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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Timid Man's Spontaneous Ferment?

Here's a little question for the internet. As you may recall, I am experimenting with the pleasures of natural fermentation.  Having secured three gallons of unpasteurized, fresh-pressed apple juice from Draper Girl's farm, I relocated it to a carboy and let it sit outside, where nature could run its course.  And run it did. (A little too quickly, I think--late October was unseasonably warm in Oregon, and I the cider was fermenting at between 55-60 degrees.  I'd been hoping for 50 or lower.)  I racked the cider on Sunday and it was already down to 1.006 and tasting great.  It's been unseasonably cold for the past week, and the cider is now slow-fermenting in the 30s, so it should finish out nicely.

Anyway, here's the question.  It was only as the last drops of cider were getting suctioned up that I recognized the potential gold I was sitting on: a rich layer of wild Oregon yeast and bacteria, smelling funky and alive.  I had not planned ahead, so I dumped it, but here's the thing: wouldn't that be a perfect slurry to pitch on a fresh batch of wort and get a cheater's version of wild ferment?  Is there any reason I should not go back down the Gorge, get another gallon of Draper Girl's juice and use it effectively as a wild-yeast starter? 

Hive mind has never led me astray, so render now your verdict: clever or boneheaded?


  1. Give it a go, you'll find out if you're clever or a bonehead when you taste it!

    It should ferment OK, but being a mixed fermentation it may turn out very sour.

  2. I would say it's an experiment well worth the effort!

  3. Ed, an interesting point. Rodenbach starts with a normally-fermented beer and then uses mixed fermentation thereafter. (It's why people who ferment directly with Roselare yeast usually end up with gasoline.) Wonder if I should divide a wort in two and try both methods--regular fermentation followed by the cider-yeast pitch along with a straight cider-yeast pitch into wort.

  4. Should have harvested what you had. Wild results, as you know, are unpredictable. Definitely divide the wort and see what happens.

  5. Dividing is a good idea: you'll get more experiemental results that way!

  6. Traditional cider AFAIK is a 100% natural ferment, like you did. Wild yeast acts slowly and then you pick up a secondary ferment some time afterwards (typically malolactic, which helps cut some of the tartness)

    I've often wondered the same thing as you, though: reusing mothers is traditional in everything from sour dough to sauerkraut; why aren't sour beers done this way, too? Is it just tradition, or is there another reason why belgians prefer spontaneous?

    Cider I can kind of understand: why keep the yeast starter around for a year if it's going to ferment naturally anyway? At least that's *my* invented reasoning for it.

  7. I can't see why it's a cheater's version. I would do it again, and if its possible, split a batch of wort. One beer gets cider slurry only, the gets fermented first with a pure yeast strain and then pitch the cider slurry. Like another poster said, the pure cider slurry may get you more sour than you want. Either way, keep your gravity down; I bet the cider slurry won't tolerate alcohol like pure yeasts strains do. Have fun.

    PS I love American women. They are great.

  8. Normally I delete spam, but that Anon post is so bizarre I'll leave it there for posterity. I love everything about American women. And foreign women, too.

    Ted, funny you should say that. As I was pondering this very post while looking down on that rich barm, the thought sprang into my head: smells scrumpy-licious! And then I thought of you.

    If it continues along its tasty path, I will definitely put a bottle aside. It will likely be still and dry. (Though Sally's agitating to back-sweeten and pasteurize, which we may do on a few bottles just for the experience.)

    Okay, it's settled, I must try the experiment. Worst case I end up with more cider and a batch of bad beer--and knowledge. A good tradeoff even in the worst-case.

  9. A friend of mine who grows apples in northern Illinois makes spontaneous cider as you've recently done, and then adds fresh wort onto the resulting yeast cake when he racks the cider. I've had the resulting beer two or three years in a row now. I believe he used something along the line of a biere de garde base recipe, and the result is pretty decent, and not nearly as funky as one might expect. He has also split the beer batch and added homegrown raspberries to one half, which works well. Definitely go for it, and good call on split batching so you can compare wild and pitched yeast head to head.

  10. I think the slurry will change over time as the stronger bacteria and yeast start to dominate the others in the culture, even on the second generation use. It might go sour, it might just turn out unpleasant, or it might be a funky wonderland, you'll never know unless you try.

    Plus now that it is colder out the initial fermentation is going to be much different and might turn out, sour, bad, or great.... the beauty of spontaneous fermentation. At least the naturally occurring organisms on the apples are going to be pretty close to the same.