Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wyeast De Bom Golden Sour - Recipe & Tasting Notes

Wyeast De Bom

Beer: Wyeast De Bom Golden Sour
Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Sour Beer / Farmhouse Ale
Brewed: 8.21.14
Bottled On: 11.13.14
ABV: 5.7%

Appearance: pale straw yellow, orange hues, moderate head, low retention
Smell: apple cider, candied pear, Belgian esters, hormonal lactic funk, apricot

apple, citrus, candied pear, apricot, clean lactic, mild tangy funk, weird fruit
Mouthfeel: high carb, crisp, med-light body, low bitterness, slight fullness at finish

I'm going to try my hardest to keep this entry short, because holy crap I have a million things I should be working on right now. But before 2014 mercifully draws to an end, I wanted to write about a few experimental beers I brewed much earlier in the year. Plus, this batch doesn't require a lengthy introduction, as the premise is pretty no-duh: Wyeast put out a new sour blend as part of its "Summer Sours" Private Collection, and I was compelled to test it out. Pretty self explanatory.

The De Bom blend appealed to me a lot more than some of the other pre-mixed blends yeast companies release, simply because it was playing to a realm of beer that I've been dabbling with a lot in the last few years: deconstructed, quick-fermenting sours. Full-on sour blends are obviously great fun, but I only really have the space to keep a few of them going at a time — testing out every new re-arranged mix of microbes simply isn't an option. But I'm particularly fond of sour saisons / sour farmhouse ales and the way their simple stacking of flavors can create totally different impressions of balance simply by shifting one corner of the balance pyramid slightly. Lactic punch here instead of there? Different beer. Soft versus sharp? Different beer. Funk-crusted versus bright lemon tartness? Different beer.

I had suspected that De Bom was Wyeast attempting to recreate the character of Cascade's highly regarded sours, which, unlikely as it may sound, are not pitched with Brettanomyces and sour only through the action of lactobacillus. So in addition to simply being another random blend, it promised a possible glimpse into one of America's more interesting sour beer producers. 

Wyeast doesn't give the exact composition of this blend, but they do say that De Bom is intended to create "sour ale profiles but in a fraction of the time required by previous, less manly cultures." A new quick sour blend with some unknown microbial agents: awesome. For best results, they recommend: "no O2/aeration at beginning of fermentation; periodic dosing with O2 during fermentation to stimulate ethyl acetate production; frequent sampling to monitor development and complexity. Under optimum conditions, beers can be ready for consumption in 1-2 months."

The ability to sour quickly with an aggressive strain of bacteria is a nice tool to have. Now, Wyeast also happened to release the lactobacillus Brevis strain as part of its Summer Sours collection, and it is rumored that Brevis is, indeed, the Cascade strain (caveat: this speculation is based on my vague memories of some internet conjecture, and may be entirely false). This could be entirely a coincidence, or, as I took it with some liberal reading between the lines, a clue that Brevis was simply paired with a Saccharomyces strain to make a fast-fermenting De Bom culture. So there you go: with enough conjecture and assumption, it might appear to be the case that De Bom = Cascade culture. Or inspired by it. Maybe.

Then again, now that I'm drinking the results, I might want to rescind that hypothesis. Cascade's sours are notoriously acidic and hard-hitting in the pH department, and this homebrewed trial really doesn't carry much of those traits. The taste is somewhere closer to a mild Berliner Weisse on the spectrum of sour things, with an estery yeast profile that dominates the beer more than the mark from its bacteria. It's fruity and weird, like a Belgian pale with tart undertones. There's just no way to pretend this successfully delivered on the potential of a quick-fermenting but fully complex sour ale, though to be fair, there could be various process reasons for that.

For one, I brewed this at a friend's house and we left it in his basement for three months, which is longer than the time Wyeast says this culture should require. After three months, it was very clearly stable in gravity. But we didn't follow the hand-holding procedure that Wyeast suggests for this, the unorthodox method of "periodic dosing with O2 during fermentation to stimulate ethyl acetate production." I kind of overlooked that advice at the time, but in retrospect, I'm simply confused as to what it's meant to achieve. Ethyl acetate is responsible for solvent and nail polish remover characteristics, which are not desirable qualities so far as I know. Am I having a brain fart, or missing something here? I feel like I must be — frankly, with only two weeks left in 2014, and 2014 being absolutely the most stressful and silly and anxiety-inducing year of my life, this wouldn't be surprising. I'm absolutely fried! And I have read that ethyl acetate can also come across as fruity or pear-like, so maybe there's some chemistry here that I just don't understand. I'm not very good at chemistry even when I'm not fried! If you can educate me on what my cheese-addled mind is failing to grasp here, please do let me know.

Secondly, mixed cultures work very well in aged sours, but I think I prefer to keep cultures separate in the case of beers like this (quick sours). Deconstructed, one could pitch the lactobacillus alone, initially, giving it a head start by a day or two, and with the right equipment, ferment at an elevated temperature favoring the bacteria, before pitching any yeast. Here, with the culture mixed, fermenting at 110 F for 24 hours probably wouldn't be an option.

