PhiLambic Solera Year 3: Pull #2, unblended bottling and fruiting

Since last year’s pull, and straight bottling, my Solera has crossed state lines and found a new home in NJ (and a Better Bottle instead of a Sanke keg) when we moved last year. A few days prior to the move I topped it off with fresh, actively fermenting wort/beer so it would be transported during a fairly vigorous fermentation in hopes of minimizing any oxidation.

To say I was concerned coming into this year’s cycle would probably be an understatement. I did everything I could in hopes of safe travels, save for racking to purged kegs then back into the Solera which would have been the safest plan, but didn’t know for sure if things would work out. I normally don’t stress about my beers since I can just brew more, but I’ve invested a fair bit of time in both the production and aging of the Solera that it would sting a bit to have to dump it.

hydrometer next to 1-gallon glass jug fermenter
1.002, 3.39pH
solera beer being transferred from a carboy
Sometimes I use the dryer as a stir plate, kidding of course.

The first year’s bottling was very sour and a bit lacking in Brett aroma complexity, I was also picking up on some light ethyl acetate aromas that had me a little concerned. This is not to say I didn’t like it, I did (or do since bottles still exist) I’m just trying to be as critical as possible. The top off batch was adjusted with those tasting notes in mind in hopes of reducing the acidity just a touch and bring some more earthy, assertive Brett aromas similar to classic gueuze examples. It had been 14 months since the top off when I removed a sample to evaluate prior to designing the year three top-off batch and I was pretty happy (relieved) with what I found. Below are my tasting notes on the sample.

Tasting Notes after 26 months since the birth of this Solera, 14 months since top off:

The Brett aromas I was trying to add to this are there, not huge but I can pick up on some more classic barnyard aromas reminiscent of a stable. They are subtle but should pop even more in a carbonated sample and as things develop under pressure in the bottle.

The ethyl acetate I picked up from the first bottling is still there but I really have to spin the glass to find it in this sample. It’s more on the fruity ethyl acetate end of the spectrum then a nose hair burning aroma of nail polish remover. No better or worse than last year so that’s a good thing I suppose.

It’s sour and very dry, but not as sour as year one, 3.39pH down (or is it up?) from 3.32 last year. It is tough to judge without this being chilled and carbonated in a finished bottle but I would have to say I’ve at least improved things by way of the adjustments I made in the year 2 top off.

Gravity at the moment is ~1.002.

Things can of course, and likely will, change in the bottle but this was pretty promising. So much so that I was at a bit of a loss on how to tweak the top-off recipe for adjustment, more on the top-off batch in a later post. I racked off about 4 gallons of the Solera and bottled 1.5 gallons straight unblended, as I plan to with each pull to see how it all changes over time. Thanks to Tonsmeire’s Solera spreadsheet, I know that the average age of this year’s bottling is 1.53 years old, once we reach year four it will always be at least 2 years old.

The remaining 2.5 gallons from this pull was racked on top of 4lbs of organic Blueberries that my family and I picked over the summer at a pick your own farm nearby. I froze the fruit in my chest freezer until I was ready to rack the beer, which is my standard process when using fresh fruit. I also blended in two 22oz bottles of the same sour quad I used for the recent Tart Cherry beer for some added malt backbone to keep from the beer thinning out and being one dimensional.

I am super super excited for this variant, but the blueberries might have been even more excited than I was as they tried to climb out of the fermenter. I attempted a punch down on the fruit but that proved futile as the re-fermentation was so vigorous that I ended up having to remove the bung and airlock and let it go open to the elements, after four days I was able to replace the bung. Three weeks after I racked onto the blueberries there was still activity, lots of sugar in the Blueberries I guess. I hope to have this in bottles 3 months after the fruit addition, I cannot wait.

Frozen Blueberries prior to racking.
Frozen Blueberries prior to racking.
fermenter full of blueberries
It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.

With how quickly things are progressing with this Solera I am planning to top off and package again after 6 months, assuming things taste good of course. Year 3 top-off post up next, then a tasting notes post on the Unblended Solera bottling #2, and a follow up on the Blueberry variant.

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