Commercial American Sours that have Belgian 'off-flavors'.

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by ironchefmiyagi13, Oct 22, 2015.

  1. ironchefmiyagi13

    ironchefmiyagi13 Initiate (0) Jan 9, 2013 Tennessee

    After watching a panel video on Youtube of sour beer brewers talking about sour beer, one of them discussed the topic of uncommon bacteria that make defects in American sours:

    Isovaleric Acid: a short-chain fatty acid found in cheese

    Enterobacter: bacteria that creates fecal-like aroma and flavor / smoky / moldy

    Buteric Acid: acid responsible for vomit / stomach acid or rancid aroma

    From someone who has had plenty of Belgian sours, (cantillon, 3F, tilquin, etc) I have picked up most of these aromas and flavors in their beer, but not so much in American 'wild ales'.

    Is it correct to say that in classic Belgian sours, these are just a product of hundreds of years of brewing / terroir / re-used barrels / shit living in the brewery? Or is it that only in American Wild Ales is it considered a defect?
  2. minderbender

    minderbender Initiate (186) Jan 18, 2009 New York

    When you say "Belgian sours," you seem to be referring specifically to gueuzes, since the breweries you cite all make gueuze. I very much doubt you have ever encountered these flavors/aromas in something like Rodenbach Grand Cru, or any of the other great Flanders red ales.

    Gueuzes are blends of lambics, and lambics are "spontaneously fermented." The early stages of fermentation can therefore be dominated by microbes that would not be present in significant numbers in a normal fermentation (including a mixed fermentation used for "non-spontaneous" sour beers). Over time, the acid-producing microbes tend to win out (and if they don't, the lambic is discarded), so you end up with a very sour beer with some residual character along the lines you described, which can be stronger or weaker from batch to batch.

    I'm sure that if American brewers followed the same technique, they would get roughly the same results. But not many American breweries making sours use spontaneous fermentation, and some of those that do may intentionally lower the pH of the beer at the start to avoid these flavors/aromas. (I seem to remember reading that the Belgian and/or European government is putting increasing pressure on Belgian brewers to do the same, for reasons of perceived safety.)
  3. ironchefmiyagi13

    ironchefmiyagi13 Initiate (0) Jan 9, 2013 Tennessee

    Fast-forward to 34:34. It is there that the topic for this discussion is addressed.

    As a sour beer brewer, I am aware of bacteria's role in the making of sour beer, but when someone says that cheese and vomit are defects in a sour beer, but are present in a many of the lambics and gueuzes I have tasted, I am just wondering if it is a little heavy-handed to say that they are all defects of the sour beer making process when some of the greatest sour beer breweries seem to have these characteristics in their beer, especially when only 10+ years ago all the characteristics we love about sour beer were considered defects.

    I should have specified Lambics and Gueuzes as the styles I was referring to. I did not bring up Rodenbach in particular because the primary sour-producing bacteria is Acetobacter, giving the 'vinegary' characteristics the style is known for. The 3 breweries I mentioned do not brew (to my knowledge) those beers, thus why I didn't include them.
  4. DmanGTR

    DmanGTR Initiate (0) Feb 19, 2008 New York

    The enteric bacteria are a part of lambic creation, albeit a very small portion. The flavors they produce vary depending on many factors of the beer and environment, such as temp, acidity, other microbes, nutrition, O2, etc. It's all about balance and each organism has its place in helping create the final product.
    Source: Wild Brews
  5. ironchefmiyagi13

    ironchefmiyagi13 Initiate (0) Jan 9, 2013 Tennessee

    I am sure each and every organism is important to achieve a synergistic final product, but the discussion has deviated slightly from my original problem with the brewer at Cigar City saying that those elements are a fault and brewers that have beers with them are "doing a disservice to the industry." I guess I found that a little heavy-handed to say.
    FarmerTed likes this.
  6. minderbender

    minderbender Initiate (186) Jan 18, 2009 New York

    Yeah, sure, I'd say the term "defect" is contextual. A good example is diacetyl, which many brewers try to avoid... but some try to maximize! Oxidation is usually a defect but maybe not in a barleywine. I think in a lot of American sours it would be considered a defect for there to be a fecal character. But, sure, that might be a good thing in a gueuze. I think you can take it as implicit that fecal notes are usually an off-flavor, the same way everyone knows what I mean when I say that diacetyl is an off-flavor, or oxidation should be avoided.

