Thursday, November 5, 2015

Extract Lambic Recipe

Extract beers get an undeservedly bad rap. Experienced homebrewers who brew with malt extract often sound apologetic: “I work 90 hours a week and have three young kids… what other option do I have?” The truth is that if you use the same process (full-boil, pitch enough healthy yeast, control fermentation temperature etc.) that you would for all-grain, extract can produce some excellent examples of some styles! After I'd switched to all-grain, I've gone back and dabbled with malt extract for both clean (Belgian Single) and sour beers (Sour Stout on Blackberries) with enjoyable results.

Who knew that DME was good for more than starters?The primary issue with malt-extract-based beers is the loss of control. Many extracts includes several malts, in unspecified ratios. The best option is to use paler extracts and build from there with steeping grains (although even with crystal malts, steeping isn’t equivalent to mashing). With both extract and all-grain, it is essential to stick to styles that work with your available ingredients. If you can’t get Vienna or Munich extract (or malt), don’t make an Oktoberfest!

The fermentability is set by the extract producer, taking away the mash temperature lever that all-grain brewers get to pull. Luckily, there are still a couple options to influence the fermentability of the wort. Substituting 5-10% refined sugar or extract will increase the percentage of simple sugars to help dry out a beer that would otherwise finish too full. Maltodextrin will have the opposite effect, adding “unfermentable” dextrins to a wort that would be too thin. Maltodextrin can also be used to increase the amount of complex carbohydrates available for the non-Saccharomyces microbes in an extended mixed-fermentation. I've yet to use maltodextrin in its more "traditional" role for molecular gastronomy.

Soon to find out if you can age hops too long!The recipe below was inspired by two well-known homebrewed extract lambic recipes. The first is from Steve Piatz’s Lambic Brewing article in the October 2004 issue of BYO (the magazine where I'll soon start my second year as Advanced Brewing columnist - Subscribe). Steve is the second highest ranked BJCP judge, and I got to chat with him at Hoppy Halloween in Fargo, ND over the weekend! The second is a multi-award-winning recipe from AmandaK posted on HomebrewTalk. Both called for 4 oz of maltodextrin per 5 gallons. That seemed a bit lower than I would have guessed, adding only .002 to the original gravity. Extract is often on the unfermentable side, but I upped the amount to 6 oz. The nice thing about maltodextrin is that you can always boil up more and dose it into the fermentor if the gravity drops to terminal without adequate lactic acid production (works for all-grain too!). Brett will work its magic without requiring much in the way of residual malt fermentables. You could also add a few tablespoons of flour to the boil if you wanted some starch for the Pediococcus to work on.

Speaking of microbes, I opted for The Yeast Bay’s Mélange ("Two Saccharomyces cerevisiae isolates, Saccharomyces fermentati, five Brettanomyces isolates, Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus delbreuckii and Pediococcus damnosus"), and nothing but. Usually I’d pitch some additional brewer's yeast and bottle dregs along with a blend, but the vial was directly from Nick, so I though I’d give it a try as he intended. Luckily fermentation started within a day and so far the samples I’ve pulled from the carboy are pleasantly lemon-farm-y. I need to take a gravity reading to decide if it needs more maltodextrin to help increase the acidity!

Golden Boy Lambic

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.75
Total Grain (Lbs): 6.38
OG: 1.051
SRM: 6.4
IBU: 9.8
Wort Boil Time: 120 Minutes

47.1% - 3.00 lbs. Muntons Wheat DME
47.1% - 3.00 lbs. Briess Pilsen DME
5.9% - 0.38 lbs. Maltodextrin

3.00 oz. Mt. Hood (Whole, 1.00% AA) @ First Wort Hop

0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

The Yeast Bay Mélange - Sour Blend

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Brewed 2/1/15 Super Bowl Sunday!

Hops aged around seven years total. 1.060 Post-boil

Allowed to chill in the barrel room naturally to 75F in the brew pot. Racked to a Better Bottle and shook to aerate. Pitched Yeast Bay Melange directly. 67F ambient. First activity after about 24 hours.

2/6/15 Fermentation slowing, topped off with 3/4 of a gallon of distilled water to bring the gravity down. Left at ambient basement temperature in the primary fermentor.

7/12/16 Racked about 2 gallons onto 8 lbs of "ugly" white peaches from the Takoma Farmers Market. Bottled the remaining 3 gallons aiming for 2.8 volumes of CO2.

9/10/16 Bottled peach half (2.1 gallons) with 55 g of table sugar and a splash of WLP007. FG 1.005.

2/13/17 Tasting notes for the lambic with and without peaches. The Mélange served as a good microbial base, but I would have liked a little more Brett character and acidity.


