dedicated to fermentation of beer & bread

A Spontaneous Sour Beer

This isn’t about a spontaneously fermented beer.  It’s about a last minute, “simple sour” that was brewed spur of the moment.  The only reason I brewed this beer was because I had an empty wine barrel. I figured I’d do a simple grist and fill it with beer as a “holding solution” rather than the regular KSO4 & citric acid combination.


So then why the blog post?  To demonstrate how absolutely simple a sour beer can be.  There’s no fancy tricks, the only player in this beer is time.  So, if you’ve got an empty fermenter (or have the $30-40 to spend on an extra one) and plenty of space in your cellar, you can do something this simple as well.  My point here is that as a wild/sour beer brewer, you don’t need to have a lot of experience – the yeast has enough experience to help you through.

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What happens to the barrel if it is neglected too long – the saw mill.


I emptied the wine barrel that had previously held a Flanders Red, brewed in 2011.  The beer was fermented with the Wyeast Roselare blend, one of my favorite blends for Flanders style.  I’ve tasted beers that have had Roselare used on them up to 8 generations and really enjoy generations 2 and 3, so I pitched right on to the cake in the barre and  dumped in a slurry of yeast harvested from Crooked Stave’s Petite Sour too.

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For the actual brew, it’s about as simple as it gets: Aa grist of 90% Pilsner and 10% Wheat, mashed at 150F for 60 minutes, sparged at 175F, a pound of debittered hops in a 50 gallon boil, chilled to 68F, and transferred directly into the fermenter.  That’s it.


After 9 months, I decided to reorganize my basement and moved the full barrel from one end of the cellar to the other.  Not a horrible job, but not easy.  Lots of pushing, tilting, etc. – but in the end I got it done in about 15 minutes.

From the left of the keezer to the far right in the photo.

From the left of the keezer to the far right in the photo.


The barrel sat for another year and a half before I pulled 5 gallons out, then topped it  with wort I’d fermented with yeast harvested from Allagash Midnight Brett and let it sit another four months before emptying the whole barrel to kegs.


The result?  A potently sour beer, which – when blended – adds excellent acidity and complexity to a younger sour beer.  I drank part of this beer straight, as a psuedo-kriek, and as a blend with other sour beers.  The best blend I have currently is as a Kriek with 10% lambic blended in.


You can get bug blends from Wyeast, WhiteLabs, The Yeast Bay, East Coast Yeast – or even in a trade with other homebrewers.  I’ve swapped yeast several times as well as made my own blends.  The only times I’ve been left with something undrinkable is due to neglected airlocks or stored the beer in a bucket (which allows more O2 through.)  Make a simple malt bill with wheat, oats, or maybe even a touch of crystal.  In the event something too sour comes out, you can always blend it with a more neutral beer.  Go on and experiment!

6 Foot Sour


Aromas – Tartness immediatly.  No hop character.  Some light lemon notes.  Definitely some funk from the brett, but more ‘clean’ than I’ve noticed in recent beers.  I guess I could call it a clean “citrus-y” brett character

Flavor –  Sour.  Much more sour than most of my other beers.  Some light malt character attempts to balance the sourness.  The first taste from the barrel was too sour for a non blended beer, however the more recent tastes I have had indicate there is some unblended potential.  Not as multi-dimensional as I would like.  Adding the cherries in the kriek version, then blending with some lambic really helped this beer shine (blend was about 90% kriek, 10% lambic.)  Not as much funk in the flavor, more tartness.

Mouthfeel – Smooth, save for the sourness.  Definitely not an enamel stripper.  Won’t let you to drink it too fast.  Sourness is forms on the sides of the mouth and cheeks and kisses the back of the tounge on the way down.  Lingering sourness on back of throat that tickles for 5-10 seconds afterwards.

Appearance – Pretty copper color.  Some haze, but nothing over the top.  Head retention is low.

Being Brewtally honest, What would I pay for this beer?  $8-10 for a 750ml.  More if the blend was spot on.

How far would I drive for this beer? I’d nab it on the way home, or perhaps pick it up while on another errand.



  1. Where do you get your barrels for your barrel program? I am wanting to start something similar but don’t live in wine country (I live in Southeast Michigan).

    • bhall

      June 28, 2015 at 9:22 am

      I get them after local breweries and wineries are done with them. Literally just called every winery in the state until one would sell me something!

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