There are several ways to produce a sour beer. You can add acidulated malt (a variety that contains a small amount of lactic acid) to the grain bill. You can expose the beer to the strange bugs floating in the atmosphere the way that Belgian lambic brewers do. Or you can inoculate the beer with a laboratory strain of microorganisms.
Mike Roy, brewer at Franklin’s Restaurant, Brewery and General Store in Hyattsville, employed a sour mash and an anaerobic fermentation for his sour rye saison dubbed Ludicrous.
When he finished mashing the grain, Roy pumped the wort (the barley soup that will eventually become beer) into the brew kettle, scrubbed the mash tun, then pumped the wort back in. He added some fresh pilsner malt that had picked up lactobacillus (the bacteria that sours milk) from exposure to the air. Then he flooded the tank with argon and let it stand for two days at 120 degrees.
The inert gas, he explains, was added to protect the incipient beer from oxygen (“the number one enemy of all food products”) and prevent an uncontrolled spoilage.
“When we opened up the mash tun, it had an earthy, funky aroma, like black beans and pineapple juice,” reports Roy. The fully aged and fermented product sounds a lot more appealing, however: “It’s like a very young white wine with a touch of grapefruit.”
As of last Thursday, the sour rye saison (Roy brewed about 10 barrels) was still on tap at the brewpub and soon to be available in one-liter, swing-top bottles at the adjoining general store.
Why the name Ludicrous?
“It was a ludicrous thing to try,” says Roy.
The previous week brought some sweet satisfaction for Roy as he picked up seven medals (three gold, a silver and three bronze) at the Great International Beer Festival in Providence, R.I., on Saturday, Nov. 5. Not all the medalists are available on tap at the brewpub, but you might still be able to catch the last keg of Bitter Markie, which took gold in the double IPA category. Roy said he also had some Highland Hugh (bronze, strong beer — Scotch ale slot) and planned to brew another batch of Imperial Stout (bronze, strong beer — Russian imperial stout) within the next few weeks.
Explaining why he made the eight-hour trip in his Honda CRV, Roy notes that he’s from New Hampshire originally and previously had won medals at the annual competition when he worked for Milly’s Tavern, a brewpub in Manchester.
A few days earlier, on Nov. 2, Roy was one of about two dozen brewers invited to pour beer at the biannual Capitol Hill beer tasting sponsored by the Brewers Association and the National Beer Wholesalers Association.
The BA is lobbying hard for H.R. 1236, the Small Brewers Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act, and its companion bill S. 534. The legislation would halve the excise tax per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels a brewery produces from $7 to $3.50, and would drop it from $18 to $16 on the next 1,940,000 barrels. The ceiling for lowered taxes would be lifted from 2 million to 6 million barrels per year. The BA contends that small breweries would use their dividends to expand, creating an estimated 5,600 jobs over the next five years.
So far, the bills have picked up 135 cosponsors in the House and 35 in the Senate. “We’re hoping that a legislative vehicle emerges that it can be included in,” says Pete Johnson, the BA’s programs manager.
Inside the crammed cafeteria of the Rayburn Building, young Congressional staffers, responding to the clarion call of free food and beer, greatly outnumbered the lawmakers themselves. That was just fine with Roy. “The staffers have a better chance of becoming regular customers at Franklin’s. I talked with folks from Silver Spring and Takoma Park and DC that didn’t even know we existed.”
Correction to last week’s blog post: Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock of DC Brau brewed a total of two 15-barrel batches of their imperial pumpkin porter, Fermentation Without Representation, totaling 30 barrels: not two 300-barrel batches as reported.