  1. Ha! Snap! Funny you should mention this, I have the same yeast in a Lambic style wort. sitting at 9 months as well.. Allgrain though..... Mashed high, but no maltodextrin. last check at 8 months, was 1.004 from 1.060. at 2 weeks as a primary blend it was 1.010. so should be interesting to note your flavours, and if there are any differences based on what i have. (I'd send you a bottle but international freight is expensive)
    Plan for it, is to rack onto about a litre of fresh chardonnay grape juice. from the lovely wine region here in nz. and then go from there.

    Obviously the maltodextrin adds something in regards to longer chain sugars, but as this time in the process would it be worth adding?

  2. I would have thought you would use all wheat dme since it's already a blend of wheat and pale. I'm sure it will still be good, just sayin'.

    I have a melange sour planned myself.

  3. Wheat DME happens to be 65% wheat and 35% barley. And since lambic is traditionally 30-40% wheat, doing the mixture above (half wheat dme, half light dme) results in a perfectly traditional wheat/barley ratio.

    I had the same thing fermenting with a semi-spontaneous starter (built up from grapes, tomatoes, berries, and open fermentation in different rooms of my house - inspired by your experiments). After that was fermenting happily, I made 5 more gallons of all-grain wort (35% flaked wheat, mashed high at 158) and mixed the two, and threw in White Labs Belgian sour mix I for good measure. It's split into two carboys so I'll throw RR dregs in one, and 3F into the other. In two years we'll see how it turns out!

  4. Hey Mike, "AmandaK" checking in here.

    I'm very glad to see that old HBT post still helping people. When I posted it, the Steve Piatz information wasn't easily locatable on the internet, so I wanted to get what was essentially his recipe out there to the masses. So all credit goes to Steve, for sharing that recipe with Jamil, who printed it into his book (converted to all grain). All I did was convert it back to extract, later found Steve's original recipe, and posted it on the internet with my personal experiences, hopefully inspiring some timid/newer sour beer brewers into taking the plunge.


    PS - I still make this lambic nearly every year. It still has a very high win percentage, probably up in the 80-90% range.

  5. I added maltodextrin to the boil so it would be there when the microbes wanted it. If you add it later, it will feed whatever the dominant microbes at the time are that are able to ferment it (could be Brett or LAB).

    As PDX suggested, I'm likely on on the low end of the traditional lambic range of 30-40% wheat with the extracts as is. That said, lambics are brewed with raw wheat and a turbid mash (this combination results in plenty of dextrins and starches in the wort). I don’t think much of the flavor of a finished lambic actually comes from the wheat itself. In the same way, I’m sure you could use all wheat DME and end up with a nearly indistinguishable result. I love Cantillon Iris, and that has no wheat at all!

    Thanks for stopping by Amanda! Always happy to steer people to more results/notes on a recipe, even if it is derivative (as mine is this time!).

  6. Hello,
    Sour beers are, really, in the most difficult styles for home brewers!
    I am still learning to start my first sour beer project. And I live in Belgium, so that helps. Even this weekend I will go to Cantillon to their public brewing session, and this is kind of sour beer land. (I hope I can get the session filmed and later publish on youtube)
    Anyway, here, finish beer tend to be a blend of several beers. These beers take longer than non-sour beers and it is such a complex world...
    So maybe start with an extract based recipe is a good idea. Taking away the influence of mashing (I saw your conference from NHC 2014 on youtube on that btw) could make the final result more "controllable".
    Paulo AG (

  7. Michael, any word on bottling uncarbonated lambics? I just bottled my 2014 lambic as a still beer in corked or capped 750's but I never found a good reference on the topic.

    Most sites/posts that mention it just copy/paste the BJCP guidelines: "straight (unblended) lambic is bottled uncarbonated..." Yet in the US most lambics available are bottled with heavy carbonation just like gueuze.

  8. I like at least some carbonation in my lambics, but if your preference is for still, simply wait until the gravity is stable and bottle without sugar or fresh yeast. Hope it turns out well!

  9. What would I need to change in this recipe to do it as a "quick sour"? Souring before fermenting? I was going to do one of the styles you mention in your book, lactobaccilus and then boil it up and pitch 100% brett. I thought I would need to add some actual grains still though. I'm just trying to get a recipe in mind and then finish building my temperature controller before trying.

  10. I'd leave out the maltodextrin and hops if you are looking to sour with Lactobacillus and then do 100% Brett. You could add a few IBUs after souring if you wanted to. No need for grain unless you wanted a particular flavor contribution from specialty malts. You certainly could replace some of the extract with a mini-mash, but there is no great reason to go to that effort if you don't want to.

  11. Hi. A couple days ago I made a 2-gallon batch very similar to this one. I split it between 2 1-gallon glass jugs, and they're both bubbling away nicely. Today, as I was looking at the krausen gunk pushed up on the sides of the fermenters, I wondered if mold could grow there since I'm planning on leaving the beer in primary for at least a year. In your experience, is this something to worry about? Thanks!

  12. No worries about mold as long as the head space is filled with CO2 (rather than air/oxygen). My lambics have krausen rings on the top of the fermentor for a year or two without issue. Best of luck!