Since I haven't had any other beer made with De Bom, I don't know if the character could have turned out drastically different given other conditions and process variables, but my intuition is that this is a fairly accurate representation of its profile. Frankly, I can't really decide how much I like it; every sip I go back and forth, from "this is pretty good!" back to "this is kind of weird in a way I can't put my finger on!" Ultimately, the oddest thing about this for me may be that it tastes bizarrely sweet, despite finishing relatively dry and relatively tart. There's a lot of mouthfeel, almost too much slickness in the body, which I blame on my generic sour recipe that uses 30% wheat in the grist. And then the flavor itself is decidedly cidery, which is something I often get in a beer fermented with a fruity yeast (often Belgian yeast) that has just a bit of tartness to it. If the lactobacillus in this blend had pushed out a bit more acidity, or the yeast had dried the beer out more, I think it would come across as more balanced to me, but I can also see the general public really enjoying this one. It's extremely fruity in a unique way, sweet enough to appeal to the American palate, and yet tart enough to become refreshing and multi-dimensional. It works. I can't decide how I personally feel about it, but it works. And its weird in ways that I have a hard time describing, which is cool. Like I said: I find it fascinating that the same basic character elements can stack up in different ways to make a totally different beer. I don't know that this is the way I would prefer to stack them personally, for the type of balance I find most appealing, but whatever arrangement they're in here, it's a nice option to have.

I said before this would be a short entry. I'm really bad at that.

Brewed 8.21.14
Bottled On: 11.13.14
Batch: 5 Gal
Mashed at 148 degrees for 60 minutes
Fermented at basement temp, 74 - 76 F
OG: 1.054
FG: 1.010
ABV: 5.7%

70% [#7] Pilsner malt
30% [#3] white wheat

Hop Schedule-
0.5 oz Nugget @0 min

Wyeast 3203 De Bom Sour Blend


  1. Did you ever measure pH on this during/after the fermentation?

    1. I didn't, because my last pH meter was just super unreliable. But I recently got a new one, so I'll take a reading on a decarbed sample tomorrow.

  2. I used this and got a very tart beer with pretty good esters and citrus Lacto character. I did a 70/30 pilsner/wheat no-boil beer (no hops) and fermented at 80 in a chamber. It soured considerably in a week, so much so that I removed it from the chamber so I could slow the Lacto down. I repitched onto the cake last week and it was almost sour enough for my tastes in three days. I've heard complaints about the lack of tartness with this beer and I have to wonder what people are doing different because I am ecstatic with this blend.

    I've brewed a handful of long aged sours and while this obviously isn't as complex, it's much, much more of a complex sour than the quick Lacto beers I've made in the past.

    1. Interesting! Well that is cool to hear. I'd guess two small differences were enough to make up the added sourness. Those extra couple degrees in temperature plus the lack of hops could certainly add up; they have in other beers I've made. I know Brevis is supposed to be more hop tolerant, but maybe what we added to this beer was still enough to slow it down, or maybe it's not really just Brevis in here.

    2. I would seriously guess that it was Brevis, but who knows. I'm interested in what yeast they're using which can handle 80 degrees without causing problems. My first batch finished at 1.01 and it's not very saison-like, which would have been my first guess as to what they would use. I would guess there is Brett in there, too, based on the flavors I got.

  3. If you did no-boil then you also had wild lacto in there in addition to the lacto from De Bom. That could account for the increased lactic presence.

  4. I heated the wort to 190 for ten minutes with a heat stick, so there was definitely nothing alive in there before pitching.

    1. Agreed, in my experience it's pretty unlikely for much of anything to survive even at standard mash and sparge temps. It's only when you leave a sour mash on the whole grain bed overnight that things start to get really weird.

  5. Ethyl acetate has a pear drop like aroma at low concentration, but becomes more nail polish like at higher concentrations. Many esters are like this. Here's more on the subject of athyl acetate and other esters
    It's a cool blog anyway, so worth mentioning ;)

  6. I could be wrong, but doesn't Cascade age their beers in barrels for 6-8 months? It doesn't seem like Cascade is doing any quick souring so I'm not really sure why people seem to think that using their lacto and quick souring will make a similar beer to a Cascade sour.

    1. Not sure, but I would assume they are probably barrel aged. However the lactobacillus would do what it's going to do fairly quickly if it was truly the only funky or sour agent at play there. On its own, lacto isn't going to be doing much at the 8 month mark. But if their beers are barrel-aged, there very well may just be other things resident in the barrels that they didn't pitch, but which help them turn out the way they do.

  7. Nice articel, I haven't used the strain myself, but I've been playing/toying with differenct cultures as of late, and this blend strikes me as a good quick turn around, without creating anything overwheolmingly amazing.
    I'm currently gathering yeast (WLP530, WLP650, Lacto Brevis and Pedio together for a souring culture) using these separately, as you say suggests I might get some better results. I have had a friends Lichtenhainer (Smoked Sour) and this blend strikes me as a blend which could make a nicely tart beer for this style.


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