Friday, July 9, 2010

Dreg Series: Explained

So I have a new idea when it comes to making sour beer. So here are the complaints that I often hear about making sour beer:
1) Don't want to miss up the rest of your equipment
2) You don't have enough space to store the beer
3) You don't want to buy more equipment just to store beer
4) It can take a long time and you might not end up with a good beer.

I think I have the answer, well at least for myself. With the exception of a few styles (Flanders Red, Oud Bruin, and Old Ale) I have decided to brew small 1 gal batches. By doing this I can use 1 gal jugs that are pretty cheap ($5.50 with cider at Whole Foods or $8 at the Homebrew Store). I brew about once a month so by then I can drink a gallon of cider (without too many of the bad consequences) or the other alternative is to take whatever yeast I'm using at that time and pitch some in the cider. (cider recipes here)

Now you either think, I like doing small batches for the ability to test an idea OR you think they are a waste of time and expensive. For you that think the later, here is how I appease you. Very simply, just make a extra gallon of wort, so a 6 gal batch instead of a 5 gal batch. The base style of beer does not matter that much for these types of beer and you can usually find a base style that should match your sour beer. For example, a Porter or Dubbel base is great for making Old Bruins or be creative come up with your own new sour styles. You cynics out there might now say I only brew bitter beers and bitter and sour does not mix (which I agree, but sour and hoppy is another story). The way around the bitterness issue is after bringing your batch to a boil and adding your bittering hops only wait a specified time depending on the amount of IBUs you want and then run-off some wort into the gallon container. I understand it is boiling, but I have preheated the container under hot water and have not had a problem. I then cool this wort in the sink.

I do not buy any commercial yeast for these small batches because to me that is cost prohibitive, but I will pitch the dregs from a sour beer (or non-sour bottle conditioned ale). This is nice because I have a great excuse to buy great beer and I have a nice beer to drink as I finish making the rest of the base batch. I try to buy a beer that I want my beer to share similar flavors with. Make sure that you cool the bottle and let it settle, the longer the better. Pour the beer slowly and stop with about an ounce left in the bottle. Swish this remaining beer up very well (~minute), then pitch into your gallon container.

More recently, I have started making a 6 oz 1.030 - 1.040 starter in a small sauce pan. To make my starter, I reserve runnings from the mash from my previous batch. I run off an extra gallon into a ziploc bag and freeze it. I break off pieces of the frozen wort into the sauce pan. I measure the gravity of the wort with my refractometer and adjust if needed by adding more wort or water. I boil the wort for about 10 min and add 1/8 t of Wyeast yeast nutrient. I put the lid on the sauce pan and let it cool in the sink. Once it is the right temperature, I flame the lip of the bottle and the saucepan. Pour the cooled wort into the original bottle and shake as often as possible or use a stir plate. I try to do this 3 days before brew day.

I am fermenting that at ambient temperature which is 68-75F. I use an airlock and rubber stopper, but I am wanting to move towards a breathable bung that cannot dry up like an airlock. Since you are only dealing with a gal of beer, you want to make sure you keep your sampling to a minimum. Plus, with sour beers you want to reduce the contact with oxygen because you risk producing too much acetic acid (vinegar). I currently take a hydrometer sample (4 oz) starting at 6 months and then every 3 months until the gravity has stabilized or I like the flavor. Also at these sampling times I will make some adjustments by adding some boiled oak cubes (.2-.4oz), fresh frozen fruit or maltodextrin (food for Brett and the bacteria) if I want more sour, funky flavors. I then bottle these beers by pouring the gal container into a purged keg with enough priming sugar depending on the beer style and volume. If I like the beer than I can make a full batch the following year and use yeast from the gallon container as a starter.

I will update with my results.
Kreik (Old Beersel Framboise dregs)
Sour Pale Common (Petrus dregs)
Black Jolly Sour (Jolly Pumkin Bam Noire dregs)
The rest of the posts are shown under the "Dregs" tag - see this link

Check the Beer Recipes page for a detailed list (Updated occasionally)

Also I have started a thread over on, which has grown to over 19,000 views and 20+ pages of updates from other homebrewers.
Easy Way to Make Sour Beers (1 gal wort + dregs)

And you can always email me with questions.
Jeffrey.E.Crane at


  1. I really wanted to thank you for this post. I know it is past due but this is a great intro into the sour beer arena. I've sent a lot of people to your site for this simple concept. The couple beers that ive tried have impressed me using dregs only.

    1. I'm glad others are getting something out of it. And thanks for the reminder, my process has actually changed a bit since writing this almost 2 years ago. I'll make some updates to the article.


      - make a 4-6 oz starter in the original bottle (not really need for adding souring bacteria to a batch that has already been fermented)

      - Oak dowel method did not work for me. I actually want to move toward breathable bungs, so you don't need to worry about the airlock going dry. I'm having a hard time finding them for 1 gal containers though.

      - My sampling schedule - 6 months, 9 months, 1 year ... and adjust if needed with oak, fruit, sugar, but mind the oxygen exposure.


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