    Incidentally, I don't believe acetobacter is the primary sour-producing bacteria in Flanders red ales. But that's really a technical point. What I was saying originally is that there's nothing about Belgium or Belgian sours in general that makes them prone to these flavors/aromas. It's not re-used barrels, it's not bat shit, it's not terroir, it's not hundreds of years of brewing. It's a specific technique that can be done anywhere, but that happened to flourish in Belgium.
    drtth likes this.
  7. Ranbot

    Ranbot Zealot (545) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    Question: Has a brewer ever tried to spontaneously ferment the same base beer in different regions/environments? I think that would be an interesting experiment of terroir and could provide some insight into where certain strains of uncommon bacteria or natural yeasts might reside that would create different off- or on-flavors. It might give some credibility to whether these claims that American sour traits really are stylistically off.

    Along those lines... has anyone ever tried doing a mobile coolship?! :grimacing: I'm guessing the logistics of that would make it nearly impossible... I'm not even a big sour beer drinker, but I would buy beer from an experiment like that just to support it and for my own sake of of curiosity.
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  8. ironchefmiyagi13

    ironchefmiyagi13 Initiate (0) Jan 9, 2013 Tennessee

    Sounds like an episode of Brew Dogs, haha
    nlethbridge, DmanGTR, Ranbot and 2 others like this.
  9. maltmaster420

    maltmaster420 Disciple (310) Aug 17, 2005 Oregon

    If those are faults, then every bottle of Hanssens (and several 3F) I've ever had has been flawed.

    @deGardebrewing - Trevor can chime in if I'm wrong (or he wants to expand on it), but IIRC they choose Tillamook after trying an experiment like this and deciding that it was the best place to build their brewery based on local microflora.
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  10. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,648) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Also IIRC one graph I saw a while back the enteric bacteria in lambics have basically all died off well before the end of the first year of aging.
    DmanGTR likes this.
  11. ironchefmiyagi13

    ironchefmiyagi13 Initiate (0) Jan 9, 2013 Tennessee

    Exactly; those characteristics are present in many sour beers. I just wasn't sure if the brewer in the video that said it had the authority to make such a bold statement that anyone pushing beers that possessed those characteristics were doing a disservice to the brewing industry.

    I was more just making an observation for people to comment on.
  12. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,648) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Not aware of anyone using a mobile, but if we use the relatively close analogy of making sourdough bread, which also involves spontaneous fermentation, different regions will produce different effects because the microflora (yeasts and bacteria) are different strains. So San Francisco Sourdough bread takes on a different flavor profile than does the same sourdough recipe with the same ingredients made in, say Egypt, or the Steppes of Russia. Also, just as there is debate about the relative role of airborne microflora in beer compared to what has "contaminated" the brewery over the years and remain to "contaminate" the barrels after previous use, there is debate about the role that microflora in the bread flour and the baking environment plays compared to the local airborne stuff.

    However there is little or no debate that the flavor profiles from different regions are different and that some taste better than others. So you don't have to spend a lot of money to support a mobile coolship. :slight_smile: Instead, just take up baking as a hobby and invest in a few sourdough starters from different parts of the world--much less expensive.
    #12 drtth, Oct 24, 2015
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2015
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  13. MostlyNorwegian

    MostlyNorwegian Devotee (498) Feb 5, 2013 Illinois

    Flying in the face of many hundreds of years of hard won knowledge that has been handed down from generation to generation, and from breweries with cobwebs that are older than he is. It's also very typically an American thing to say.
    nlethbridge likes this.
  14. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,648) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    I think lumping all beers with some sourness in their flavor profile into a single category called "Sours" may be the source of the problem here.

    Its my current understanding that brewing using spontaneous fermentation involves some entirely different processes, etc. than brewing a beer and adding some lacto whatever to the brew kettle. To say that the flavor profile of one is superior and that the other is flawed just seems incorrect. If someone is brewing and souring in the kettle then some of the flavors in a spontaneously fermented beer will be "off" if they occur in the beer one is brewing. But that doesn't mean those flavors are a generic flaw for all beers with some sourness in the flavor profile.
    #14 drtth, Oct 24, 2015
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2015
    RobNewton likes this.
  15. bulletrain76

    bulletrain76 Defender (612) Nov 6, 2007 California

    My guess is that he meant beer with those flavors to the degree that they are overbearing and taste bad. All those crazy flavors can work in a geuze because they are at low levels and are balanced in the complexity of the blend, which is the whole point of blended lambic to begin with. Some barrels display more or less of those flavors and the geuze blender has to do his job correctly to arrive at the best final product.

