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

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

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

3 Fonteinen Guezue Dregs

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 75 min @ 157 F

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.

2/26/15 Completely worth the wait! Really great lemon and funk, very 3F-like.


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.

Justin Dexheimer said...

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

Anonymous 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.

Unknown 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.

Anonymous 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.

Unknown said...

How are you controlling the oxygen intake? I remember that you tried the wooden peg method but abandoned it after the peg got stuck in the carboy.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I don't go out of my way to add extra oxygen/air to my aging sour beers. There's a risk of adding too much and producing excessive acetic acid or ethyl acetate. Brett still produces everything but without it.

Unknown said...

Hi Mike

I just checked my lambic that has been sitting in the fermenter for nearly 18 months now. I made the rookie mistake of fermenting with us-05 first then racking to a carboy 7 days later and adding the roeselare pack.

My problem is there is almost zero sourness or funk. There's the remains of a very mild pellicle floating on top so the brett definitely had a go. It's really disheartening because I have a 8 month old flanders red that's tasting great. Do you think adding maltodextrin could help along or is it a lost cause?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Maltodextrin certainly could help, especially with the acidity. Bottle dregs from a couple of your favorite unpasteurized sours could be a nice boost as well!

Unknown said...

I was planning on growing up a big starter of bottle dregs for my next lambic. Maybe I'll split that in half and add some when I add the maltodextrin. I also added about half a pint of my flanders red last night to try and get some more variety in there. Thanks Mike!

Pewther said...

Hi, looking at your timeline, you seem to have bottled this at the 2 year mark. Is there a reason for that? I ask that because I have a similar beer thats a year old currently, used 3F dregs also. I'm getting lemon and plenty of funk at the moment, the 3F dregs seem to have given it that sherbet mouthfeel. Should I sit on it for another year?


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Mine went really sulfur-diaper at nine months (when I switched to a solid bung) and needed more time to off-gas once I switched back to an airlock. If yours has a stable gravity along with good flavor, no reason to sit on it!

Jeremy said...

Hey Mike,

Can you go into some detail on your steps for the starter you made for this beer? Did you take any steps to encourage growth of some microbes and limit others? Multiple steps? I can't seem to find much info on stepping up lambic dregs for primary fermentation. Much appreciated.


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Nothing too special. I aerated, but didn't leave it open (to discourage Acetobacter). I stepped out up after about 10 days if I recall correctly (something like 4 oz to 16 oz). Best of luck!

Unknown said...

This looks awesome! Did you rack to secondary using a smaller carboy or let it age the two years in the six gallon better bottle? I've heard lambics might rest on the original yeast cake their whole lives. But five gallons of beer sitting for so long in a six gallon carboy makes me worry about oxygen exposure.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I let it age in primary on the yeast. Head space doesn't change the amount of air that gets through the airlock or stopper. Head space is an issue in barrels where the wood not in contact with beer dries out and creates gaps between the staves. The only time you have to be careful with a partially filled carboy is when pulling samples, you could always flush the head space with CO2 after if you were paranoid (but I don't bother)! I've never gotten acetic character from monthly samples, so I don't worry about it.

Unknown said...

I'm aiming to produde my first "lambic" and my will is to go with a big starter from many bottle dregs plus 1 pack of 3728 wyeast lambic blend for more security/consistency. They both will be pitched in the primary. No aged hops but an IBU of about 5, infusion mash at 70°c. 60% pils + 33% flaked wheat + 6% maltodextrine. It will be a small batch of 3 gallons.

I am doubtful about dimensioning and stepping the bottle dregs starter. My will is to use 3 fonteinen oude gueuze along with kriek de ranke and some orval. The fact is that all of these dregs will be added not all in a once, as you did, but as long as i will drink the beers, maybe in 2 weeks for about 4 75cl bottles, let's say. These should be the schedule:

day one: 2 orval bottle dregs for 25cl starter.
day four: 1 75cl bottle dregs added (de ranke, that should be younger than 3 fonteinen)
day six: 1 75cl bottle dregs added (3 fonteinen)
day eight: starter stepped to 50cl
day ten: 1 75cl bottle dregs added (3 fonteinen)
day fourteen: brewday. pitch the whole starter along with the wy3728.

Apart from all the unpredictability of the process itself could be this un accectable way to proceed?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Sure, assuming the lambic blend is fresh the Sacch it contains will protect the wort while the other microbes continue to grow. Honestly you could pitch the dregs directly without a starter in this scenario and make a fine beer. Remember to taste the beers first before adding them to the culture!

Unknown said...

The reason for i have tought of a starter for the dregs it's not because i want to ferment the whole batch with the dregs alone. I was thinking for a "starter" because i would like to pitch many many bottle dregs and possibly give the bugs of the dregs the access to the oxygen at the time of pitching the whole batch in the brewday. So, as long as i cannot drink all of those bottles the same day of the brewday the idea was to go with this starter...

Pitching the dregs directly wihtout the starter would consists probably in one bottle maybe (or maybe not) pitched in the brewday, but all of the others maybe some days after.

I would like, in my idea, to have a batch on which the dregs should play an important role (not as much as in your case), but a very big role, anyway.

Pitching the dregs days after would not give them access to the oxygen, is it correct?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The Brett will work even if it is added later without oxygen; the strain that is the most suited to the conditions will thrive. This may or may not produce the best flavor. A small starter culture with several dregs will work, just taste each bottle first before adding to the culture. I added dregs from an off bottle of 3 Fonteinen Gueuze to a starter I was making for Modern Times, had to dump it.

Unknown said...

Ok, thank you!