Thursday, April 17, 2008

I've brewed the first of my two lambics. This is the ironic one, done with all the fanciest instrumentation and most modern techniques I can muster, and pitched, ironically, with pure-cultured yeast and
bacteria strains. My goal in this is to mimic as closely as possible the end result of a lambic, not the process (that comes later).

Right off the bat, I'm going to apologise for the quality of these pictures. We're in the middle of moving house, and I didn't have access to a real camera, so these are off my phone. Yeah, I know.

Let's start with ingredients. We have our unmalted hard red wheat, from Planet Organic, and malted barley from our LHBS, the Noble Grape:
The hops I'm using in this brew are the ones mentioned below, that I've been aging for a while. I also toasted them around 200˚F for a couple of hours to help drive off some unwanted hop volatiles. It seems I never actually got a picture of them. They looked very much like normal whole hops, bet yellower. Genuine lambics are brewed with Saaz hops that have been aged for at least three years, and have thus lost their bitterness (alpha acid) and flavour compounds, but have retained their antiseptic properties. I used the oldest hops I had access to, which were a slightly stale looking 2oz packet of Goldings.

I had a variety of microbe sources on hand. First and foremost, I had the Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend, which contains most of the major flavour contributors to lambic beer: two strains of Saccharomyces yeast, two lambic-specific strains of Brettanomyces yeast (B. bruxellensis and B. lambicus), and the dominant lactic acid bacterium in lambic beer, Pediococcus damnosus. One important element of a true lambic fermentation is missing: the enteric bacteria which dominate the first stage of fermentation. My understanding is that, in a "soft" (low acetic acid) lambic fermentation, these bacteria produce most of the acetic acid found in the final product, being the dominant microbes in the first few weeks of fermentation. They also consume almost all of the free amino nitrogen, slowing down the primary Saccharomyces fermentation. I don't know the specific reason Wyeast chooses not to supply these bacteria, but they assure us the lambic character can be achieved without them. (Edit: found a Wyeast information page here that explains their reasoning, as well as providing a rough grounding in Lambic biology for anyone interested. Read J. X. Guinard's book Lambic for a more detailed treatment.)

I also had on hand the dregs from two bottles of Cantillon. These bottles had been aged for a couple of years, but had been drunk very recently and were recapped. I expect that the Sacch and Pedio bugs will be compromised, but there's a chance I'll get some of that delicious Cantillon Brett out of them, as well as (wishful thinking) some of the oxidative finishing yeasts omitted by Wyeast (Candida, Dekkera, et cetera).

Anyway, back to the meat of this. As I had mused about earlier, I did indeed have to boil the raw wheat to gelatinise the starches and allow the malt's diastatic enzymes access to them. I first heated the wheat on my stove, along with about a tenth of the malt, up to a rest of 70˚C.

I put it in an oven set to 70˚ to maintain this temperature evenly for 15m.

I'm not sure the rationale behind this rest. This temperature is right in the peak range of alpha amylase, the enzyme responsible primarily for breaking up starches into unfermentable dextrines (which beta amylase can convert into maltose). However, as the wheat malt is not yet gelatinised, the only starch available for the amylase to work on the malt's own (and whatever happened to dissolve from the wheat). Furthermore, the whole mess is going to be mashed with the rest of the malt after it's boiled, which will convert it anyway. Nonetheless, my sources were unanimous, so into the oven it went.

Meanwhile, in the mash tun, I combined the rest of the malt with hot water to reach a protein rest of about 54˚. The raw wheat is proteiny enough that this won't affect the final protein content of the wort significantly, and it makes the temperature stable for when I add the boiled wheat later.

Next, I took the wheat out of the oven and brought it to a boil for about forty minutes. This gelatinised the starches in the wheat - at the end, it was like a really, really boring porridge. It was also fairly sweet - apparently the enzymes had found some starch in there to saccharify. Who knew?

I mixed the now-gelatinised wheat, which was close to boiling temperature, and it brought the rest of the mash up to a temperature of about 67˚, which I was happy with. I let it rest and convert for about an hour.

I then ran off the wort, which was significantly less milky than it had been before (as the starches were converted to sugar), but still had a definite haze, which I believe was protein. I sparged the grain with very hot water, around 95˚, to extract any unconverted starch as well as tannins and polyphenols from the grain husks, all of which are important food for the various organisms which will be fermenting this.

The run-off totaled almost seven gallons (seen here in my 7.5G boil kettle).

Traditional methods call for a four-hour boil, which eliminates any remaining hop aromatics and precipitates proteins from the wort. It was getting late, so I had to be content with a two-hour boil with the staled hops.

Next, I cooled the wort, using my regular wort chiller (no koelschip this time), and an it off into a carboy.

Let's take a moment to look at the sanitising solution in my carboy. It seems pretty silly with a lambic, but this time 'round I want no Halifax competition to my Brussels yeast.

