Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sour Black Ale (American and Belgian Versions) - Recipe & Brew Day

Koschei the Deathless Sour Black Ale

How has it taken me this long to brew a full-sized batch of sour beer? I have a lot of excuses to offer, but in looking back on this year, it still seems odd to me. Sure, I did a few one gallon sour experiments last November with wort stolen from other batches, but those were probably ruined during my move from Brooklyn to Beacon, based on my recent samplings. I've already brewed a number of Brett beers, which allowed me to experiment with funk without waiting a year and a half to get the results. Over summer, I had a very limited amount of time to brew, and other experiments I wanted to get out of the way. Earlier this fall... well, you get the idea.

But now, finally, I have a real-live full-sized sour beer in the fermenter, and brew-gods willing, I won't have to move again before I bottle it. It's going to be a long time before I'm drinking the end result — and thus able to let you know if my recipe was any good — but I'll be tracking its progress on here until then.

Koschei the Deathless is a sour black ale, relying mostly on black wheat malt for color, with additional white wheat malt and golden naked oats for body and texture. Why go for something unconventional and likely overly-complicated, rather than a simple pale lambic-inspired sour? Well, it's in my nature, I guess. I want a sour black ale; sour black ales are exciting and interesting to me, so that's what I'm doing. But here's the most fun part, in my opinion: I'll be brewing two (almost) identical version of this within a month or two of each other. The first one, which I've already brewed, gets dregs from American sours. The second one, to be brewed sometime in December, gets dregs from some Belgian sours. There will only be one difference in the grain bill between the two worts — 1.8% black patent in the American version, versus 1.8% chocolate malt in the Belgian version — so any resulting differences will arise from the character of the microbes and yeast I pitch.

For Koschei #1, American Version, I pitched onto the yeast cake of a Belgian single with Brettanomyces that I bottled the day before, which contained a blend of Safale S-33 Belgian yeast, White Labs Brett L and Wyeast Brett B. For my souring microbes, I cultured dregs from a bottle of The Bruery's Tart of Darkness (another sour black ale) in a small starter for a few weeks before brew-day. Other homebrewers often just pitch the dregs right into the fermenting beer, but I wanted to sniff them out first (literally, sort of), and make sure they would be healthy and hungry. And, in any case, I also pitched dregs from a bottle of Russian River Beatification about a week after brew-day, so it should have a nice mix in there now.

For the Belgian version, I created "mini starters" in the bottle for 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze, Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, and BFM's Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien (which very possibly won't be viable, given the extremely high ABV of the beer, but I'm hoping to at least get an extra Brett strain or two out of it). In addition to these dregs, I pitched half a packet of Cooper's ale yeast and a couple Brett strains from my own collection.

I also added 0.3 ounces of medium toast American oak cubes from the very beginning — I'm hoping that's a conservative enough dose of wood to emulate the long barrel aging process commercial sour beers often receive. Since I don't plan to rack to secondary — Brett is known to to eat up other dead yeast, so I'm not worried about it sitting on the trub — the beer will be sitting on the oak for a long time, at least a year. If it does get too oaky in that time, I can always change my mind about racking to a new carboy. And if it's not oaky enough — more oak.

Depending on the results, I may blend some portion of the two batches together. I might also age portions (possibly just the blended portion) on a small amount of blackberries, for a subtle fruitiness. But those decisions won't be made for many months.

And now, we wait.

4.4 Gal., All Grain
Brewhouse Efficiency: 79%
Mashed at 155 degrees for 75 minutes
Fermented at ambient room temp, 68- 70 degrees F
OG: 1.055 (American)  / 1.052 (Belgian)

60.2 % Canada Malting pale malt
9 % white wheat malt
9 % Aromatic
7.9 % chocolate wheat 
6 % Simpsons golden naked oats
6 % Special B
1.8 % black patent (American) / chocolate malt (Belgian)

Hop Schedule-
0.75 oz Zythos @5 min

Yeast (American version)-
Yeast Cake: Safale S-33 Belgian Yeast, White Labs Brett L, Wyeast Brett B
The Bruery Tart of Darkness dregs
Russian River Beatification dregs

Yeast (Belgian version)-
Coopers ale yeast, White Labs Brett B Trois
Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus dregs 
3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze dregs
BFM Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien dregs

Brew Log-
11.5.2012 - Brewed Koschei American
Added 0.3 oz medium toast American oak cubes
Visible fermentation at ~30 hours
11.8.2012 - Added dregs from RR Beatification
12.9.2012 - Brewed Koschei Belgian
1.21.2013 - Koschei American at 1.015
Malty, mildly funky, mildly acidic. Thin, slightly bitter.


  1. koschei the deathless, really?

  2. Have you sampled these since January? If so, how are they coming along? Curious how those dregs worked out

    1. Nope, and I only tasted the American version in January. Still haven't tasted the Belgian version. I guess it's been long enough now, I'll have to taste these soon!

  3. Did you bottled it? How it turn out?

    1. Not yet, but any day now. I've been letting this one go probably much longer than it needed. I was aiming for a year and a half or so, but it sort of got lost in the hustle of everything else I brewed lately. Hopefully I can get it packaged and have a write-up on the results within the next couple months, though.

  4. Is this Ale, my namesake, still available?

    1. Haha, excellent name. I bottled this at the beginning of the year and it's been drinking nice. Thanks for reminding me that I need to do a blog post on it soon!


Related Posts-