Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lambic Blended/Bottled/Fruited

Last weekend I took a trip up to see my parents in Massachusetts. The three sour beers I have up there were still looking good. The last pictures they sent me made we worried that there was some mold growing (more than just in the airlock), but on close inspection it was just dried beer in some places and souring microbes in others.

The Cable Car clone still needs more time, it is just starting to get funky, without any sourness to speak of. I added some French oak cubes that had soaked in the same Lost Abbey Red Poppy starter that I used on my Flanders Red and Big Funky. I may feed it a few ounces of malt extract the next time I am up to give the bugs something else to eat.

The Flanders Pale has a terrific funky nose, but only a soft tartness. The oak leg looked pretty beaten up so I decided to replace it with a standard stopper and airlock. It is very dry so it will be time to bottle half of it the next time I am up there. I also have 2 lbs of plumcots (Dapple Dandy pluots) that I pitted, quartered, vacupacked, and froze that I will add to the other half of the batch.

My Lambic finally tasted nicely sour, but it had gotten enough sharp acetic acid (probably from the airlock going dry) that I decided to blend one gallon of the Flanders Pale into it and visa versa. To accomplish this I transferred two gallons of each beer into a bottling bucket, then transferred two gallons of the blend back into each carboy. I bottled half of the blended lambic with 3/4 cup of light DME, I considered adding fresh yeast but decided the relatively fresh 1 year old Flanders Pale Ale would provide enough viable microbes to get the job done eventually (I am in no hurry on this one).

After bottling half of the now blended lambic I transferred the remainder of the batch onto 4.4 lbs of local blueberries. The berries were frozen for about 8 hours to break up the cell walls before they were added to the beer. I plan on bottling this portion in another month, but it will depend on the flavor and attenuation. The base beer is at 1.002, so if it is much higher than that in a month I may transfer the beer to tertiary and leave it there until it dries out.

Originally I planned to split this batch of lambic five ways leaving one gallon plain and adding four different fruits to one gallon each, but in the end I decided it would waste (during transferring, bottling etc...) less of this precious elixir just to do half with a fruit and half without. I liked the idea of blueberries because they are native to America, have a distinct flavor that I love, and have only very rarely been used to make lambic (Cantillon Blåbær Lambik and Upland Blueberry Lambic are the only two commercial ones as far as I know).

In the case of the Cantillon Blåbær Lambik it seems that they may not have used what we refer to as blueberries here in America. According to Wiki “The names of blue berries in languages other than English often translate as "blueberry", e.g. Scots Blaeberry and Norwegian Blåbær, although those berries may belong to another species. For example, Blåbær and French myrtilles usually refer to the European native bilberry, while bleuets refers to the North American blueberry.”

I'd like to encourage people to branch out and try something in their fruit beers besides the two old standbys, cherries and raspberries. These days there are so many options, particularly in the summer when terrific fresh fruit is available at local farmer's markets for so much less than those Oregon Purees.

You can see how kind my parents are, allowing me to stack up beer in their spare closet. The cases down the bottom are of the various sour beers I have made, if I didn't have somewhere to keep them I would drink through them far too quickly. I also have some high alcohol homebrews that have not made it to their peak yet. In addition I am keeping some commercial beer that need a bit more age, nothing too amazing at the moment, but certainly some tasty stuff including a 2006 Stone RIS, 2006 Dragonslayer, 2007 Mikkeller Black Hole, 2007 Jolly Pumpkin Noel, Cuvee de Ranke, Fuller's Vintage 1998, and Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien 2006.


Anonymous said...

Haha, I see you've been to Nürnberg as well! I have one of those bottles in my basement, too.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I was in Germany for a few weeks when I was about 5, but I have never been to Nürnberg. The bottles were given to me a few years ago by a friend’s parents who lived over there in the 80s. I intended to get new gaskets and fill them up, but I have not gotten around to it yet. Sharp eye though.

Josh said...

I'm still amazed that these things take a year plus to hit their stride.

Seawolf said...

I think I'm starting to see a pellicle forming in mine. I can't remember if I told you in an email, but I bought a baluster from Home Depot, and put it through a stopper. It's sitting about an inch deep into the beer. I also added 1/2 oz oak chips.

Oh, I pitched Safale US-05 into the primary, and Roeselare into the secondary. The ambient temp in my apartment is around 72F. What do you think, 6-10 months for maturity? Is that too quick? Once it's in the bottle, are you just waiting for it to carb, or does it need to sit for an extended period for further aging? I know it won't get any more sour character in the bottle, but will it develop any other flavors in the bottle?

btw, your blog is great! Where in MA are your parents? My parents live in the Boston area, and I grew up in the North Shore.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Sour beers really are a labor of love. This lambic will take about 30 months from when I brewed it until it is really ready to go. Even then another 2-3 years in the bottle will hopefully transform it from tasty to delicious.

