Winter Brewing

For makers of barrel-aged mixed culture beers, winter is a busy time. The season brings with it a number of time-sensitive events.

Most notably, the cooler weather makes it possible to brew spontaneous batches of beer. Not only do the overnight temperatures facilitate the necessary temperature drops from boiling to fermentation temperature but also the colder weather inhibits non-ideal yeasts and bacteria in the environment.

Additionally, winter is blending and bottling time for many wineries. After their harvest in the fall, winemakers allow their presses to ferment before beginning to taste through their new wine and barrels to decide what this year’s vintage will include.  As the wine gets moved around, wineries will put some of their new ferments in new oak and rack older vintages for bottling. For brewers, this means that it’s barrel time. Picking up fresh barrels is both preferred in every case and clearly the best time to rack fresh beer if residual flavours are desired.

Picking up my first 4 barrels
Picking up my first 4 barrels

This winter I have brewed 4 spontaneous batches and filled 9 barriques (228 l wine barrels) with a diversity of base beers and yeasts. I have also been foraging/collecting/wrangling wild yeasts from a myriad of sources. As I don’t have a brewery, this means I’m basically a super serious home-brewer. On the former, I’ll have an announcement on this in the next 3 months, I promise. On the latter, that means I have about 2000 l of barrel aged beer right now. Whoops.

All of the things I have been doing have been to help me increase my knowledge of working with mixed cultures. Its all well and good to talk about this all day and play with these strains on a small scale, but I needed to fill barrels before I felt like I could really start to learn. Below is my current barrel log.

Name Make Oak Current use
α Seguin Moreau French No-rinse Gold, innoculated with 3278 (Lambic Blend) (11/8/16)
β Seguin Moreau French No-rinse Gold, innoculated with 3763 (Roeselare) (11/8/16)
γ Tonnellerie Sirugue French 196 l Gold, 32 l Uralla, NSW spontneous wort
δ Dargaud & Jaegle French 187 l Gold, 41 l Gerringong, NSW spontaneous wort (12/7/16)
ε Seguin Moreau French 183 l Gold, 42 l Marrickville, NSW spontaneous wort
ζ Seguin Moreau French No-rinse, no-innoculant BE-256
η Dargaud & Jaegle French No-rinse Raw wheat Saison + bottle of 2014 Gerringong mixed culture saison
θ Seguin Moreau French No-rinse, no-innoculant Raw wheat Saison
ι Saint-Martin French 210 l No-rinse, no-innoculant Raw wheat Saison, 10 l Gerringong Spontaneous wort (6/8/16)

All of these barrels were collected from Canobolas Smith winery in Orange, NSW. They are filled with mainly 2 beers, one just called Gold and the other Raw Wheat Saison.

I wrote about the saison previously here under ‘test brews’. It has turned out fairly hoppy and is tasting very good after 3 months in barrels η, θ and ι. These three have very little if any funky developments, which is what I wanted. These barrels were not rinsed before racking into them as they were racked out of only a day previous. Murray at Canobolas Smith is a very minimalist winemaker and I was interested in the beers development in the presence of wild wine yeasts. The beers have a beautiful soft mouthfeel (30% raw wheat helps) with touches of fruity chardonnay and spicy Motueka hops. Last week I pulled 10 l out to package at home and topped the barrel up with 10 l of spontaneous wort cooled the night before. (photo below)

Barrels η, θ and ι (one has a holding solition) ageing with rustic insulation
Barrels η, θ and ι (one has a holding solution) ageing with ‘rustic’ insulation
barrel pull and inoculation
barrel pull and inoculation

‘Gold’ is a beer that I brewed to fill my second lot of barrels that came in. Like most of my beers, it is quite simple and was produced as a blending beer, produced for secondary ferments. It ended up 80% local pilsner, 10% NSW oats, 10% raw NSW wheat with ~20 IBU’s of aged and fresh hops from NZ and an OG of 13 P. I mashed hot (68C) to leave some longer chain sugars in for the secondary ferments. I fermented with BE-256 which is a pof+ (see Phenol Production § here) dry Belgian strain produced by Lesaffre most notably used by De Ranke for their clean beers. The beer fermented to 3.5P and tasted okay considering it was an absolute sulphur bomb. I was pretty happy I didn’t need that beer anytime soon. I filled 6 barrels with Gold and as you can see above, all but one now have something else in them.

