Anything I’m Fermenting

November 10, 2008

Making the ‘Champage of Beers’ Part 3

This is the third installment of a series of posts on how to brew a beer that is like champagne. In the last two posts I discussed how to achieve a very light colour, fizz without head, and higher alcohol content. Here are all the characteristics I am aiming for.

1. Very light colour

2. Fizzy, but without much head

3. Alcohol content of around 8% abv

4. Noticeable acidity

5. Light body

6. Clear – minimal cloudiness

7. Low bitterness and no hop flavour or aroma

8. Fruitiness

9. Dry (i.e. not sweet)

4. Noticeable acidity. This may be the most involved part of making this beer, as it is a new process for me. Unlike most beers, wine balances its flavours, alcohol, and sweetness with acidity, whereas most beer balances these with bitterness. From most accounts, it sounds like it’s an either-or situation, as bitterness and acidity don’t seem to go well together for most people’s palate. In any case, I am trying to emulate a champagne, so I need to make my beer acidic, and not bitter (see Characteristic #8).

Beer was originally bittered with hops as the anti-bacterial action of the hops helped preserve it. Using aged hops contributes some of that action without bittering much, but the acidity (and higher alcohol) also help to preserve the beer, and allow it to age. This is, in principle, the same reason wine can be aged, due to it’s higher alcohol content and acidity.

There are several approaches to acidifying beer: using sour malt, making a sour mash, souring the fermenting beer, or simply adding food grade acids directly to the beer. I don’t have sour malt, so I will not be using that approach, and I don’t have and don’t want to use food grade acids. That leaves using a sour mash, or souring the beer.

Sour mashing creates lactic acid from the wort, before yeast fermentation. It can occur spontaneously because the production of malt creates ideal conditions for naturally occuring lactobacillus (and other souring microorganisms) to multiply on the malted grain. By boiling the sweet wort soon after mashing, brewers prevent their beer from souring due to these bacteria. However, if after mashing the sweet wort is innoculated with unmashed grain (the temperatures during mashing are high enough to knock off a lot of the bacteria), and allowed to ferment at temperatures around 50 degrees for two or three days, the wort will sour considerably. In fact, it will sour so much so that it becomes unpalatable for most – too sour, and too many ‘off’ flavour (cheese, etc). This is easily remedied by only sour mashing a portion of the grain, and then adding the sour mash to the rest of the grain at the end of the mashing, and boiling all the wort collected.

This allows you a fair degree of control over the amount of acidity. To properly mash a beer as light as the one here, I would have needed to add a bit of acidity anyway – using around 5 – 10% of the grain in a sour mash would contribute enough acidity to lower the pH of the entire mash enough for efficient mashing. At this level however, the acidity is not apparent to the palate. It is recommended that first time makers of sour mash beer use up to 20% of the grain for sour mashing. As I wish to have a noticably sour beer, I will use a little above that recommendation: 25% of the grain.

The other approach I could use is to sour the beer during fermentation. I’m leaning away from this due to several problems. One, I don’t have a good innoculum, and don’t wish to spend much, so won’t ship it in. I could possibly use a soured beer as an innoculum – but they have the problem of containing Brettanomyces and other ‘bugs’ that taste good in the beer in question, but are not really appropriate for champagne, I believe (not sure though…).

I’m also a bit nervous about souring the fermenting beer as it can be unpredictable at the best of times. Raj Apte has written the best explanation of brewing sour beers I’ve found (, and even he states that “Lactic [acid] levels are notoriously hard to control…” in the context of souring fermenting beer.

Furthermore, he suggests that using a sour mash is a good way to make sour beer quickly – he notes that it is not a method for replicating Belgian sour beers, as they need time to develop the Brett culture and flavour, but is good for such beers as Berliner Weisse. In a way, this beer is like a strong version of Berliner Weisse – light bodied, sour, etc. They even add sweeteners to it, much like they do to champagne (cassis, etc).

So here’s my proposed method to sour mash. Take 1/4 of my pale malt and rice grain and mash it (I’ll use distilled water to ensure the pH is low enough on this first mashing). This I will place in one or two (depending on it’s final volume) plastic 4 liter jugs, along with a handfull of unmashed malt grain and some cold water to reduce the temperature to 50 degrees. To keep the sour mash at 50 degrees for three days, I will hold it in a cooler, along with enough mini Christmas lights to maintain the temperature (see my tempeh making post to see a picture of what this would look like, approximately). On the third day, the sour mash will be mixed into the regular mash just before ‘sparging’ (not the best term when dealing with BIAB).

November 6, 2008

Louisiana Hot Sauce Update

After a couple weeks souring with lactobacillus, I concluded that not much new was happening with the hot peppers, so I pureed them and added some white vinegar to knock off the fermentation. Not very precise, I know, but I can’t remember exactly how much vinegar – I just added a bit at a time until the sauce had a consistency I liked. (more…)

June 9, 2008


Sorry about the dearth of posts recently – we just moved and this included a lot of repainting and other work on the new apartment. Now we’ve settled in a bit, and my itch to ferment has returned.

We now live not far from Korea-town or Little Korea, or whatever they call it. This means that one of the nearest supermarkets is Korean owned and managed, for Korean customers. They obviously sell all you need to make kimchi – nice big nappa cabbage, giant radish, fish sauce, shrimp paste, chili powder, etc.

