I think I managed to summarize this pretty well when commenting on reddit loosely about this beer.
“It’s the finale to a 4 year process of repeatedly getting drunk and making questionable choices.”
Thus, to fully understand this accidentally awesome unicorn of a beer, we need to go back to circa 2013. Technically, it’s probably closer to 2012, but you’ll understand.
The gastropub/bottleshop I work at opened in the late spring of 2013. Knowing the owner through homebrew club, I managed to score a gig working part time in the bottleshop, which was perfect for someone who had just graduated college and loved beer. This is how I met Sean. We pretty much managed to hit it off immediately – both of us were tattooed, music loving beer nerds in our early 20’s – as we had a lot in common. A friendship was born.
At this point, Sean was still living with his folks and eventually went back to school. He was never a particularly avid homebrewer, really. I think he’s only done 4 or 5 batches, including at least one he’s done with me. Whatever it is, some point in time before we had even met, he had done an imperial stout. Nothing fancy, an extract recipe of some sorts, and he was aging it on whiskey oak chips. I’m not even sure I knew it existed up until that fateful night.
Fast forward a few months to early 2014 (call it January. I remember it being cold). The bottleshop had gotten in a few bottle of Drie Fonteinen Oude Geueze and we decided to go halvsies on a bottle. In what had become our typical fashion at that point, there was whiskey and cigarettes and some other sixpack treats before we actually got around to popping the geueze. Just the regular ol’ 3F goozey-gooze might not be tipping off anyone whale radar any more, but both of us were still relatively new to the sour game. I mean, we knew we liked them, were maybe ankle deep in the kiddy pool on the Pajotenland bangers. I’m not going to write a full review, but if you’re anywhere in the know or like sours, you know that Armand Debelder ain’t nothing to fuck wit.
My memory is hazy, but I’m pretty sure that this is the time that Sean mentions the imperial stout. So we dig out the carboy from the storage closet to try it. There’s no liquid in the airlock, just roughly 3 gallons of jet black beer. I’m pretty sure we just tipped the bitch over and poured a little into a glass. By now, it was just an inky, oaky mess. There wasn’t even whiskey or chocolate, it was just tannic wood and black coffee. I can only assume we looked at each other and said “Fuck it” and then we poured the dregs of the Drie bottle into the carboy and the shoved it back in the hidey-hole.
This remains the status quo for about a year. Every few months, Sean would get antsy and want to try the beer, see how it was souring, and 9/10 I would tell him no like when your cats gets on the table and it should know better. There was definitely a small pellicle at some point. I know for a fact he definitely fucked with the beer to try it at times. Whatever, I had no skin in this game.
Second marked time jump of relevance comes in the summer of 2015. Things had shaken up a little bit for me – I had my heart ripped out by a girl, moved into a new apartment in a new town, was working my first “big boy” job in a production brewery, turned 25 – all the fun – and he just finishing school and interning with a company that does concerts and tours for well known musicians. We still made it a priority to hang out, typically after work. Long story short, I took a girl out on a date to pick blackberries (spoiler: did not work out, at all) and I was left with at least two pounds of fresh black berries that I had no idea what to do with. So, I used his mom’s blender, pureed the berries, and into the carboy they went. We now had a sour blackberry stout aged on whiskey oak chips.
Around that time, Sean graduated and started working full time at the company. He moved out of his parents place and closer to work (which is like, 15 minutes away), leaving the beer behind, alone, scared and forgotten. Cue a 2-year montage of drinking and Netflix set to 80’s music.
Ever since we had initially tasted it, I knew that if the beer was going to be salvaged, it had to be blended out. It was just too much by itself and I was sure that there was no viable yeast to bottle with. Knowing what it was, I had planned for that to be a saison, since it would have relatively low impact on the flavor and still be able to contribute other aspects that the beer was lacking and a tenacious kick in the pants for bottle conditioning.
Final time frame in this tale more epic than Gilgamesh is our modern day, February 2017 A.D. Since Sean’s been gone, his parents are trying to re-do the basement and are asking questions about the beer, threatening (not really threatening, but warning) that they’re going to throw it out. I decide that I’m pulling the trigger on this bitch and brew the saison for it – which was my Lumière base, with some tweaking – and then the logistics actually clicked. I still had to actually get the carboy out of his parents’ house, then get it to my dad’s house (where I brew), and then blend it. There was an easy way to do it, which did not happen, but I eventually got my hands on the carboy.
I had to hold it in my apartment as a stopgap before getting to my dad’s to bottle while the saison fermented out. Naturally, I had to test it to see if I was just going to be bottling up 5 gallons of saison instead. Pulling out the bung, all that I smelled was fruit and vinegar – mostly vinegar. This was almost to be expected. After cobbling together a shitty wine thief from two chopsticks and the cap of a digital thermometer case, I snagged some liquid out to taste it. Surprisingly, it was good. Not great, but good. Drinkable. For all the acetic tones it was kicking up, it was relatively mild. The berries were still present, but not overwhelming. In all honesty, this is the first sour stout that I’ve found approachable (sorry Jolly Pumpkin and The Bruery). My only fault was that there was a resounding lack of tartness, but that would make sense as there was (probably) a decent amount of hops in the initial brewing.
