Back in 2014, I brewed a kriek style cherry ale that I called Bloed Koning, which is Dutch for King’s Blood. The blog posts for that beer can be found here and here and also here. I was happy with how it came out but next time I wanted to boost the sour and complexity. I figured that by allowing the assorted bugs more time, they’d contribute more of their flavors to the beer. The fermentation schedule last time was 1 month in primary with Wyeast 3278 Lambic blend, then six months in secondary on cherry puree. The other thing was there was a bit of headspace in my secondary fermentor during those six months, so I figured if I could rectify that, there would be less possible oxidation.
Well, the time had come to tweak this very difficult beer. Two months ago, I brewed my second batch and this time I left it in primary for two months. This was so the lacto, brett and pediococcus would have more time to do their thing before I racked off the trub onto cherry puree in secondary, which I did 3 days ago. Taste test at transfer was a bit more sour but not bitingly so and the barnyard funk was definitely more pronounced. Last time, when I transferred onto the cherry puree, there was a secondary fermentation, krausen and all, as would be expected. This time, there were no active signs of fermentation. It’s been three days. The cherry should have jump started another round of fermentation but all was quiet. Decision time. It’s possible that the only viable critters left are brett, and they are slow munchers. Or it’s possible most everything is hibernating or dead. I didn’t want to wait any longer due to the whole headspace/oxygen thing. I needed the cherry sugars fermented, which would use up that oxygen and produce a blanket of CO2 over the beer and protect it. So I pitched a US-05 last night to get it going. In a month, I’m going to transfer it to a tertiary 2 gallon bucket where there will be no headspace and will slumber for 5-6 months.
So why did I decide to post about this? This just brought to mind that sometimes brewing and fermentation are unpredictable. What happened last time may not happen this time. And you have to make decisions about what to do when the unexpected happens. You can science the shit out of your rig, process, water chemistry and so on. But I like the romantic idea of a brewer. I think of those belgian master brewers working their magic in the old world on a beautiful hillside in a centuries old building. They are artists. They use their senses more than they use analytical equipment to judge how their beer is progressing. They use their gut and their experience to coax something wonderful out of their kettles, fermentors and barrels. Now I’m not a master and I don’t have a pedigree. I’m just an American homebrewer, but I like to think that I’ve gained some good experience in the past six years that help me to make decent judgement calls when the living organisms that we manipulate just don’t want to cooperate. I don’t know if I ultimately made the right call until I’m sipping on the finished product in about 7 months. But patience is a virtue.
Update: The US-05 did indeed kick off a secondary fermentation. After a month, I transferred the beer to a 2 gallon food grade bucket where it will rest for 5-6 months.