Sour beers really defy prediction, the same base beer with the same microbes can mature at very different rates for no apparent reason. After 6-10 months you certainly may have a tasty Flanders Red, but I would guess it will take longer than that if you want more than mild acidity. Wait at least 6 months then give it a taste and based on that decide how you want to proceed. I believe even the “young” portion of Rodenbach’s standard Flanders Red is about 6 months old, with the old portion ranging from 18-24 months.

I find that my sour beers have some minor off flavors and a generally muted character for the first couple months after they have carbonated. After a few months in the bottle the off flavor goes away and the overall character of the beer improves considerably. This may be a good reason to add a neutral bottling strain, it should eat the priming sugar before the other microbes have a chance to make any new byproducts.

My parents live in Wayland, a small town about 20 miles west of Boston.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike, you're right on the spot about the blueberries, the stuff they put in Cantillons Blåbär would be the wild version native to Scandinavia, these are much smaller than the ones you have in the US, typically they're about the size of a small pea..

Speaking of fruit in lambic, on two separate occasion have I had the privilege of tasting the excellent Cantillon Soleil de Minuit. This is a standard Cantillon with Swedish cloudberries added. This beer was only made once (1997) and the flavour is really, really different. Cloudberries by themselves have a really peculiar taste (bog-like.. no really, they taste like swamp, probably because they only grow in swamps) and matched with the tartness in the Cantillon.. wow!

I think I'll have to try and give this a go myself.. the cloudberries are not a problem.. making a lambic even remotely close to Cantillon, that's the challenge..

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Thanks for confirming what I suspected. I probably should have waited another month and gotten the smaller wild American variety, might have given me something closer. That said, I’m sure mine will still be pretty tasty.

A cloudberry Lambic certainly sound interesting. Dogfish Head is the only brewery that has used them in America (as far as I am aware), but that was just in a limited run wheat if I remember correctly.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! I just found your blog through Google when searching for blueberry lambic (which I'm planning to begin brewing after Christmas).

/A Swedish homebrewing enthusiast

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Good luck, I'll have to try it again one of these days in a better base beer.

Scyrene said...

Quick question: do you wash your fruit, or blanch it or anything? I'm just thinking there might be wild microorganisms on the surface, which you might not want. Does the freezing (in the case of the blueberries) do the trick, or are the conditions in the beer hostile enough to prevent contamination?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I saw you found the answer on another post, but I thought I'd answer just in case anyone else reading the comments was interested. I think with all of the microbes pitched into a sour beer (not to mention the alcohol, and low pH) the ones on the skin of fruit aren't a concern. A rinse to get dirt off isn't a bad idea. Freezing helps open up the cell walls, but doesn't do much to kill the microbes.

jan said...

How long do you usually keep the fruits in the lambic? Or even after the break down?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Two to three months is usually enough for the bugs to ferment out all of the sugars from the fruit. After that all you have to worry about is that the fruit flavor will start to fade. This is why I tend to age the beer for awhile before adding fruit. The sooner you bottle, the more of those fresh flavors will be there for you to enjoy. In my experience even after much longer the fruit remains relatively intact, I have never experienced it dissolving completely (let alone seeds or pits).

Drewski said...

Samplings of my first shot at a lambic taste great (almost 1 year in the fermenter). I'd like to bottle it, but there's still a good funky looking layer of some kind o' something on top (all off-white, no technicolor). Will this eventually settle back in or is it okay to bottle now, said funky layer and all?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Pellicles will often stick around after a beer is safe to bottle. If the beer tastes ready, and the gravity has been stable for at least a month, you're good to go!

Glad it turned out well!

Drewski said...

Thanks, Mike. Cheers!

Clint said...

Have you ever neutralized the bugs in your lambic before adding fruit? Didn't know if the sugars from the fruit would help add sweetness and mimic a Lindemanns I little more. Sorry for replying to an old thread. Your book was awesome BTW. Thanks!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I'm not a big fan of the Lindemanns fruit beers, so no. I have done that for my Courage Russian Imperial Stout recipe, to prevent Brett from drying it out completely.

The problem with fruit, is that Sacch will ferment out the sugars, so you'd need to keg if you want them preserved.

Cheers on the book! The Packaging chapter has some more discussion on your options here!