Monday, September 10, 2012

Stolen Microbes - Lambic with 3 Fonteinen Dregs

Probably the best tasting I have been to.
What do the Belgian gueuze producers still have over the upstart American sour beer producers? For me, the best gueuze has a balance of acidity and funk that I have yet to taste from even the best American brewers (although some are getting very close). My favorite, 3 Fonteinen, produces beers that have a softness and drinkability that I prefer over the brash acidity of some American and Belgian sour beer brewers. 3 Fonteinen gueuze isn’t bland, on the contrary Armand Debelder's blending creates layers of flavors from only four ingredients (Pilsner malt, raw wheat, aged hops, and water) that are unmatched by every seven-malt-fruited-double-barrel-aged beer I have tasted.

How is this possible? I give some of the credit to the slow, spontaneous fermentation. Breweries that rely on wild microbes living in the oak of their barrels have a wide variety of different cultures, which are grown and selected organically over time (the barrels that make the best beer are retained and used to inoculate new barrels). This is a huge advantage over breweries that have a single commercial house culture that is pitched to sour all of their sour beers. Luckily American breweries like Jolly Pumpkin, Hill Farmstead, Allagash, and others are taking this route as well.

The cooled wort next to the 3 Fonteinen dreg starter.
The best Belgian gueuze blenders also have more experience blending sour beers. Most of them only have one base beer to deal with, which allows them to draw from a wider selection when crafting each blend. The longer time they let their beers age is a big factor as well, not many American sour beers spend more than 18 months in oak, while 3 Fonteinen just released Golden Blend a blend that includes four-year-old lambic.

While I’ve been happy with the results produced by the local DC wild microbes that I cultured last year, I wanted to steal some microbes directly from Armand’s beers (more than just a single strain of Brett). My chance came when my friend Dyan invited me to a going-away 3 Fonteinen blowout tasting he threw for himself. That night the six of us went through a total of 11 beers (the four Armand’4, Hommage, Golden Blend, 2009 Oude Gueuze, Vintage 2002 and 2007, 2005 Doesjel, and Straffe Winter). While not every beer was remarkable (although most were), the Armand’4 Lente (spring) may have been the most astonishing gueuze I have tasted. It was fresh, with bready malt, bright grapefruit, flowers, and anchored by a gentle enveloping funk.

In addition to contributing the uncarbonated Doesjel, I brought a bomber containing 12 ounces of sterile starter wort that I used to harvest the dregs from the four seasonal Armand’4 (the last of the lambic brewed at 3 Fonteinen not lost in the 2009 warehouse temperature incident), plus the fresher of the “Vintage” bottles (a blend of Armand’s favorite barrels) and the excellent 2009 Oude Gueuze. I allowed the microbes to grow in the bomber for a few weeks with an airlock attached, to avoid the acetic acid production that occurs in the presence of oxygen.

Racking the lambic wort to the fermentor.
Rather than a complex turbid mash that I have executed for batches of lambic in the past, I decided to follow Dave Pyle’s wort production process, a simple single infusion. In addition to malted wheat, I added the extra pound of flaked spelt I had on hand for a recent batch of saison. I also shortened the boil from the traditional three-plus-hours, but I retained the well-aged hops.

Rather than force chilling the wort, as I have done for every batch of beer I have ever brewed, I allowed it to cool slowly, open to the air. My goal was to introduce microbes that are active early in spontaneous fermentations, but do not survive the long aging (e.g., enteric bacteria and oxidative yeasts). I didn’t want the cooling beer to sit on the large amount of spent hops, so I scooped them out of the wort during the last few minutes of the boil. I left the uncovered brew pot outside until the wort cooled enough to stop steaming, before bringing it down to my air-conditioned barrel room. 18 hours later with the wort chilled to the ambient 66 F, I pitched the 3 Fonteinen dreg starter. Fermentation took three days to show the first signs of activity, but was so active that it was still blowing off four days later. Like all of my sours it will be awhile before I can judge the results of this process, but after a month the beer already has some acidity and a complex fruity flavor.

Coincidentally the article I wrote about six months ago about American wild ales, and at-home spontaneous fermentation, was published in the September issue of BYO. I’ve got a couple more articles coming in the next few months (“Other” Fermentations, followed by American brewed dark lagers), so if you want to read those, subscribe with this link (so I get half the subscription cost)!

