By Brett Higham
Vires in Numeris
Historically speaking the Solera method is most commonly associated with Sherry production in the Jerez region of Spain. It refers to blending of liquids from young to old in order to obtain a product more complex than its age would otherwise be capable of. The wiser or aged liquid is said to “educate” the younger, an analogy I’m quite fond of.
This article isn’t about Sherry, Brandy, wine or vinegar. Got some Hobbit feels there.. This is about how the method applies to the superior liquid, “our precious” - Beer. When referencing beer this method can be applied to a single or multi-vessel program. Brew an initial batch of, (insert preferred style here), age it for a given period and then remove a portion and replace that empty space with some beer or fresh wort. Lambic, Saison, Flemish or Flanders Reds, Old Ale, Stouts, Barleywines (any of what I term “Low Time Preference” styles). I’m not saying you couldn’t “Solera” with an IPA, I’m saying don’t…
Once you have an end product you’re happy with - could take a year to age for the initial pull. You brew said beer, or hell a different one what do I know… and pull out anywhere from 30-70% and top off your fermentation vessel with either pre-fermented beer or fresh wort.
You might say, “How do I know when it's time?” You are the only one who can make that call. Taste your vessel often and by often I mean not too often and by not too often I mean every 3-6 months until you learn when your baby is usually ready to be packaged and then it's easier to schedule out once the two of you come to an understanding.
The process doesn’t just stop at tasting for readiness to package. You need to adjust the next recipe or brew to help accentuate or tamp down the qualities of the beer you want most. This could mean adjusting the IBUs if the lactic acid is creeping up on you, or pulling back if the tartness you want isn’t shining through. One of our recent batches lacked body and head retention as a result we’ve taken to Rye which adds more mouthfeel and head retention. Listen to your brew and give it what it needs.
The beauty of the Solera is in giving over control to the yeast and bacteria you now tend in your vessel. We happen to ferment in Speidel 60L and 30L vessels
and utilize wood staves for the barrel aged character
and tannins. Carboys work great, the more the better, always better to have options - especially if you’re experimenting with new strains, bottle dregs, spontaneous ferments or odd adjuncts.
Solera method is a cheat code to producing wild & mixed fermentation beers. Once you get a solid brew going all you have to do is not fu*k it up. Keep in mind after a year or so of running your program you may have to do some maintenance on the cake. It takes quite a bit of build up and time however, and you might experience a “rubber”, “goaty”, or “dog food” like aroma or flavor. While Brettanomyces can clean quite a bit of this shit up, it's best to “help a brother out” and cut that yeast cake down on your next batch. We use a peristaltic pump due to the volumes we play with, but it's also handy to get down and move that cake out to another vessel, either to ferment a new beer with or into a sanitized growler and share with friends as a little piece of our “terroir”.
You will run into folks who say this isn’t a real Solera and they’re going to tell you how you should adjust your recipe. To this I say search out the opinions of people you respect but ultimately brew to your taste. That's what brought us the most joy with our Saison Solera program. This beer of ours, isn’t everyone's cup of tea but Robbie and I have fallen in love with what our little ecosystem spits out on a quarterly basis.
Peace, Love and Understanding
Feel free to reach out on social media. My DMs are always open on IG and Twitter. Would love to hear about everyone's experiences with Solera. Stack Sats and be patient and for fu*ks sake read a book. You can catch Robbie @gardenshedpost on IG or come see us at a DOZE Meeting!
Solera. (n.d.). Milk The Funk Wiki. Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://www.milkthefunk.com/wiki/Solera
R. (2021, June 28). The Solera system: ageing sherry. SherryNotes. https://www.sherrynotes.com/2013/background/sherry-solera-system/
Wikipedia contributors. (2021, August 13). Solera. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solera
Coffey, E. (2014, November 25). Starting a Sour Solera. Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum. https://www.homebrewtalk.com/threads/starting-a-sour-solera.678651/
Tonsmeire, M. (n.d.). Sour Solera Beer Barrel | The Mad Fermentationist - Homebrewing Blog. Mad Fermentationist. Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://www.themadfermentationist.com/2010/03/sour-solera-beer-barrel.html
Tonsmeire, M. (2014). American Sour Beers (1st ed.). Brewers Publications.
Cantwell, D., & Bouckaert, P. (2016). Wood & Beer: A Brewer’s Guide (1st ed.). Brewers Publications.
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