Thursday, February 26, 2015

Stolen Microbes - Lambic Tasting

Lambic fermentations are complex business. While a commercial cocktail of a half dozen microbe species can replicate the major flavors (e.g., lactic and acetic acid, ethyl lactate, ethyl acetate, 4-EG, 4-EP) it is impossible for them to replicate every one of the hundreds of compounds produced by the dozens of species responsible for each lambic brewer or blender’s house flavor. Think imitation vanilla compared to real vanilla beans. Thank goodness each bottle of gueuze comes with a free sample of microbes!

However, the microbes in the bottle do not necessarily represent all those responsible for each stage of the fermentation. While many of the oxidative yeast and Enterobacteriaceae at work early in the fermentation have been dead for years (thankfully - considering some are pathogenic) the acids, alcohols, and enzymes they produced have a profound influence on the aromatics produced by the hardier microbes which follow.

To get the best of both, I naturally cooled my sixth batch of lambic uncovered in my barrel room and then pitched a starter grown from six especially delicious bottles of 3 Fonteinen gueuze. Always judge what to pitch based on the beer in the bottle, rather than the label on the bottle (although fresher is always better). If I was gutsier, I would have allowed my local microflora a 48-72 hour head start before pitching the starter. Maybe next time!

I've been storing these bottles on their sides, so an appropriate excuse to breakout a lambic basket!

3F-Microbe Lambic

Putting a lambic basket to it's intended use.Appearance – Slightly hazy golden body. The dense white foam sitting on top does its best to maintain lift for a few minutes, but gradually deflates to a thin covering. Despite the wheat, lambics rarely have prodigious heads, thanks to the protein-munching bacteria.

Smell – Potent mix of dusty-Brett funk and brighter lemony-tropical-fruitiness. Has some mineral-like notes as well. It is reminiscent of 3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze more than anything else; more towards my preference for citrus zest and minerals rather than strong horse stall or vinegar.

Taste – Sour, but not bracing. Drenched in citrus (lemon rind) which gives it a bright/lively character. Ripe pineapple as well. Nicely funky, fresh hay, and old baseball mitt. Each sip finishes minerally, a little chalky. Just a hair of acetic sharpness in the finish, less than many commercial gueuzes. It retains an edge of sulfurousness that this batch was saturated with when it was young (thanks to some time with a hard stopper).

Mouthfeel – Refreshing, crisp, although it could use slightly more carbonation to reach classic gueuze-level pop. Light tannic astringency.

Drinkability & Notes – Over the last eight years, my lambic/gueuze-style beers have slowly, but surely improved, and this is no exception. It is by no means at the level of my favorite three or four Belgian lambic producers (when they’re on), but I’d give it ~85-90%. Not bad for an unblended lambic that was aged in a plastic carboy! Turns out a turbid mash may not be worth the added effort when you have the right microbes!


Grey Ghost said...

When you look at the brown 'gungy' beer in the better bottle, adn then this gorgeous yellow drop in your glass... looks stunning.

Unknown said...

Mike: If you were going to try and brew this beer with only commercially available bugs, what would you chose? Down this path, do you see any potential changes to the malt bill as a result? Thanks.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I remember pulling samples of this beer when Nathan and a few other friends were over. It tasted really grungy. Amazing what time and good microbes can accomplish!

There really isn't a commercial blend that will produce similar results. You could certainly try Wyeast Lambic Blend, The Yeast Bay Melange, or East Coast Yeast Bug Farm. It won't taste the same as the dreg starter, but it will probably still be delicious! Toss in some dregs along the way if you can, always helps to increase microbial diversity! No need to make any other changes.

NoVA Brewer said...

I noticed in the first post about this lambic that you let it cool in your barrel room for 18 hours. How important was that location to getting the right assortment of enteric bacteria and oxidative yeasts in the wort?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Certainly having a barrel room doesn't hurt, but the microbes that thrive early in the fermentation are probably more common in the kitchen than they are where beer is fermenting. I haven't done any studies/comparisons though, not sure it is doing much anyway considering the starter.