So . . . umm . . . yeah, this is a HUGE subject to cover, but I figure that if we start simple we can get as in-depth as we want. With that in mind, I’m just going to give some general pointers and then we can go from there.
1) Have an idea of what you want from your end product so that you know which microbes and techniques that are best suited for your beer. In other words, making a kettle-soured gose is going to be VERY different from making a traditional lambic style beer in basically every way besides you ending up with sour beer in the end.
2) Understand your souring microbes. In this case, understand your lactic acid producing bacteria or LABs. For instance, if you are expecting sourness in your beer and you use a very IBU intolerant strain of lactobacillus, don’t use any hops or you’re not going to end up with the level of sourness that you want, if you end up with any.
3) Understand your other microbes. Although there are a HUGE amount of microbes present in openly inoculated/spontaneous beers, we’re going to stick with saccharomyces and brettanomyces species here. Just like in the Understanding Brettanomyces thread, you not only have to understand how they work, but you have to understand how they work together. For instance, if you use a saccharomyces strain that produces a lot of banana ester (isoamyl acetate) and you use brettanomyces along with it, don’t expect the final beer to have any of that banana ester, as brett will greatly reduce the amount of that ester in your beer.
4) Help dispel common myths. For instance, contrary to popular belief, sour beers don’t have to take years to make. Unless you’re aiming for a traditional lambic/gueuze or Flemish style beer, that is. Even non-kettle soured beers can be ready to drink in 2 - 3 months. Also, LABs (mainly lactobacillus and pediococcus species) should do the lion’s share of the souring work in your beer, because although Brettanomyces CAN make a beer sour with acetic acid production, you don’t want it to.
5) The more that you read and brew, the better your beer will be. Not that this isn’t true for clean beer as well, but it is ESPECIALLY true for these beers. There are a TON of resources out there that weren’t there even a couple years ago. Use them.
OK . . . go.