Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tasting Lambic (Not pLambic) 2.0

Lambic/Gueuze is one of the most complex, intricate, and confusing styles to brew.  Virtually every stage of the process from the mash, through carbonation can be different that the "standard" brewing procedure.  Things like turbid mashing, aged hops, spontaneous fermentation, barrel aging, and blending are all parts of the traditional process.  Homebrewers have employed all of these (as well many substitute procedures), but which of these are the key components required to replicate the acidic, fruity, funky beer?

While I've had great success brewing sour beers in general, producing a great homebrewed Lambic has so far eluded me.  The first batch I brewd was nearly undrinkable (poor fermentation), while this second batch is drinkable it doesn't have the right balance.  I have high hopes for my third attempt, at a year old it has a great deal of complexity and a moderate acidity that I hope will continue to increase over the next 6-12 month. 

2.0 was brewed with 70% pils, 30% raw wheat, using the Wyeast Lambic Mash (from Wild Brews).  It received a four hour boil with 3 oz of ultra-low AA% Hallertau Select hops.  I did a standard chill then pitched Wyeast Lambic Blend, Vinnie's Russian River bug chips, and the dregs from Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze (the best Gueuze available in my opinion).  The only major issue with the process was that the complex mash, hot sparge, and long boil conspired to give the beer an OG of 1.070 (well above the standard range for commercial examples 1.040-1.060, although Boon makes a great 8% ABV Gueuze called Mariage Parfait).

On a side note, I refuse to call the beers I brew pLambics (psuedo Lambics) for the same reason I don't say pKolsch or pEnglish Pale Ale.  I think the fact that I am an American homebrewer is enough to imply that these beers are made in the spirit of the Belgian brewers who have the right to use the term Lambic commercially.

A glass of Lambic 2.0Lambic 2.0

Appearance – Moderately hazy yellow-gold. Pours with a huge head that quickly sinks to a scant ring of tiny bubbles despite the high carbonation.

Smell – Great big funky bretty nose, floral/honey, lemon rind, lots of subtle complexities. It is a bit rough/rustic compared to my favorite Lambics, but it isn't far off. As it warms up a bit of that clean ethanol comes out, but the funk does a good job of hiding it.

Taste – Sadly the taste doesn't have the acidity to back up that big aroma. It comes off more like a De Proef beer (one of the Flemish Primitive or Reinhart Wild Ale), faintly tart but the overall balance is closer to a Belgian strong golden (crisp, dry, moderate mineral bitterness). The funk gives it most of its character, making for a beer that lacks depth. The finish has a mild mineral character that I don't really care for, but it isn't objectionable.

Mouthfeel – The mouthfeel is much bigger than a standard Lambic, which isn't so surprising when you consider it has an OG .020 higher than most commercial offerings. Great carbonation, and certainly dry/crisp for such a big beer, but without the acidity it just isn't the same.

Drinkability & Notes – Compared to the first Lambic I brewed this is a great beer, but I should have watered it down before fermentation. The high gravity sent this off on a tangent (probably too strong for the lactic acid bacteria), but I'm happy to be getting closer to my target.  A bit of 88% lactic acid added to the glass improved things, but it didn't fix it completely.


Unknown said...

To refuse to call something what it is seems a little disrespectful to the commercial brewers who carry on the tradition of spontaneous fermentation at Lambic brewery's in Pajattonland. Unless your doing spontaneous fermentation then your making a pure culture Lambic aka a pLambic. It's not a psuedo Lambic but a Lambic where you know exactly what kind of bugs your putting in there and not just what was in the air that day. I understand where your coming from but I don't think being an American homebrewer is "enough to imply that these beers are made in the spirit of the Belgian brewers who have the right to use the term Lambic commercially." Is a sparkling white wine from New York state Champagne?

Tim said...

I have to agree with Joseph's comments. It is out of respect that the different name came into use. Also, the "p" can also stand for "pure culture." With their spontaneous project Allagash seems to have carefully avoided the mistakes that early American sparkling wine producers made in using a name associated with a region. We should follow their lead on that one.

Anonymous said...

I have brewed beer for over twenty years. The fact that people get worked up over lambic beer and no others bothers me.

As home brewers we do not sell our beer, so it should not matter what we call it. If you come to my house and I offer you a lambic beer I made you will know what I am talking about and have no problem with it.

Only when products are sold on the open market do we, or should we, back into a PC corner and call them by some bastardized version of the regional local that produces such a product for sale.

It is not a respect thing because the brewers from Belgian do not frequent my garage.

If they do I will ofter them a Triple, Quad or a Saison.

BW, out.

Adrian Avgerinos said...

"On a side note, I refuse to call the beers I brew pLambics (psuedo Lambics) for the same reason I don't say pKolsch or pEnglish Pale Ale."

Good on ya, I say!

Scott said...

I thought I've had some of your "Kolsch" before?!


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

My feelings on beer styles are that they should be about the finished beer, not the process that goes into creating it (although in this case I still shouldn't call this one a Lambic). Strictly speaking, commercially it is the “Oude” appellation that is the indicator of a traditionally made Lambic.

In my defense this was not a “pure culture” Lambic, it contains bugs from Pajattonland (dregs), as well as who knows what from Sonoma Valley (chips). I don’t have the slightest idea what strains/cultures are in there (although clearly not enough alcohol tolerant lacto/pedio).

“Is a sparkling white wine from New York state Champagne?” not legally, but I have no problem calling it Champagne colloquially. Do you say moderate gravity ale with English hops instead of English Pale Ale? Do you say Kolsch when legally that term applies only to that style of beer brewed in Cologne? Etc…

Anonymous said...

I though lambic brewers traditionally didn't have the power to brew full rolling boils and most of the 4 -12 hr boils were more of a very light simmer? That would keep your O.G. down.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Wild Brews mention a poor boil being the case for one Flanders Red/Buin producer, but I had never heard that about Lambics. The actual turbid mash I did for my third batch had much lower efficiency due to (intentional) poor conversion. If I used the Wyeast mash again I would just lower the amount of grain used to account for the boost in extraction.

dmambrose said...

maybe calling it a Lambican