A well-written beer article should make you thirst. Not “let’s throw some cans in the cooler and go to the beach” thirst, but the urge to order some ingredients and pop open Beersmith for some quick calculations. My “I have to make it now” sensation happens when I’m hungry and want to cook. Four hours and two grocery trips later my kitchen looks like it’s been through the noodle incident. However, the havoc often times does yield some amazing results. I do occasionally get this craving with beer & brewing – not terribly often, but occasionally. The Mad Fermentationist is probably the site that gets me energized the most, followed by some of the articles in Zymurgy and BYO.
Food bloggers have it easy. They can pile together some bright colorful ingredients, stack them up pretty, drizzle something for good effect, and it can look amazing. But for beer, we’re almost entirely committed to the shape of the glass, SRMs 1-80, and a frothy head. So then it comes down to the text of appearance, mouthfeel, flavor, etc. – and this is how I came upon wanting to brew a lambic style beer: words. It wasn’t some lovely window shot of a straw colored clear ale with a strong head – it was a wall of text, or rather several of them.
When I moved to Portland, Maine in the fall of 2011, I brought a 15-gallon kettle, two Cornelius-style kegs, and a single glass carboy. I thought brewing was going to take a back seat in my life and I’d get outside more, foster friendships, and woodworking. Fortunately for me, all of the above happened, and in great force. I got outdoors, made friends, and one of those friends had just begun experimenting with sour beer. I tried a taste of a beer he had been fermenting for a few months; even early on, the flavors and complexity it delivered was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. The beer accomplished all of this complexity without an insane amount of IBUs as well! He happened to have a conical and sent me home with a slurry of 2nd generation Roselare – even after beating him at cribbage over and over.
I whipped together a Flanders style beer, somewhat unintentionally as I just put together a malt bill I thought would be good. I hadn’t brewed in a while, and the malt bill came together in the beer much to my surprise. Needless to say, after drinking this I was hooked. It was partway through this experience I had heard about lambic. Not sweetened Framboise I’d been drinking from Costco, but the real thing: golden, tart, and funky. I got my hands on a few bottles and was instantly in love.
I read everything I could on the matter. I found magazine articles, scholarly articles, Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow, snippets from larger texts, powerpoints, audio clips, and everything I could find. As my obsession with the style grew so did my brew cellar. I realized I would need to ferment in wooden barrels if I was going to make authentic lambic style beer. I’d need to do a turbid mash, and I’d need to have as big of a system as I could get to fill those barrels. I bought two 55 gallon Blichmann kettles from a brewery in town that was upgrading and ordered a 55 gallon stainless drum from Bubba’s Barrels. I got a plate chiller, burners, ten sacks of grain on the next club group buy, two of which were unmalted wheat – and I soon had everything I needed. I read through and printed out all the steps I’d need to turbid mash and did it.
The first time took me 10 hours. If you’ve read my previous posts on lambic you can see how I did it. It came out great. It won two local competitions with the most senior judge describing it as “an unbelievably authentic product to be found outside Belgium.” I was obsessed, thrilled, and had a burning desire to do it again. After all, I’d need three years of lambic if I wanted to age them into a gueuze.
This post reflects on the most recent and finally drink batch I made (unblended) in Anchorage, AK. Yes, a few bottles did make the move 🙂 I brewed this batch with a good friend of mine in mid-April, 2014. There was no 2015 Lambic as I moved across the country last year, although I did brew two wild beers in October and am barrel aging them in my lambic barrels. This version was a long brew day, but not as long as the first time I turbid mashed. I will attempt a full “authentic” turbid mash lambic again next year.
Fast forward to this week, and I decided to put a bit of it on draft here in Alaska. It’s different than the other two batches, but all the main flavor components are there. A pleasant acidity, plenty of funk, and a smooth finish. If you are on the fence about trying a lambic style beer – or wild beer in general – I encourage you to give it a try, it’ll quench your thirst.
|Batch Size||Boil Time||IBU||SRM||Est. OG||Est. FG||ABV|
|50 gal||60 min||0.0 IBUs||3.4 SRM||1.056||1.016||5.3 %|
|Name||Cat.||OG Range||FG Range||IBU||SRM||Carb||ABV|
|Straight (Unblended) Lambic||17 D||1.04 - 1.054||1.001 - 1.01||0 - 10||3 - 7||1.8 - 2.6||5 - 6.5 %|
|Pilsner (2 Row) UK||67 lbs||65.69|
|Raw Wheat||35 lbs||34.31|
|Cascade||1.125 lbs||60 min||Boil||Pellet||0|
|Belgian Lambic Blend (3278)||Wyeast Labs||70%||63°F - 75°F|
|Mash In||152°F||60 min|
|Mash Out||168°F||10 min|
|Download this recipe's BeerXML file|
Brewday notes: An unexpectedly uneventful brew day for a turbid mash. Barrel had been emptied the previous day, so I just filled it right back up after a hot water rinse. A single package of Lambic Blend for the whole barrel.
Appearance: Golden color. Some light haze. Slightly darker than v1 and v2, but still pleasant. Some head that lingers for a minute or two.
Mouthfeel: Pleasant carbonation. Low to medium body.
Flavor: Nice tart acidity, complemented with plenty of grassy funk. If Lambic v1 had some barnyard flavor, then this would be a barnyard after a thunderstorm, as in not quite as clean – fuller mouthfeel, some musky notes. A little more dense, but not overpowering. Finishes smoother with a lingering bit of acid. Not too overpowering.
Impressions: Really a nice beer, although the flavors are a tiny bit “cloudy.” Lambic v1 was entered in another competition and docked for being “too clean” of a beer, I think this one would be on the other end of the spectrum but not “dirty.” I’m enjoying it thoroughly. Also played with adding some Alaskan raspberry juice as well, which produces a phenomenal faux Framboise.