On Tuesday, February 26th we brewed our first 100% spontaneous batch of beer in our new coolship. It was a brewday we were looking forward to for quite a while, so we were very excited to have it happen.
Our goal is to make the most authentic spontaneously fermented beer that we can and ultimately to create blends that reflect the unique microflora of the Texas Hill Country. Eventually, we also seek to incorporate fruit into our spontaneously fermented beers to make our own versions of classic styles like Kriek and Framboise.
For our first spontaneous brew, we stayed as close to tradition as possible by conducting a turbid mash of malted barley and raw wheat, boiling for hours with aged hops, and naturally inoculating the wort by cooling it overnight in a coolship. No yeast or other organisms were pitched. Fermentation will be solely a product of the yeast and bacteria in the cool night air at our brewery, resident in our barrel room, and contained within the wood of the barrels where the beer will age.
We expect the beer we recently brewed to age anywhere from 18 months to five years depending on how it develops. In time, we plan to blend vintages from various years to make our own rendition of traditional Gueuze. We are committed to using our coolship several times each year at a minimum, so that spontaneously fermented beer becomes a major part of what we do here at Jester King. What happens from there will depend on how successful we are in making spontaneously fermented beer and our ability to harmonize our beer with the climate and environment at our brewery. So far all we know is that on a cool February night in the Texas Hill Country, our coolship successfully chilled down about 15 barrels of wort to 68 degrees Fahrenheit overnight.
Part of our inspiration to make authentic, spontaneously fermented beer is the disheartening fact that none is currently available for purchase in Texas. Some of our most pleasurable beer drinking experiences have been enjoying great, authentic Lambic and Gueuze from Belgium, but unfortunately beer from these producers is not available where we live. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) imposes very high licensing fees on in-state, out-of-state and overseas breweries (about $7K to make both “beer” and “ale”). These high fees serve to keep beer from small, artisan brewers and blenders of Lambic and Gueuze, who can easily sell all they make elsewhere without paying such exorbitant fees, out of the Texas market. The fees also make it difficult for very small breweries and nano-breweries to open in Texas. We wrote extensively on how the high licensing fees send a message that if you’re a small artisan, producer of beer that would sell less than 1,000 cases a year in Texas, you’re not welcome here. Regardless of our own efforts to brew and blend spontaneously fermented beer, we still hope that one day our laws will change and that beer from more small artisan breweries will be available in Texas.
Here are some photos and a video from our first 100% spontaneous coolship brew. We hope you enjoy them.
Our coolship prior to filling. We placed it in our barrel room and surrounded it with as much porous wood as possible to help inoculate the wort with the organisms resident in our barrel room.
The wort early on during the turbid mash had a milky-white, starchy consistency. The turbid mash produces a very complex wort of sugars, starches and proteins that provide nutrients for the yeasts and bacteria that will slowly ferment the beer over a very long period of time.
Old, low alpha-acid, whole flower hops from 2006 were used for their preservative qualities without imparting much bitterness.
To mark the occasion, we enjoyed a Gueuze tasting prior to filling the coolship with our friends from The Austin Beer Guide
First wort hitting the coolship.
Steam rising from the coolship.
Looking on as the coolship fills
Video of the coolship filling with wort
Two of the 492 Liter Oak Puncheons that will serve as home for the beer during its long fermentation.