Homebrew Recipe: Provisional Sour Belgian Brown

Key Points for Key Pints:

  • Low IBUs. Lactic acid bacteria are very sensitive to hop acids, and besides, we don’t want hop bitterness to clash with the fantastic caramel apple/raisin/chocolate malt profile we’re building. We should be able to take off our Tevas or Chacos, count up total IBUs for this batch on fingers and toes, and still have some digits left over.

  • Keep it warm. Lactobacillus love warm fermentation temps but hate high alcohol levels—our strategy will be to encourage acid production early on in the fermentation, before the bacteria become inhibited by rising alcohol levels. For the blend I’m using, a fermentation temp in the low to mid 80s will strike a happy medium between bacteria and brewer’s yeast.

  • Variations with fruit. If you want to try your hand at incorporating fruit into a portion or all of the batch, plan on a secondary fermentation in a bucket or wide-mouth carboy to make addition and clean-up easier. Blanch fresh fruit briefly in boiling water, then freeze until ready to use. Once fermentation slows, put the frozen fruit into the sanitized fermentor, then siphon the young beer in on top of it.

To the homebrewery!

Note: these steps are general guidelines and assume you’re already familiar with the all-grain brewing process—refer to the instructions for your brew system, and adjust as needed based on experience with your own particular equipment.


  1. Make a yeast starter prior to brew day—this is a big beer and will need lots of yeast!

  2. On brew day, collect strike water (I use 1.3 quarts per pound, YMMV) and heat to approx. 165°F.

  3. Mill the grains, or have it done for you at the shop.

Mash & Sparge

  1. Add all grains to strike water and mix to achieve a uniform temperature of 151–153°F. Rest the mash at this temperature for 60–90 minutes.
    While the mash rests, collect and heat sparge water.

  2. When the mash rest is complete, heat it to 170°F for mashout.

  3. Sparge and collect the wort in the boil kettle.


  1. Bring the wort to a boil, crack a homebrew as the wort begins to boil, and boil for 60 minutes.

  2. Add 1.25 oz Hallertau hops 30 minutes before the end of the boil.

  3. Cool it!

Fermentation and beyond

  1. Transfer the cooled wort to a sanitized fermenter, aerate well, and pitch yeast.

  2. Aim for a fermentation temp of 80-85°F to encourage Lactobacillus activity.

  3. Rack to a secondary fermenter once the beer reaches terminal gravity (somewhere around 1.010–1.015, depending on your choice of yeast culture). Condition at a warm temp in secondary until the flavor, acidity, and character of any optional fruit additions are to your liking, then package.

  4. This sour brown will take at least several months to fully develop, and will continue evolving for up to a year or two in your cellar.

Until next time: drink it like you brewed it.


Like this recipe? You can find it and 63 other witty and detailed homebrew recipes in Michael Dawson’s book, “Mashmaker: A Citizen-Brewer’s Guide to Making Great Beer at Home.” In each recipe, Dawson includes suggestions on how to modify and customize each beer, along with all-new essays on Malt, Hops, Yeast, and Water, giving readers critical insight into the building blocks of every successful brew. On sale now for $24.95 at mashmakerbook.com.

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