    And not all bottles of Belgian lambic are good. Some get too fecal, moldy, nail-polish, vomit-like or whatever. That's what you get working with wild microbes. In some contexts, these are certainly off flavors and it's not what the brewers and blenders intend.
    drtth and ironchefmiyagi13 like this.
  16. chinabeergeek

    chinabeergeek Meyvn (1,265) Aug 10, 2007 Massachusetts

    all i know from my experience and encounters is that many well-rated american sours are often unpalatable to belgian lambic brewers themselves. unless the beer is aiming for a flanders type sour, they usually consider acetic acid (vinegar) character to be a flaw, but it's often present in newer, non-traditional sours. also - not being an experienced brewer myself, thus not knowing if it's related to the presence of acetobacter in fermentation - i've sometimes experienced american or non-traditional sours with hints of acetone (nail polish remover). some more tolerable than others, but definitely not a flavor i enjoy.
  17. mudbug

    mudbug Zealot (581) Mar 27, 2009 Oregon

    Interesting, but a quick search finds conflicting information.
  18. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,648) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

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  19. beerloverofbham

    beerloverofbham Initiate (0) Feb 18, 2013 Washington

    I think that we're all well-aware that the tradition of brewing Lambic in Belgium stretches back for quite a while. If we look at the history of beer production in places like the United Kingdom, or Germany, we can see an obvious correlation in the stability of specific yeast strains over time, as well as the various fermentation processes. As brewers in these regions of Europe continued to reuse yeast and/or bacteria, it became more homogeneous, correct? More predictable? So is it fair to assert that all of the flavors that we enjoy in Belgian Lambic (or other Belgian sours, for that matter) have been consistent over a long period of time, as they are used in batch after subsequent batch? That is to say, the particular flavors were always a result of the process, and they stuck around until today, where they are now somewhat considered a hallmark of the style.

    Perhaps the reason *most* American wild ales have yet to develop these kinds of flavors is that by the time the American brewing tradition saw a post-Prohibition revival, a series of technological advancements occurred that allowed for a more controlled fermentation environment. The styles of beer produced were more (for lack of a better word) pedestrian. Consistency was valued. Total production was more important than uniqueness. Sour flavors or uncommon flavors were considered flaws. The possibility of a bacteria surviving was unlikely, because it was eradicated as much as possible.

    So American wild ales--as compared to Lambic--have a very short tradition. There are exceptions, obviously. But perhaps if we give it time, there is the possibility of American wild ales developing a systematic regional classification, based on the viable cultures available in the air. And each will also have its own unique flavors.

    All of this is pure conjecture and opinion on my part, I suppose.
  20. jRocco2021

    jRocco2021 Aspirant (295) Mar 13, 2010 Wisconsin

    @FFGeuzeria Levi from the Funk Factory has a coolship like this but he still blends everything from what I understand.
    Check them out here on BA or their website you could always try to trade from some of their brews.
    Ranbot likes this.
  21. mudbug

    mudbug Zealot (581) Mar 27, 2009 Oregon

    Thanks, both articles are a good read, but the article I posted an
    The article says that regional considerations have little to do with the resultant yeast ,bacteria mix as the strain lacto.sanfraciscans was found in nearly every sourdough sample from around the world. Michael Pollen in his book Cooking studies It in depth, concluding that regional Ingredients, not the yeast,a nd methods played a determining factor in the final product.
  22. FFGeuzeria

    FFGeuzeria Initiate (40) Dec 8, 2014 Wisconsin

    Yea, I have a mobile coolship and have done it in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Illinois.
    jRocco2021 likes this.
  23. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,648) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Yes the article does say that particular lacto strain was found in many cultures. But what it leaves out is that there are something in the neighborhood of 50 strains of Lactobacilli and 20 strains of yeast that may be in those various cultures as well. It also doesn't give much weight to what Sugahara himself is quoted as saying early in the article "Its hard to say."

    See this source for some of the complexity which the article and Pollen (who looks to be a very bright Journalist and capable cook himself) seem to gloss over.

    So I'm still inclined to think at this point that while the Lb. Sanfanciscensis may be present in many if not all cultures, it's not doing all the work all the time. What's a more difficult issue is the role of "local" ingredients and the effects they have but I'm not sure we can rule out the "bugs and critters" yet.

    BTW thanks again for the link to the article.
    mudbug likes this.