridge in NJ. Despite having a lot more space than I previously had, more barrels coming, I was excited because I felt it opened up better possibilities for wild yeast harvesting. Not that I couldn't forage for wild yeast while living in the the city, I mean look where Cantillon is located, but my past attempts proved futile. I tried on numerous occasions by just leaving open mason jars of wort outside only to end up with melted plastic aromas and low attenuation, but it could have been an issue in my process. This is not meant to be a lecture on Spontaneous Fermentation but only to share my experiences and process, if you seek more scientific/detailed information on the topic refer to Wild Brews or American Sour Beers.

I decided to start small for this attempt and just pull off a couple gallons from an existing brew and see how things worked out. If this was a full volume batch I was trying to spontaneously ferment I would have simply left the kettle out overnight to inoculate, which would work well because cooling would be a little slower. Instead I found a shallow 3 gallon hotel pan while digging through my in laws old diner equipment that I thought could work well as a "coolship". At this size, and with outside temps in the low 20F range I am going to be fighting some rapid cooling, which means less time left out for inoculation. But it should work well for as a test run to see what I can catch locally in hope of scaling things up for future "Lambic" brew days, and topping off of the Solera.

I cleaned the hotel pan out thoroughly and set it up on a ladder next to an open window in my garage and proceeded to pump boiling hot FarmWards wort right into the "Coolship" (I should come up with a catchy name for it). There it would sit open to the elements until it was cooled and ready to rack to a carboy. Again, because of the small volume and cold outdoor temps I actually ran the risk of freezing the wort if I left it out for too long so this would be a relatively short exposure. I took some temperature readings every few hours to see where it was at and make sure I didn't have a frozen mass of sticky wort. I was hoping for no less than 10-12 hours before racking as I had noticed that Prairie Artisan Ales had success with Coolship Truck with 14 hours in the elements. Hey look videos!


video

After about 11 hours the wort had cooled to 35F and I thought it was about time to rack it and warm it back up to ale temps inside. At this point I wasn't very confident that I had caught anything but I stayed the course. Despite knowing that signs of fermentation could take up to 7-10 days I still stressed over no activity everyday that I checked the fermenter. After 7 days I was starting to think it was a lost cause, despite what I said before I just thought maybe the exposure wasn't long enough. But like I said, 7-10 days. Sure enough on the morning of the 8th day we had light activity and by that evening there was a healthy krausen and vigorous fermentation, success! 


video

The most vigorous fermentation slowed after a few days but still had some light activity for a weeks after, overall a very normal looking fermentation. I pulled a sample at 6 weeks, there was still some light activity going on, and took down some brief tasting notes and vitals.

I do not miss that snow.


Spontaneous FarmWards (6 weeks)
Gravity: 1.005
PH 4.31

The aromas are pretty light but picking up on some Clove and coriander, it is a bit lemony, with an underlying grainy like aroma. 

Its pretty clean, a light spice/dryness at the tip of the tongue, dry but not aggressively,  no astringency at all. No off flavors or funk at all, it comes off as a light Belgian beer. There is still some moderate activity so I will let it finish off for a few more weeks.

Its been over four months now and should be ready to package shortly, it was probably ready a while ago. I wanted to give it ample time to fully attenuate as I don't really know what I am working with here. I could have bottled it at 1.005 as thats very dry but I took the cautious route and waited it out. I had hoped for something a little more rustic and weird, or sour (IBUs were probably too high), but its pretty impressive how clean the beer ended up especially with my past attempts being so terrible. In the meantime I plan to send some slurry off to Jeff Mello at Bootleg Biology as well as a new lab in Canada called Escarpment Yeast , more on them in a few weeks. The seasons have changed here, which means I need to get the coolship filled again and see if I catch something different. Tasting notes of Barclay Farmstead Batch #1 to follow.

Edit: Below is a link to the recipe used/brewday for this beer.
Spontaneous FarmWards

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