The first page of my BYO article on American Wild Ales.Lambic #6 - Drie

Recipe Specifics
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 9.50
Anticipated OG: 1.052
Anticipated SRM: 3.2
Anticipated IBU: 11.8
Brewhouse Efficiency: 76 %
Wort Boil Time: 130 Minutes

Grain
-----
60.5% - 5.75 lbs. German Pilsener
28.9% - 2.75 lbs. Wheat Malt
10.5% -  1.00 lbs. Flaked Spelt

Hops
------
3.00 oz. Willamette (Whole, Aged Four Years, ~1.00% AA) @ 125 min.

Yeast
-----
3 Fonteinen Guezue Dregs

Water Profile
-------------
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
-------------
Sacch Rest - 75 min @ 157 F

Notes
-----
Starter made from dregs from the four Armand'4 Oude Gueuzes, Golden Blend, and 2009 3F Gueuze.

Brewed 8/11/12

Decided against a turbid mash. Batch sparged, reached 170 F after the infusion.

Collected 8 gallons of 1.034 runnings. Hops were ~4.5 year old Willamettes that had been open for about 18 months. Used a strainer to remove most of the hops during the last 5 minutes of the boil. Allowed to cool uncovered outside to 150 F. Left in 66 F barrel room uncovered for 18 hours.

Racked to 6 gallon BetterBottle., shook for a minute, then pitched the 12 oz starter (smelled fruity, tart, light funk).

Fermentation was slow to start, but by the third morning there was a thin white skin, and by that night full-blown fermentation. 24 hours later the beer began blowing off vigorously.

8/2/14 Bottled all 4.5 gallons with a couple grams of rehydrated Pasteur Champagne yeast and 4 1/8 oz of table sugar (aiming for 2.6 volumes). Added 2 cones each Simcoe and Amarillo to the first and last two bottles.

11 comments:

danger said...

3f dregs are the bomb. no other dregs made beer as good/perfect. wish i could still get some.

Pulsatorius said...

66 F seems a bit to warm. Lambio brewers usually don't brew when it is to warm. They say the Lambic gets to funky.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

You are correct, but there are two reasons I'm not that concerned about the slightly elevated temperature.

Lambic brewers are dealing with a much larger volume of wort than I was. They target cooling in less than 24 hours, and that's where this batch ended up.

I pitched propagated microbes, so I'm not relying entirely on those that happen to fall into the wort.

That's what I hope anyway, I'll have a better sense in a year or so.

Unknown said...

Wish I had a nice mix of dregs like that. Let me know if you have any to get rid of ;)

gastrobubbie said...

I dropped the ball on getting the White Labs Brett III when it was out but frequent mentions of this brewery and your post inspired me to seek out a bottle (seemingly the only one in Brooklyn) of the Kriek for use in my first Lambic style brew. I also used your sour bottle dregs post to grab a few bottles for possible inoculation. Thanks for all your hard work!

Chris said...

Sounds awesome! I recently brewed my first sour and used your blog for a great reference. I think I went with the wheat dry yeast (safale?) for my sacc strain and pitched dregs from Cantillon, Hanssen's, Lindeman's, and Castle.

Thanks for all of the info! Maybe eventually I'll be brave enough to use wild DC yeast on purpose some day.

John King said...

Any update on this? I just got back from a Belgium beer tour and brought back a few bombers of 3F among others and am wanting to give this a shot. Think your yeast approach is better than using a wyeast lambic smack pack.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Fermenting with dregs is always a gamble. Until a month or so ago this batch was tasting fantastic (very 3 Foteinen). Sadly the last sample I pulled took a turn for the sulfury. Still not even a year old, so plenty of time left for it to turn a corner. We shall see.

A good middle ground would be to pitch both the blend and dregs. You'll get some consistency from the commercial yeast, and added complexity from the truly wild bugs.

greategretbrewery said...

It's been 15 months. How is this tasting now?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

It was pretty damn sulfury for a period there, something I tasted in a recent bottle of 3F Oude Gueuze. I'd gone to a solid stopped, but switched back to an airlock. The aroma is mostly gone now, tasting pretty good (decent tartness, classic lemon-funk) but I'll give it a few more months before bottling.

Albright said...

So I am about to brew my first Sour once the weather warms up, and a friend and I are going to pitch the dregs form at least 4 beers. Probably some Cuvee Renee, Supplication, Orval, probably an oakshire wild or something like that. My friend got a bottle of Juliet and I want to convince him to use that too. I was wondering if this was enough with a normal sacch strain or if I should get a Wyeast blend too? I want to be successful but I like the idea of using these for the complexity.
Thanks

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