Homebrew Batch #7: Sour Cherry Ale (with Lactobacillus)

Oregon has amazing summer fruit.  I recently took advantage of our bounty by making a Raspberry Wheat homebrew, which turned out great.  However, I wanted to make something with cherries.  So we packed the kids into the car and headed to Hood River to pick our own.

Is it overkill to drive a few hours to pick some cherries?  Perhaps, but it was a beautiful day and we were treated to AMAZING scenery.  The shot below is Mt. Hood taken from the cherry farm.

I dedicated 10 pounds of the cherries (Bing variety) to my beer.  During the past year, I've discovered sour beers and have taken a keen liking to them.  So I decided I'd make a sour cherry ale.  The challenge is that sour beers take a LONG time to make.  Upwards of a year!  Fortunately, I'm patient and I have a good stockpile of homebrew to sustain me in the interim.

I consulted Kevin at Mainbrew and asked for his feedback about how to make a sour ale.  We decided against a lambic and opted to use lactobacillus.  Here's the recipe he created for me:

  • Style:  Sour Ale
  • Volume:  5 gallons
  • Malt Base:  7 lbs. Briess Golden Light liquid malt extract
  • Steeping Grains: 
    • 4 oz. CaraHelles
    • 4 oz. Vienna
  • Hop Additions (used up the leftovers in my freezer):
    • 1 oz. Willamette - 4.7% alpha acid (60 min.)
    • 0.25 oz. Perle - 6.9% alpha acid (15 min.) 
  • Yeast:  WLP011 - White Labs Eurpoean Ale
  • Bugs:  WLP677 - Lactobacillus Delbrueckii
  • Other:
    • 10 lbs. Bing cherries (added to secondary fermentation)
  • Est. Timeline:
    • Brew Day
    • After ~2 weeks:  Rack to secondary over cherries
    • After ~3 months:  Rack to tertiary
    • After ~2 months:  Bottle adding additional yeast
    • Age for 3 - 9 months

Brew Log:
Aug 6:  Picked 10 pounds of Bing Cherries.  De-stemmed, washed, and froze them.

Aug 17:  Brew day.  Pretty simple.  I used my trusty home made wort chiller to cool the wort and pitched the yeast and lactobacillus at 78 degrees F.  OG 1.052.  A friend, who doesn't drink beer, assisted me today.  Point of fact, friends who don't drink are excellent brew tour companions! 

Aug 18:   One cue, active fermentation has begun.  The airlock is bubbling like crazy!

Aug 25:  Primary fermenation is pretty much finished.

Thawed & Pitted Bing Cherries
Sep 4:  Thawed the cherries and pitted them using my new handy, dandy cherry pitter.  Final weight of the thawed cherries was 9.275 pounds.  Since I have a lot of fruit, I split them into two glass carboys.  When I opened my fermentation bucket, I was surprised by the strong acidic odor of the base beer!  I tasted it, but it really didn't taste sour yet.  That will take time...  Gravity = 1.012.  I racked the beer over the cherries into both carboys.  In the the shot below, you can see the results of both excellent and horrible racking technique.  The shot on the left was racked first.  On the right, you can see LOADS of sediment and yeast.  I hope I haven't trashed it. 

Since I made a decent investment in yeast and lactobacillus, I washed the fermentation bucket dregs and saved them for later re-use.  

Oct 25:  The sediment from my bad racking has settled out nicely (picture below). The carboy on the left is the one that had all the sediment.  I'm concerned that the excess yeast in this carboy will start to autolyze and create off flavors. If I rack it now, I'd need to trash the cherries. So I think I'll risk it and see that happens.  I'll rack to tertiary in the beginning of December.

Dec 2:  I racked the beer off of the yeast and cherries and they now share one carboy. The beer from the carboy with less sediment has a great tart flavor. Malt was more prominent in the other. In the end, I combined both into one carboy.

Apr 10 '12:  I haven't tasted the beer since I racked it back in December. I don't want to disturb it and introduce oxygen into the carboy. I'll take a taste in another month or two and take a taste. Hopefully, I haven't produced have a 5 gallon batch of cherry vinegar. In the picture below you can see the pellicle that has formed on top of the beer, which dark red in color.

Sep 4 '13:  I brewed this beer over two years ago, and haven't tasted it in nearly 17 months. I decided it was time to give it a taste today! I've been meaning to sample it for quite a while, but, honestly, I've been scared of what I might taste. I pulled a sample out of the carboy and poured it into a glass. It has a nice ruby red color. Aroma of mild cherry and light balsamic vinegar. Cherry is also present in the taste and it has a light tartness. I expected it to be more sour at this point. It has a mild Band-Aid off-flavor. For the last two years, this beer has been sitting in my upstairs laundry room. Probably not the best place to store it given the higher temperatures this room sees in the summer.

Overall, this isn't what I was hoping for. But it is drinkable, and I'll chalk it up as a win. It could be betterbut that's what the second try is for! I hope to bottle it within a week or so.

Have you brewed a sour beer?  How did you make it and how did it taste?

Follow this blog on Twitter or Facebook


  1. WHAT HAPPENED!?!?!?

  2. What he said ^. Judging by how much head space you left I'm assuming you got some serious acetic acid in there .. aka you made vinegar. Hopefully that didn't happen ...

  3. I finally added an update. The beer in currently sitting in tertiary and a pellicle has formed on top of it. I haven't tasted it in a few months. I'll take a taste in another month or two.

  4. This is very interesting. I may have to try this.

    I made a cherry ale last year. I'm curious why you chose to rack the beer to the cherries. Typically, when I see that done it's done by boiling sour cherry juice and racking over the juice. When whole charries are used, I note they are typically put in the primary with a handful of powder-fine two-row. That way, there's less of a chance of bad bacteria in the secondary. Also, I wonder if you could have made a sour mash with cherry puree (2 days prior to brew) and then boiled it in the wort.

  5. Looks like we might be getting an update soon? Very interesting in how this turns out.

    Thanks for the good article!

  6. So how did this turn out in the end? I'm interested in trying a recipe similar to this one after finding a stockist of WLP677.

  7. I have been very patient (you could also say lazy) with this beer. It has formed a thick pellicle, and I don't want to disturb it. I should give it a taste soon!

  8. Thanks for the update. I have got myself a new carboy so am just waiting for cherries to come into season in the UK!

  9. What did you do to sterilize your cherries?

  10. If you're disappointed in the result, you could add lactic acid at bottling (if you don't mind "cheating") to pump up the sourness.

  11. Dustin, I froze the cherries and thawed them before adding to secondary. I was told that would kill any bugs.

    Brandon, great idea. I'm very open to cheating with lactic acid.

    I also forgot to mention that the beer was oxidized. I definitely waited too long. Next time I age a beer for a long secondary, I'll blanket it with CO2.

    1. wouldn't the approx. 6 abv finish killing any cherry bugs in the secondary?

  12. I don't think freezing kills all bacteria. It will put it in suspension.


Thoughts? Tell me what you think.