Solera Project

>> Monday, January 19, 2015

If you read through a few of my posts, it's probably pretty apparent that I love sour beers. A recent article on homebrewtalk.com peaked my interest in trying something I hadn't tried before, a solera project. The basic idea is you sour age a beer in some kind of vessel, then you pull off a portion and replace that portion with fresh young beer. You repeat this process about once a year or so and you end up with a (hopefully) complex blend of various aged sour beer. Traditionally the vessel used for this was an oak barrel, but in the HBT article the author suggests using a sanke keg. A friend of mine offered up a sanke keg that had been sitting in his garage for years, so I jumped at the opportunity.

I brewed 10 gallons of lambic back in May of 2014 for Big Brew Day and I figured I'd use five gallons of it for the initial fill of the solera. The rest will come from another 10 gallon batch, 5 gallons of which will be fermented with a brettanomyces strain cultured from Crooked Stave St. Bretta and the other five with Roeselare. The base beer will be similar to the lambic recipe but with a few tweaks.

I decided to build a cart for the keg so I could easily move it if needed. I figured this would:
  1. Make it easier on my back when I did have to move it.
  2. Help to not disturb the pellicle or stir up sediment when I had to move it.
  3. The added height will help when it's time to rack to a corny keg or bottling bucket.
  4. I just need an excuse for a welding project every once in a while.
The cart is pretty simple, four legs, crossbars up top to support the weight of the filled keg and more down below to provide some structural support. Oh and casters of course so it's easy to move. 

For the keg itself I simply removed the spear, then fitted the neck with a #11 drilled stopper. The stopper fits perfectly and creates an airtight seal without having to modify the keg; simple, cheap, and should work just fine.

I'll store the solera in my basement utility room where it stays around 68F year round.

That's about all there is to it...except for brewing the beer of course.

Here's the recipe as I brewed it today:

7.0# Rahr Pale Malt
3.0# Dingemans Pilsner
3.0# Best Malz Chit Malt
6.0 Flaked Wheat
3.0 Pale Wheat Malt
168g Aged Hops (60 min)
Yeast Nutrient
St. Bretta dregs (for 1st 5 gallons)
Roeselare (for 2nd 5 gallons)

Mash at 149F for 20 minutes. Raise to 158F for 20 minutes.
90 minute boil
Ferment at 68F

Update 1/21/2015
Everything went fine during the brew session. I pitched the Roeselare without aerating while the brett half was aerated. The Roeselare half showed signs of fermentation within the first six hours while the brett half took about 36 hours to show signs of fermentation. If all goes well I'll be racking these beers into the solera in 2-3 weeks.

Update 1/26/2015
Both halves are progressing nicely. In the pic below, Roeselare is on the right and St. Bretta dregs are on the left. It might be hard to tell in the photo, but the Roeselare seems to have a lot more yeast and bugs in suspension, so it's a few shades lighter in color.
Update 2/1/2015
Activity has dropped off quite a bit in both, but there's a lot of yeast in suspension, so I'll probably be waiting at least another week before racking to the solera. 

Update 2/7/2015
The Solera is filled! I brewed another beer today so I figured since I was doing beer-related activities, I might as well fill the Solera. The St. Bretta version had dropped fairly clear. The Roeselare version was still a bit cloudy but activity seemed to have stopped. Before filling, I boiled some water in the Solera to make sure only the intended bugs were present. Now we wait a year and keep our fingers crossed.

Update 2/8/2015
Forgot to mention, I tossed in a few oak cubes from Flanders Red #3 to innoculate the beers with additional cultures.

Update 2/10/2016
Pulled a sample tonight and it's a pretty nice beer. Sourness is solid but it doesn't feel like it's melting the enamel off your teeth. I'll probably pull the first five gallons off this beer soon and put it on fruit.

Update 6/25/2016
I racked the first pull from the Solera into a keg last night. This will be named Solera Release #1. It's been sitting on 6.75lbs of red raspberries since April 12th. I'll force carb then probably bottle off the keg as I wasn't really planning on keeping it on tap. Raspberry character is fairly strong, but you can still pick up the character of the base beer. I didn't take a pH reading, but I'll do that soon. Just a guess, but I'd probably put it around 3.4. It's pretty tasty, so I'm happy with the first iteration off the Solera.

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