Homebrew #19: Blackberry Royale (w/ Yogurt Cultured Lactobacillus)

One of the highlights of summer in Oregon is berries. We are awash in berries!  Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, tayberries—the list goes on and on. Each year, we take our kids to you-pick farms and load up on whatever berry is in season.

As I was picking (mostly eating, actually) blackberries on a gorgeous afternoon this summer, I realized their tart and sweet flavors would taste great in a sour beer. Inspired, I decided to make one one--but two sour blackberry ales using the same base wort. The first, a blackberry lambic, will take between 18-24 months to make. That’s a very long time to wait, so I decide to use a sour wort technique for the other. The benefit of the sour mash / wort is that can take as little as a few weeks.

This post focuses on Blackberry Royale, the sour wort version. To sour the beer, I used a technique developed by Sean Burke from The Commons Brewery, in Portland, OR.  I wrote about Sean’s sour wort technique and you can see detailed instructions here.  I made 7 gallons of base wort for both beers and split it into two batches. For simplicity, I’ve scaled the recipe down to a 5 gallon batch:

  • Style:  Blackberry Sour Ale
  • Type:  All Grain
  • Boil Volume:  5.95 gallons
  • Batch Size: 5.0 gallons
  • Boil Time:  75 min.
  • Stats:
    • Target OG: 1.052
    • Target FG: 1.013
    • ABV:  5.2%
    • IBUs:  7
    • SRM:  5.4
    • Efficiency:  75%
  • Grains:
    • 6.0 lbs. Pale Ale Malt  (60%)
    • 3.5 lbs. Rahr White Wheat  (35%)
    • 8.0 oz. Flaked Wheat  (5%)
  • Hops:  0.34 oz. Fuggles — 4.5% alpha acid (60 min)
  • Mash:  12.5 quarts (1.25 qt / lb) water @ 178.6° and hold for 60 min @ 154.0°F
  • Sparge:  6.653 quarts of 170°F water over 60 min
  • Yeast:  German Ale  (WLP0013)
  • Bacteria:  Yogurt Lactobacillus Starter

Brew Log:

Sep 8:   Made one liter lacto starter (using 3 oz. DME) with Nancy’s Yogurt using Sean Burke’s instructions.

Sep 11:   Brewed base wort (recipe above) and inoculated with lacto starter (3.8 pH) into 3.5 gallons of 120°F wort. I maintained the wort at a range of 100-125°F for four days. The high temperature is needed for the lacto to sour the wort. I documented this process here.

Sep 15:   The wort achieved a 3.6 pH reading, so I decided I was ready to boil the wort to halt the souring activity. I performed a 75 minute boil, adding Strisselspalt hops at 60 minutes. OG = 1.06. I pitched the German Ale yeast into 70°F wort at 10:30 am.  By 6pm, I had strong airlock activity. 

Sep 16:  By 7 am, I had a huge amount of yeast at the top of the carboy, but the airlock activity had slowed dramatically. It appeared that high krausen had already occurred, far sooner than I expected. I guess this makes sense since I pitched a full vial of yeast into just 3 gallons of wort.

Since high krausen occurred, it was time to add the blackberries. I wasn’t sure exactly how much fruit to add.  I wanted some flavor and color from the berries, but I didn’t want to turn the beer purple, or overwhelm it with berry flavor. So I took a guess and decided to use 15 ounces of blackberries—Triple Crown Blackberries, to be precise. The fruit was frozen, so I heated it up in a pot to 170° F.  I pureed them with an immersion blender (making a bit of a mess in the process) and cooled it to 70°F.

I dumped the berry slurry in to the carboy, and gently swirled the carboy to mix it all up. After the berries were added, it took on a light purple color.

The yeast enjoyed snacking on the berries, and strong airlock activity resumed. The carboy looked like this at 5:30 pm.

Sep 21:  Airlock activity slowed down quite a bit.

Nov 1:  The beer has clarified, and I decided it was time to bottle. My FG was 1.007, which implies a 7.0% ABV (excluding the impact of the sugar from the berries), which is well above my target of 5.2% ABV.

I added 0.75 cups of dextrose to carbonate and filled twenty three 12 oz. bottles.  So I ended up with 2.3 gallons of finished beer, much to my surprise. I expected another 3/4 gallon. Darn angels! They’ve taken more than their share. I ended adding too much dextrose and am worried about over carbonation and possible bottle bombs. I’ll keep a close eye on it.

Nov 12:  First carbonated taste!  Carbonation is very light. It has a light purple tinge and is hazy in appearance. Blackberry is present in aroma. In taste, the berry is present as well as a medium level of lacto tartness. It’s light bodied and will benefit from some additional carbonation.

Nov 19:  Second taste. The carbonation has increased in the last week. Head retention is very good, and lasted for most of the drink. I think a little more carbonation will make this even better. Overall, I’m thrilled with my first attempt replicating Sean’s technique! I’ll definitely brew a variation of this again with a different fruit. Next time, I might even let the wort get a bit more sour.

More updates coming...

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  1. Thank you for posting your results!

  2. Nice work. I'm amazed that you go through this effort for such a small amount of beer. My method is brewing five gallons and then collecting several gallons of remnants in by basement of long-forgotten homebrew. Still, I always brew five gallons. Hmm....

  3. Chris, you're welcome!

    Thanks Jeff. I actually brewed seven gallons. This batch is half. The other half is a blackberry lambic that's in the early stages of fermentation. Check back in 15 months to see how that turned out. I'll definitely brew another 5 gallon (at least) batch of this next summer. It was a fun and successful experiment.


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