But, ever the optimist (that’s a lie, I’m a pragmatic pessimist, at best, nihilist at worst), I know I could fix this. Calling it cheating would not be wrong, but I’m just going to say that it needed a nudge in a few departments. This was remedied by visiting my LHBS and getting a bottle of 88% Lactic Acid and my local Whole Foods-esqe organic store. I was looking for blackberry extract or syrup or something, but ended up having to settle with black cherry extract. I did a little mad scientist type shit back at my place before ending up with rough estimates on amounts I needed to add.
I ended up referring to a post I found on the HBA forums regarding priming with grape juice/must and adjusted from there. I spent way too much time trying to do math and convert to brix and XYZ. As it ended up, there’s a very simple method to priming with juice – take the amount of sugars in a serving size (typically in g, which is convenient for our purposes) and just substitute that in for how many grams you need for your priming. Yes, it’s really that easy.
The next step was “fixing” my tartness, or lack thereof. Personally, in the world of sours, I want bone-dry, tart, and fruity. If it taste like balsamic vinegar, I don’t want it in my mouth. With the acetic acid levels within my threshold, I needed to balance out my tartness. I found a great video from donosborn on YouTube where he did a small test of dosing a witbier with different levels of 88% lactic acid. From there, I figured out that I wanted about 8-10 mL/gal to get a strong tartness without getting into the fake, super kettle sour realm.
All in all, I ended up blending 3 gallons of the sour stout with 2 gallons of the fresh saison.
Batch Size: 5 gallons
ABV: 8.2% (the way I found this was using this equation: (ABV_1*%_1)+(ABV_2*%_2)= Final ABV)
??? Extract Stout blended in a 3:2 ratio with Lumière – French Saison base
There are two differences between just the regular saison and the beer I blended into the stout here. First was that it was a lower potency than normal. The ABV ended up being slightly lower, like 5.7%. I think this was because I just used what I had on hand to make the saison, so it had the rye, but I was out of spelt and low on white wheat pilsner.
The other note is that I used Palisade and Bramling Cross for the hops. I wanted the berry tones from the hops to mix with the sour, so I went with those.
- 1 oz. Palisade @ 60 min.
- 1 oz. Brambling Cross @ 10 min.
Sean is not exactly a meticulous number kinda guy. When I asked him for the numbers for this beer, to start putting together info, the answer I got was just a text that said “Something like 10%” (which I wish I had screen shot). After 4 years, I gave him a pardon on that, but that’s why there’s a distinct lack of information on this beer.
I ended up shooting for a carbonation level of about 2.3 vol. of CO2, so I used Northern Brewer’s Priming Calculator to figure out that, I needed about 112g/4 oz. of sugar to get what I wanted. I used the bottle of cherry extract (I think the Dynamic Health brand), which gave me 14g/mL of sugar per 30 mL. I only used about 4-6 oz., I didn’t write down the exact number, but from there, since I had the amount I had already added, I just made a simple syrup with table sugar to finish out the rest of the priming I needed. It took almost over a month for the beer to fully carb. I’m used to a week or two and the beer is good to go, but once it finally did, I was pleased.
Put simply, this is more aligned with an Oud Bruin. It’s tart, it’s got some dark malt going on, and it’s got a vinegar baseline. More dry than malty, and definitely too dark and roasty for a BJCP guidline, but that’s why it’s a sour dark ale to me. Plus, you know, the blending part too. It’s not overly too far in any one direction – the tartness helps cut through the vinegar, the fruit helps balance out the roast, the saison helped lift up the heft of the stout with a little lightness, and the fresh beer really cuts down on the oakiness. It’s just kinda well balanced.
The fruitiness is where it really shines, though. The blackberries were well enough present in the initial sour, but the black cherry extract at priming really helped drive that hard in the paint. The tartness marries with the darker stonefruit and berry tones to really pop. Even then, I still get mostly blackberry – I usually don’t even tell people there was cherry even involved in this fiasco.
The two major worries I had with the beer was the oak tannins and the acetic/vinegar flavor. Both of which, by combining the two beers, were completely mellowed out.
For the rescue mission that this was, the hail Mary of blending somehow pulled this off like the Cavs coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win the championship. I 100% will never be able to replicate this beer, and, despite all the haphazard choices that were made over the course of those 4+ years, something really cool came out of it. I’m definitely looking forward to trying this beer again in like a year. To that end, I have hidden a sixpack of it in the basement for safe keeping, because honestly, I’d either drink it or give it away (to share) otherwise.