Sour Mash – Kentucky Common

An aside: the blog has fallen to the wayside because work is taking over any time I wish I had and when I’m not working – I’m not writing, I’m playing a game because I don’t even want to write for myself. It’s work. Well, get on the horse. Practice makes perfect. Now, beer making.

While stationed at the fringe of the Chicago suburbs at my mother’s house for a month – I knew I wanted to brew and brew I did. I’ll try and remember most of the brew day(s) but this post is coming nearly two months so stick with me and you’ll make some tasty beer as well.

First, the reading. Like with all the beer I brew I do at least some digging in finding those who have forged the river before me. Those newer to brewing, do this, but you may already be doing so reading this – so good on ya. I found some info on Wikipedia [link], a couple of guys on HBT [#1, #2], and just about anywhere I could. This was not my first sour mash so I knew the routine, it was the % of grains that were a bit fuzzy. Nevertheless, here is where I landed:

Amt                           Name / %
6 lbs 12.0 oz          Pilsner (2 row) (Gambrinus) (1.6 SRM) / 64.2 %
2 lbs 8.0 oz            Corn, Flaked (1.3 SRM)  / 23.8 %
1 lbs                          Rye Malt (4.7 SRM) /  9.5 %
2.1 oz                       Chocolate Wheat Malt (400.0 SRM) / 1.2 %
2.1 oz                       Crystal 75, 2-Row, (Great Western) (75.0 SRM) / 1.2 %

Kentucky Common Mash

Then came the mash in. Just like in the hybrid sour mash [link] I had previously used, I started with a standard mash in schedule. Mashing in during the morning, I aimed for 148°f, but hit a few degrees high. From there acid malt was forgot for this particular step on this sour mash, so it simply became a more traditional sour mash where I allowed the mash to sit nearly all day and added a handful of crushed grain in the evening with the idea of hitting the magic 100°f mark which lacto loves so much. A sanitized plastic wrap across the top of the mash allows for less O2. This is to avoid spoilage microbes to flourish and keep those in the air from getting into the mess. I then sat the kettle on top of my mother’s pre-auto-off heating pad and a thick blanket I use to insulate my mashes, covered it all up and walked away for the evening.

Sour Mashing

This is where a lot of people would complain about the smell of the mash, but between the two – the “worst” smell I’ve had is way-over-ripe pineapple. That’s it. I also check mine often making sure to keep the souring mash at 100°f. This is less than easy without a temperature controller so keep an eye on it if you do no own one (like me). For this sour mash, a short 18 hour souring period was what I planned for as it wouldn’t be as ‘lemonade-y’ as the Berliner Weisse. The wort smelled like toasty pineapple and a freshly cracked plain yogurt.

Fly sparge

The sparge was super easy and I even fly sparged for the first time. Ballsy. Boiling was a short 30min with two ounces of hops at the start only. Uneventful and likely too late in the evening to care about smells, I think I was too focused on keeping the mosquitoes from ravaging my body.

Boiling Kentucky Common

Fermentation was during a sudden cool spell that ended up working perfectly for me. A pitched sachet of K-97, a pretty clean and dead simple dry yeast that I thought would fit the ‘heritage’ of the brew. The heat kicked up again after it was close to being done but it wasn’t taken for a tumble and just finished a touch lower than anticipated. It was then kegged and an ounce and half of medium french oak cubes were placed in for a week. I tasted it through the oaking and found day 7 right where I thought the ‘wood’ and vanilla held just a whisper in the spinning anamorphic flavor profile in the glass.

The first few pours were confusing to the senses. It always, always poured a muddy, dredged-from-a-creek-bed, brown. Which to say that I’m not afraid of having hazy beer, but the sight is just too much like pond water. The smell is deceptively sweet with cracks of fresh lemon from lacto. My first impressions were that I wouldn’t likely try it again. It was too odd and pulled in too many directions at once but after about a month it sat slowly dwindling it calmed down. Either I began to pull apart its layers or it just simply grew on me or it just became an amazing (easily one of my favorite) beers is beyond my simple mind – but the thing was astounding.

An undertone of caramel with a ‘just this side of tart’ pared against a backdrop of looming oaky vanilla. The yeast stepped to the side but was not outmatched and made for a clean drinking low-but not invisible ester profile. Drinkable in a way the Berliner never was: complex, deep, and rich with new flavors each take. A beer I will love to revisit soon, likely a perfect candidate for early spring or fall.

One Reply to “Sour Mash – Kentucky Common”

  1. I think we might have chatted about common’s one time on twitter, cool to see you actually brewed one. It’s sorta fallen off my radar, since my one and only sour mash smelled terribly of cheese.
    Might have to get this one a spin sometime.

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