Tuesday, March 10, 2009

sourdough blonde

(Note: Since we are in the month of Fermentuary, I thought I would keep blabbing on about some fermented drink experiments I've been up to. Now, you may be thinking: what about the bread? Well, read on.)

If I could write the sound of the most diabolical laugh you can imagine, it would go right here: ______

Then I would tell you that I made a beer with my sourdough starter. Yup, beer. Sourdough beer. Mind you, it doesn't taste sour, and there was no flour involved, but the yeast came from the starter. Sourdough can do anything.

A few months back I brewed a 1 and 1/2 gallon batch of beer and put about 1/3 of it into a sterilized glass milk bottle. (The rest of the beer went into the fruity dregs of the wild mead and became something else entirely, but I'll get there another day.) I added a few tablespoons of the clear hooch from the top of my starter. I'd read there should be plenty of yeast in this. I went for the clearest stuff, hoping to minimize adding any flour component and making it too cloudy. I shook everything rather crazily for a few minutes to aerate it, then put an airlock on the bottle and kept it in a warmish place. It bubbled gently for near a month or so, and when I finally saw no more activity, I bottled it, adding a pinch of sugar for carbonation. It was only 4 - 12 ounce bottles when all was done, of a beer that must be somewhere around 5% alcohol. It looked real promising and smelled even better.

The other day, I cracked one open. (Again, please, insert diabolical laugh here.) Oh my lord, this came from sourdough? It made me wonder. Why does this remind me of Anchor Steam? I took another sip. Not nearly as hoppy. In fact, definitely a different kind of hop. But still. I had used a pilsner base malt, in extract form, with no caramelized grains to give it that malty backbone. Basically, my recipe should not give me anything like Anchor. But still.

A few more sips later, it hit me. It was the yeast. In beer, yeast is king. Use a bad one, and it will taste like crap. (Okay, so this is a hugely subjective statement, but you get my drift.) Yeast imparts enormous flavor to a beer, and this one tastes a lot like a Cal Common should. Huh. Then I wondered. Is there a yeasty lineage between bay area sourdough and this local brewing yeast? Well, my beer tells me so. I know, not a huge stretch of the imagination there if you have ever heard about the relationship between breweries and bakeries that have existed for umpteen thousand years. But still. Could Anchor have a unique taste just like bay area sourdoughs do, and for the same reason?

Would you ever have guessed that you could brew a beer with the yeast from a sourdough starter? How about that it might actually taste good? Well, then help me out here. Got any friends with the means to start looking at individual strains of yeast? Let's talk.

Well, after I finish my beer.