At a craft beer event recently, I was fortunate to try a delicious new beer. The process behind making this tasty drink is something that I’ve never heard of before, known as sour-mashed. I approached the brewer and president of Blue Owl Brewing, Jeff Young, to talk with him about his great selection on tap. Jeff turned out to be a fun guy to talk with, so I asked if I could follow up with some questions.
Travis Blair: What additional brewing equipment or process is required to make a sour-mash beer?
Jeff Young: We use a “sour tun” that is able to efficiently and effectively inoculate and incubate the wort after the initial mash process. There’s a sub-chamber to the sour tun called the MIU (“Modular Inoculation Unit,” pronounced “mew”) that I designed to strip wild cultures of bacteria and yeast off of grains to do the souring of the wort.
Travis: What type of beer should someone expect when they order a sour-mash beer?
Jeff: Blue Owl sour-mashed beers can be expected to retain much of the original characteristic of the classic style (a sour stout still tastes like a stout), but with the addition of sour character integrated into the beer. The resulting sourness can be refreshing, dry, crisp or even fruity, depending on the original style and the yeast/hops used to brew it.
Travis: How do you control how sour you want each of your sour-mash beers?
Jeff: We created a unit called “Sourness Units” or SU, that is a measurement of the concentration of lactic acid in the beer. A beer like Little Boss has about 50 SUs, or 0.50% lactic acid.
Travis: I like sourdough bread. What type of food or drink would be a good indicator that someone unfamiliar might like sour-mash beer?
Jeff: Tart and refreshing drinks like cider, lemonade, kombucha may be similar.
Travis: What got you into the beer-making business?
Jeff: I was a chemist first. I brewed my first home brew batch back in 2003 and was hooked to the science ever since! I moved back to Austin in 2006 and immediately started founding Black Star Co-op. After finding a particular interest in my sour-mashed beers at Black Star, I decided to go all-in on sour-mashing and starting building Blue Owl Brewing in 2014.
Image credit: Blue Owl Brewing