Pacific Gravity Sour Beer Project


I am really pleased to officially announce for those of you who didnt attend or could not hear me at the Monster Brew on Saturday @ Smog City that the club is starting up a new project for 2014.  One of the many things the board has discussed this year so far is starting up a few new brewing projects throughout the year.  Our first of these projects was to brew a “clone” of Firestone Walker’s PNC this past New Years Day.  Our intent with that project is to be able to barrel age a beer for the club that will be served at the Christmas Party later this year.

Project #2 is a larger project.  Inspired by the beers from Brussels we decided to take the opportunity presented by the monster brew this past weekend @ Smog City to purchase 60 gallons of wort and innoculate it with different types of yeast, wild yeast and other microorganisms in a 60 gallon wine barrel.  Not many of us have the space, money or brewing capacity to brew enough beer to fill a 60 gallon barrel.  For those of you who have wanted to do this in the past but were unable to brew to that scale you will now have an opportunity to participate in this experiment.

The guys @ Phantom Carriage graciously donated a wine barrel to the club for this project and offered some great insight into the process we should

Details on the barrel donated by Phantom Carriage.

Details on the barrel donated by Phantom Carriage.

follow.  For those of you who don’t know, two of our fellow homebrew club associates – Martin Svab and Simon Ford – are two of the guys behind one of LA’s newest breweries.  They have secured a lease on a facility in Carson – about 10 minutes or so from Smog City and Monkish – which is set to open sometime in the next year and will offer tons of awesome small batch beers.  So a big thank you goes out to the guys at Phantom Carriage for their barrel donation and advice, along with Smog City supplying the wort from their Monster Brew to make this project happen.  I also want to thank Kingsley for offering to house this barrel in his garage for the next year.

We are still working out a lot of the details on how we will divide up this project among the club brewers, but at some point in the next year we will divide up an undecided amount of this barrel to homebrewers who are eager to participate.  Ideally brewers will be able to hold onto their portions for as long as they feel the beer needs to mature, or they can add fruit and other flavorings.  Ideas and recommendations are welcome because we have plenty of time until this thing is finished.  Unfortunately there will not be enough for everyone to get their hands on some of it – but over the next few months we will figure out a way to divide it up between those interested.

For now, even though our experiment is technically not a Lambic, the idea of fermenting in the barrel is based off of the processes employed by Lambic producers like Cantillon.  Here is a writeup from the form handed out to visitors of Brewery Cantillon about the first stages of fermentation with their traditional lambic:

Barrel Store

In contrast to winemaking, the type of wood used to make casks is not of critical importance in Lambic production.  For the brewer, the wood is necessary to allow the beer to exchange gases with the surrounding air.  Since there is no need for the tannins present in new wood, we only work with casks which have already been used by winemakers or, more rarely, Cognac producers.  Slowly maturing Lambic in barrels lends it a wine-like flavour, and this lies at the origin of its moniker “cereal wine”.

Invented by the Gaul, wooden barrels were used by brewers for centuries.  Nowadays, however, modern breweries use stainless steel vessels and cooling systems to control the fermentation process.


After a few days, the wild yeasts reacting with the sugars in the wort results in spontaneous fermentation.  At first, the fermentation process is relatively violent and visible.  In fact, for 3 or 4 days the production of CO2 is such that the barrels cannot be sealed because there is a risk that they might otherwise explode.  As part of the process a whitish foam comes out of the bunghole and this can lead to a loss of 5 to 10 litres of wort per barrel.


Slow fermentation begins 3 to 4 weeks later.  As there is no longer a risk of explosion the barrel is hermetically sealed.  It is at this point that Lambic is born.  Continued fermentation, which is an extremely complex process, will now go on for another 3 years.

To date, 100 different strains of yeast have been identified in Lambic, with two of them, Brettanomyces Bruxellensis and Lambicus, playing a very important role.  Specifically, they assimilate non-fermentable sugars (dextrins) and reduce the sugar content of 3 year old Lambic to just .02%.

Unlike winemakers, Lambic brewers do not top up barrels to counter the effects of evaporation.  Therefore, after 3 years of maturing in a barrel some 20% of the original liquid will have been lost and the sellable volume contained in a cask will have dropped from 400 to 320 litres.  To protect themselves, certain types of yeasts agglomerate to form a film (flora) which completely separates the beer from the air in the barrel.

Lambic can be drunk after just a few weeks but a brewer will have to wait a year to have a more refined beer which can be used for making more elaborate products (Gueuze, Kriek, etc.)  Like all liquids matured in wooden barrels, Lambic does not foam (cereal wine).  Its acid taste, unique flavours and aftertaste make it a very complex product which is quite distinct from all other beers.

For our project, we scraped together the following assortment of bugs and yeast for the barrel project:

I built up a 3 gallon starter on Monday 3/2/2014 with an OG of 1.035 made with Wheat Malt Extract and pitched the WY3788 and WY1214 smack packs.  On Friday night before the Monster Brew we added the Brett, Pedio, Bug Farm and Bug County.  We pitched the entire 3 gallons of starter into the barrel after adding the first 30 gallons.  Below you can find pictures of the barrel after 24 hours of fermentation.  It definitely foamed out the top!  We placed a #10 stopper with an airlock in the barrel – this stopper is slightly smaller than the standard bunghole which will allow the stopper to be popped out of the barrel easily if it builds up too much pressure.  I am going to add wort from a mostly raw wheat and 2-row mash next weekend to add some starches to the wort composition.  Once active fermentation stops we will replace the small stopper with a more standard stopper for long term aging.

If you have any questions about this project please don’t hesitate to post about it here on our website or you can contact me @ president [at]