I'm a fan of sour beers and I've been saying for months that I'm going to brew one. Originally, I thought that my first sour would be something along the lines of a Tart of Darkness clone using Wyeast's Roselare Ale blend, but I've been having a hard time coming to grips with wanting to acquire a separate set of cold-side equipment.
I then discovered sour mashing/worting and the delicious Berliner Weisse. If I do a sour mash (or kettle sour) and then boil post-souring, I can avoid the extra equipment (and the wrath of my wife). I've been following Derek Springer's blog Five Blades Brewing for a while, and when I learned he was going to be talking about sour mashing at NHC, I knew I had to attend that session to build my confidence that I too could brew a sour beer. You can find the slides and audio from his talk on his site here.
There has been a lot of research done lately about different strains of Lactobacillus, the organism I'll be using to sour my beer. After reading scores of articles comparing different lacto strain's performance across different temperatures (and even yeast vendors), I decided that I'm going to use Omega's OYL-605 Lacto blend, specifically because it's a blend of l.brevis and l.plantarum and performs quickly at lower temperatures. Because it performs quickly at lower temps, it means I can avoid setting up some sort of rig to heat the wort while it's souring...I can simply cool the wort to 95 degrees F, pitch the bugs, then let it ride for 48 or so hours until I hit my target pH.
Speaking of target pH, I needed a way to measure that. pH strips simply won't cut it. I've been eyeing a dedicated pH meter for a while now and finally decided to pull the trigger. For me, it came down to two models: Omega PHH-7011 and Milwaukee MW102. I decided to go with the Omega because it has everything I wanted: replaceable electrode, buffering solutions, automatic temperature compensation, and a case.
With equipment out of the way, let's talk about the recipe. I'm still deciding on my final grain bill for my Berliner Weisse. After reading several articles on Ron Pattinson's excellent blog, Shut up About Barclay Perkins, I'm not sure if I want to include wheat, or if I do, how much wheat to use. I'm going to hop the wort with <10 IBU's of something TBD (I have a bunch of hops in the freezer to choose from). I'm going to use WLP001 - California Ale Yeast - after boiling the soured wort to finish up fermentation. I'm considering splitting a gallon of wort off after primary into a secondary fermenter and dry hopping it.
Since this is my first Berliner Weisse and I want an authentic experience, I ordered some raspberry syrup and some woodruff syrup. I plan to serve the berliner to guests in a flight with three glasses: straight up, with raspberry syrup, and with woodruff syrup.
The only thing left on my list to acquire is some 88% food grade lactic acid. I spotted it the last time I was at the local homebrew shop and I plan to grab some when I go in to purchase my grain.