Home > bacteria, Belgian, culture, east coast yeast, experiment, sour, wild yeast, yeast > >The Great Sour Mix Experiment Brewday

>The Great Sour Mix Experiment Brewday

>Along with the Flemish Blend, Saison Blends and Old Newark Ale, my recent purchase of vials of East Coast Yeast also included the now-mythic Bugfarm (my version being #5). Inspired by the experiments I’m always hearing about on Basic Brewing Radio and my recent order from Northern Brewer allowing me access to Wyeast, I decided to create an experiment that would allow me to answer a series of burning questions:

1. Of the commercially available Sour Mix cultures, which is the best?

2. How do the flavor profiles of said mixed cultures compare?

3. Can said cultures get as sour as commercial beers, as some have spoken of their lack of final acidity?

4. Is buying these sour mixes even necessary? Can one sour a beer effectively using brett & bacteria cultured from bottle dregs?

I love sour beer, as previously stated, and I want to be able to make the best sour beers I can; given the limited space and time I’m allowed, I’d rather not waste that time and space on a beer that will produce less-than-optimum results. I think this experiment will allow me to figure out what base cultures to start with from here on out, or at least which to use in what situation.

The experiment began, naturally, with the yeast (and bugs).
The cultures used were, left to right, Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend, White Labs WLP655 Belgian Sour Mix I, East Coast Yeast ECY01 BugFarm V, and my own sour dreg blend. My sour blend started as 500ml of 1.040 wort, to which I added dregs from a Lost Abbey Isabelle Proximus, Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze, Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze, Cantillon Gueuze, and Russian River Temptation (the extra volume in the starter was the liquid from said beers). I can say for a fact that this was by far the best tasting way to make a starter ever. EVER.

Having these cultures, I needed a simple recipe that would allow the differences in the cultures to shine through, and allow the bugs plenty of unfermentables to chew on over the long aging period. I went with a simple, mid gravity (1.053) wort, with 65% Pilsner malt, 15% Malted Wheat, 15% Flaked Wheat, and 5% Flaked Oats, bittered with enough Perle for about 15 IBUs. I figured this would be clean enough to not impose any malt flavor, while providing a good variety of proteins and long-chain sugars to feed the bugs over the long fermentation.

The brewday went off pretty much without a hitch, barring the extra long chilling process due to it being 95 outside that day, and the wicked sunburn I got by stupidly doing my brewing shirtless. For the brewday I used the 10 gallon system I inherited from my dad, splitting the final result into the four 3-gallon Better Bottles they will spend their long stay in. Any 10-gallon brewday is hectic for me, but it went well enough that I could snap a few photos:

Heating strike water in the bigass 15 gallon pot:

Mashing in:

My fancy-shmancy sparging setup (aka a board, kettle lid, and piece of aluminum foil):

My less-than-effective counterflow chiller, doing its job ludicrously slowly, even with the ground water pre-chiller:

The final product, pre-pitch. I was surprised by how even I was able to get the fill lines:

The four carboys, pitched and snug in their new home, with their other sour buddies:

Admittedly, there are a couple of caveats to this experiment that may effect the results:

1. Each of the sour blends were produced at a different time. The White Labs and my own mix were produced relatively close to each other, with the Wyeast being about a month old, and the Bugfarm being produced in January. Also, the Wyeast “smack pack” uses a yeast energizer in the package, which shortened the lag time. Ideally, each of the blends’ production dates should have been as close as possible to each other, but I worked with what I had, so I’m not too worried. Interestingly, the lag times of each of the blends accurately reflected the freshness/pitching methods of each package; the dreg starter was by far the quickest to start, with the energized Wyeast following soon after. The White Labs took about 24 hours to get going, and the BugFarm dragged behind considerably, only showing signs of activity after about 36 hours. Another interesting experiment would be to pitch multiple vials/packs of different production dates, to see how the lag time effects the final outcome.

2. Each of the yeast packages were designed to have a cell count suitable for pitching into 5 gallons of wort. I honestly don’t know how this will effect the final outcome, if one strain of yeast or bugs will dominate another in a way not intended by the manufacturer, etc. This is probably the most important caveat in this whole experiment, but again, given my limited space, I’ll take my chances with what I’ve got. It’ll still be fun either way.

This is probably obvious, but I’m REALLY excited to see how this goes! I’ll be making occasional updates with how this whole thing progresses over the coming months.



  1. 2011/04/06 at 5:15 pm

    >I'm the founder/moderator for Punk Domestics (www.punkdomestics.com), a community site for those of use obsessed with, er, interested in DIY food, including home brewing. It's sort of like Tastespotting, but specific to the niche. I'd love for you to submit this to the site. Good stuff!

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