Here’s my recipe:

1 (medium large) head nappa cabbage

1 (medium) ‘Korean’ radish

1 bunch scallions

4 cloves garlic

1 tsp ginger

sea salt

chili powder

1 tbsp sugar

1.5 tbsp fish sauce


1. Quarter cabbage, core, cut to 3 cm lenghts

2. Wash cabbage pieces, drain well

3. Take a good handful of cabbage pieces, place in plastic bag, sprinkle 1 heaping tbsp salt over cabbage, and mix thoroughly. Repeat for rest of cabbage.

4. Twist the bag of cabbage closed, place in sink to brine for 5 hours. As by bag had some small holes, evidently, the brine drained off, more or less.

5. After 5 hours, squeeze out excess moisture and brine from cabbage (and you should rinse it at this point). I didn’t rinse, as my radish was very large, relative to the amount of cabbage, so I felt it would absorb the excess salt that would have been rinsed off.

6. Mince and mash garlic and ginger, slice scallions (green onions) to 2.5 cm pieces – cut the lower, white part lengthwise first. Peel, quarter, then shred radish.

7. In large bowl or tub, mix brined cabbage, garlic, ginger, scallions, radish, sugar and fish sauce (I forgot to buy shrimp paste, so added a bit more fish sauce).  Add chile powder – I first added about 4 tablespoons, then felt it did not look red enough, so added another two. This is a bit vague, I know, but I think it will depend on how much cabbage and radish you have used.

8. Put mixture in clean container, that is not fully closed (to allow gases to escape). Store in cool place for several days while it ferments, then place in fridge. Enjoy?

Here’s a few pictures of the process, and the result:

May 15, 2008

The on-going soy sauce controversy…

Filed under: Brining,Lactobacillus,Soy Sauce — iwouldntlivethere @ 4:30 pm
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A couple of new issues have been brought up by Tadaki- is sea salt saltier, the same as, or less salty than regular salt? I really don’t know. I thought it was saltier, but Bittman claims the opposite. Considering he is a chef, cook book writer, and columnist for the New York Times, I’m going with him…for now, regardless of Campbell’s Soup’s marketing. In the end, I added a bit of water to the mash to dilute the salt, and it does taste more like regular soy sauce (in terms of saltiness) now.

Inigo suggests that: “I’d be concerned with the acidic taste, which shouldn’t be happening“. I just tasted it again, and perhaps I have over-stated the acidity. Comparing it to Kikkoman, they are fairly similar in acidity. I agree with Tadaki that the acid taste is likely from lactobacillus, and therefor not really anything to be concerned about. In fact, my original salinity was chosen to promote lactobacillus (among other micro-organisms) fermentation.

As to the aerobic vs. anaerobic question…well, I only really properly tried to aerate it when I first brined the dried soy patties. This was because in beer making, good aeration is needed initially (and only initially) to get the yeast to grow and multiply. After that you try to avoid exposure to oxygen to prevent oxidization (produces off-flavours). With the soy, after the initial shaking-up to aerate the mash, I have only stirred the mash fairly regularly, but not too vigourously, so a bit of oxygen was likely added, but not much. Transferring to the glass jar probably re-aerated the mash, but then all salt I added probably killed off most of what was growing in the mash. Taken together, all this means I probably have something like the ‘microaerophillic’ conditions described in that patent Tadaki sent:

The purpose of these intermittent aeration steps is essentially accomplish in the fermenting Maromi a microaerophillic condition, i.e., a state of oxygen tension that is less than atomospheric and being on the border between aerobic and anaerobic conditions. As can be appreciated from the above, the initial fermentation can be under either anaerobic or microaerophillic conditions, but microaerophillic conditions are preferred. Microaerophillic conditions, at least for part of the fermentation time, develop a superior full-flavor and full-body soy sauce.

I have also noticed that after handling my soy sauce, I can have a fairly stong fish-sauce like smell on my hands – just like after handling a bottle of fish-sauce. This echoes what canucklehead found on tasting his uncle’s home made soy sauce.

Yogurt making

Filed under: Lactobacillus,Pictures,Yogurt — iwouldntlivethere @ 3:34 pm
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Well, after this post on my home made yogurt, I’m running out of fermentables to write up, I think only bread remains undocumented. Yogurt making is actually one of the primary reasons I started this blog, as it was Jen B.’s interest in it that prompted all this. However, I only make yogurt once a month at most so it has taken a while to be able to take pictures of the process (and on the day I made it one camera was out of power, and the other with my wife, so I had to use an actual film camera with a few pictures left, then get them developed – can you notice difference? The last 3 pictures were taken with a digital camera) . I usually make five tubs of 750 ml in each batch, which lasts us for over a month often.

This longevity is, I believe, the original reason for making yogurt – as a way to preserve dairy products. Only one batch (when I discovered that my electronic thermometer gives funny readings when immersed in water for long periods) had issues – a bit of mold growth on the sides of the last tub when I opened it (but the yogurt itself was OK – at least, nothing happened to me after eating it). The reason for the mold was that because my thermometer was not working properly, I was not holding the yogurt at high enough temperatures, so it did not acidify enough, which in turn made it more susceptible to mold infections – but only marginally so.

So, the theory behind yogurt is to ferment milk using a lactobacillus/thermobacillus culture to acidify it to help preserve it, and (a bit less clear on this part) to make it more easily digestible by adult humans. Initially the milk should be scalded – briefly brought up to at least 95 degrees . From what I understand, this is to modify the milk protein (makes the yogurt thicker and taste better), and probably kills off most competing bacteria. To properly and quickly ferment, the milk must then be held at temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees for several hours.

In practice, this is how I do it:

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