  13. Would you transfer your beer to a secondary fermenter when gravity is stable? Thank you!

  14. I leave lambics in the primary fermentor until it is time for fruit or blending. Sitting on the primary yeast cake allows the Brett to work on the autolysis products released as the Saccharomyces dies.

  15. How much headspace is safe? Beer is up to just before the neck of the better bottle begins to narrow. I didn't fill too high in fear of some serious blow off. Would it be best to top off with a little more distilled h2o to minimize headspace?

  16. The important factor is avoiding oxygen ingress. The head space isn't particularly important in that regard for an impermeable fermentor. In a barrel, the head space allows the wood to dry out increasing permeability. For a carboy, I wouldn't worry as long as it is half filled. You'll risk letting more oxygen in with more head space, and there might be more risk of suck-back with a temperature drop, but nothing to be too worried about. In this case, around 5 gallons in a 6 gallon BetterBottle wasn't a concern at all for me.

  17. 2 Questions:

    1: Are hops necessary? I know traditional brewers had a legal requirement to use hops, but since I won’t be selling this, is there anything that the aged hops add to the final product that is desirable/wanted?

    2: is a 120 minute boil needed for an extract brew? I'm thinking about just getting this to a boil for 15 min or so to sterilize the water/extract, assuming I don't need the long boil for hop utilization.

  18. Both a philosophical and practical question, is something beer if it doesn't have hops? It isn't entirely clear how much of the classic character of a lambic/gueuze comes from the aged hops. There are a few tantalizing studies suggesting that aged hops add some distinct flavors (Stan's For the Love of Hops has some interesting notes). If you are doing a true spontaneous fermentation they are much more important to hold Lactobacillus in check, but for a pitched-lambic, you shouldn't have issues leaving them out (or using 10 IBUs of fresh hops).

  19. The long boil isn't a requirement if you aren't using aged hops and/or a turbid mash.

  20. I usually brew all grain but am planning some extract sours. What effect will it have to do a partial boil for these batches? My all grain equipment is at my buddy's house and as his wife is about to have a baby I won't have access to my rig for a few months. I'd love to just do this on the stove top if possible.

  21. Partial boil will increase color formation via the Maillard reaction. You can always do two half boils, or try adding some of the extract for just the last few minutes. Best of luck!

  22. I wanted to brew this beer but split it into two different carboys.

    Can I oxygenate the wort with the Melange and then split it right away, or should I pitch the Melange into the 5 gallons of wort and let primary fermentation finish before splitting? I wanted to add dregs to one and fruit to the other to see how they turn out.

    If I just pitch the melange and keep it all in one carboy, how long should I wait before I split the batches?

  23. No issue splitting right away, although it might be easier to allow the fermentation and then split into smaller vessels. Personally, I'd add dregs and leave it together and then rack half onto fruit in a 3 gallon carboy when you bottle the rest!

  24. Perhaps a silly question, but what is the association with aged hops and the 120 minute boil? I am about to start a 6 gallon lambic solera project in a better bottle with this recipe and then switching the tops ups to all grain. Was going to use ~5IBU of fresh hops and do a 30 minute boil but decided to go for the aged/debittered.

  25. It's a few things. Aged hops sometimes have some weird aromatics that the boils helps volitize. They also contain oxidized beta acids which are not as soluble as alpha acids. Not a big issue, but I'd likely stick to the un-aged hops in a 30 minute boil. For a pitched-lambic (rather than spontaneous) the differences aren't hugely significant anyway!

  26. I brewed this recipe last week and was wondering if its ok to keep the wort on the yeast cake for a long period of time (i.e. a year) or if I need to rack to secondary?

    1. Lambics are traditionally aged on the yeast. As long as the vessel is OK (I don't like buckets) I'd leave it alone.

  27. Hey Mike,
    First off, the info you provide here and in your book has been fantastically helpful to me. Keep up the good work!

    I'm a meadmaker, and myself and a few others have been working on developing lambic-style meads with some success. We've been adding maltodextrin to our musts without boiling it, but I see here that you added it when you were boiling the wort.

    Two questions:
    1. Does maltodextrin need to be boiled?
    2. Is maltodextrin the optimal source of added complex sugars for the Brett and bacteria, or do you think DME would be better?


    1. The only reasons to boil maltodextrin would be sanitation and to ensure it dissolves.

      Pretty ideal. DME would work as well, but also adds sugars that could be fermented by the Saccharomyces (which likely isn't beneficial). Brett will make its presence know with or without dextrins, but for acid maltodextrin would be a big help!

  28. Mike,

    Have you by any chance bottled this yet? Or is it still in the fermenter? I'm just wondering if you have any kind of update to give. Thanks.

  29. Yep, bottled a month ago. Tastes nice, still young, good lemon and hay, moderate lactic acidity. BYO article coming from me about extract sours soon!