The 3 spontaneous batches are all a little different worts and cooled in different locations across the state. Two are hopped and one has a very slight (near 0) hopping rate. That one, in barrel δ is tasting nice and tart, while γ and ε are developing their characteristics slower and without much tartness, which is to be expected with a higher hopping rate. They all follow the Black Project/ MTF tips/suggestions for cooling rates and SA/V ratios. They were all 45-50 l batches cooled overnight in an insulated kettle to around 25 C the next morning.

Last week, I inoculated α and β with propped up mixed cultures from Wyeast. Im not sure why I did this; but there they are. Those are certainly sitters and I’m not overly excited about them but it will be interesting to see how they develop as controls against the totally wild inoculations.

Barrels α – ζ (only 6 are full, the others have a holding solution)

ζ and θ are waiting until I am happy with a mixed culture of wrangled yeasts. Below is a table of what I currently have collected that is tasting good. I have already dumped a fair amount of these ‘experiments’ because they smell nasty or have made me feel sick. My wife seriously thinks I’m strange. So these are the good ones…

Strain/culture Current vessel Media Location Volume (l) Notes
Saison/sourdough Nalgene APA wort Home 2
Saison/orchid Nalgene APA wort home 2
Bretty wine Nalgene unhopped DME wort Home 2 no signs of ferment
Bretty wine Erlenmeyer flask unhopped DME wort home 1 some bubbles
Dried grapes Bosco jar unhopped DME wort home 0.5 *taste, step up to nalgene
Dandelions Nalgene unhopped DME wort Brewery 1.5 *taste, add wort
Wattle Blossom Nalgene unhopped DME wort Brewery 2

The standouts from this are definitely the cultures from dandelions, wattle blossom and my own sourdough culture.

part of my wrangled yeast collection
part of my wrangled yeast collection
pellicle on the sourdough culture
pellicle on the sourdough culture


My 4th spontaneous batch this season is only 10 l in barrel ι with the rest in a glass carboy co-fermenting with the Dupont strain. I am really interested in this batch. I have been hearing a few things about using coolships just for that, cooling, and then pitching yeast after. It sounds really cool to me and also super functional. I love not having to clean/prepare my heat exchange! This one is less than a week old so we will see what happens overtime.

the coolship cooled saison just post inoculation with Dupont
the coolship cooled saison just post inoculation with Dupont


That is pretty much all the brewing I have been doing. Besides this, the winter has seen me purchase of the most expensive piece of homebrewing equipment ever, a Anton Paar DMA 35! This thing is the bomb and will let me take super accurate gravity readings of all my beers in barrel while only using about 10ml of beer. I have very limited experience with them, but the brewers I know who have them adore them.

Anton Paar DMA 35, the works
Anton Paar DMA 35, the works

I have so much more information and details on these beers to share, but it is just too much for any blog. Questions/concerns are appreciated. I will keep updating about the progress of these experiments, what has work and what has failed. My twitter might be the best for binary yes/no reviews of the beers.

As I alluded to before, these ‘experiments’ are all pointing to something I am super excited about but have to keep under the wraps for now. Im pretty bad at that, keeping my mouth shut whole thing, so fingers crossed not too much longer. Until then, best!


2 thoughts on “Winter Brewing

  1. Eslem Torres García August 25, 2016 / 6:46 pm

    I use a lot the BE-256 blended with a Belle Saison for my belgian “abbey” ales. If i recall correctly the De Ranke strain is the T-58 from lesaffre (in mexico they all call Fermentis :/ ) i use that srain even more, also blended with belle saison for my farmhouse/saison mix culture ales, it work very nice.


    • farmhousebeerblog October 14, 2016 / 8:23 pm

      Is it really? I might have to look into that more… I read/heard about the de Ranke strain somewhere but now I am second guessing myself. Good catch.


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