Remember that 7G of wort? I don't know how it reduced that far either. It looks like we got just under four gallons into the carboy. The SG is 1.053, nicely in the middle of the lambic range, so it might be good it reduced that far. The wort is a much darker colour than I expected - I suspect I may have caramelised it something fierce when I boiled the wheat.

Either way, here's the beer along side all the different bugs I pitched into it.

And here it is twelve hours later, in the throes of a (so-far) completely normal-looking Saccharomyces fermentation.

That does it for brew day number one. Check back soon - we'll have our genuine wild lambic beer in the next couple of weeks (now that temperatures are in the peak range), and as soon as this one gets funky I hope to be able to show you guys some pellicle-porn. Wait about four years and I'll tell you how this one tastes.
Quick update: I've found, or rather, this nice man here has found me, some 19thC sources on lambic that are (thank God!) not in Flemish.

They're in German.

Die in Belgien sehr berühmten Brüsseler Biere, Lambik, Faro, Mars, werden durch Selbstgährung der Würze erhalten. Man bringt die Würze ohne Zusatz von Hefe, auf Fässer in temperirte Magazine oder Keller, in denen die Gährung bald schon nach einigen Tagen, bald erst nach Monaten eintritt, 8 bis 10 Monate dauert, ja sich bis 20 Monate hinzieht. Die Würze für Lambik, welche 12 bis 15 Proc. zeigt, attenuirt dabei auf 5 bis 2.5 Proc. Der Geruch nach Hopfen verliert sich ganz. Das Product hat einen feinen, weinartigen Geruch, welchem aber der Geschmack keineswegs entspricht; dieser ist bitter, hart, säuerlich und macht ein Verschneiden des Bieres, Vermischen mit jungem oft auf gewöhnliche Weise gebrautem Biere, ferner mit Zucker, Syrup unerlässlich.

But German is a heckuva lot easier to find dictionaries for than Flemish, and I know a little bit more about its grammar, and I have awesome friends who have helped me when I needed it. So here, ladies and gentlemen, you have my inexpert and potentially dangerously misleading translation of a paragraph from pg 1070 of this book:

The famous Belgian beers from Brussels, Lambic, Faro, and Mars, are made from self-fermenting wort. The wort is put into barrels in a temperature-controlled storage room or basement without the addition of yeast. Here, the fermentation starts after a few days, or sometimes only occurs after months; it takes eight to ten months, and sometimes drags on up to 20 months. Lambic wort, with an extract of 12 to 15 degrees [1.048-1.060], attenuates to 2.5 to 5 degrees [1.010-1.020]. The hops have already lost their aroma. The product has a fine, winelike smell, but this in no way corresponds to the taste, which is bitter, hard, and sour. This makes blending essential. It is mixed with young, often ordinarily-brewed beers, and furthermore with sugar or syrup.
Just for the fun of it, here's what Google thinks it says:

The very famous in Belgium Brussels beers Lambik Faro Mara by Selbstgährung You get the spiciness brings Wune without the addition of yeast to Falser in tempcrirte magazines or Kelier where Gähnmg soon, soon after a few days only occurs naci 8 months to 10 months yes until 20 months drags The wort for what Lambik l 2 to 15 Proc shows attennirt on 5 to 21 aProc The smell after hops lost gim The product has a fine weinartigen smell what you taste, but no, this is hard jitter and säuerüti makes a blending of beer mixing with young often on ordinary AVeise gebrautem beers also with sugar syrup HDP lässlich
So, any German-speakers out there, please set me right. I don't speak your language.

It's interesting to note that, in the nineteenth century, the koelschip stage (where the wort was cooled overnight in shallow pans exposed to the air) was entirely missing - they must have relied purely on the microbes resident in their barrels.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Alright, fans, here's the latest news.

I've gotten a lot of sources in. Anybody that wants to poke around online, some good people offered up links here. Unfortunately, the exciting part - the one where I make beer - hasn't moved a whole lot. I have my wheat, and my aging hops, but I can't get the bugs from anywhere. The Noble Grape promises to order in my ironically purecultured lambic bugs next week, and the temperatures are swiftly climbing to wild-inoculation temperatures. (For wild inoculation, we want no colder by night than 0˚ and no warmer during the day than 16˚). So stay tuned! Excitement approaches!

Yes, my hops are still aging merrily away.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

So here's what I'm up to now on my project. A lot of my great sources for lambic methods are, variously, on their way from faraway libraries, or in Flemish, or academically illegitimate. Nonetheless, I've gotten started on brewing using what I've learned so far. For one thing, I'm letting my hops go bad. Lambic beer is traditionally made with les houblons surannés, usually aged 2-3 years in open air until they've lost their flavour and bitterness, and are stale and cheesy. I don't have that long, so I've toasted mine a little to lose some of the hop volatiles, and I'm aging them in a cake pan resting on my radiator (on the basis that stuff stales faster when it's warm). Pictures coming.

I've also tracked down some unmalted, hard red winter wheat. This is an adjunct grain used for ~35% of the grist in a lambic beer. I still have no clue how I'm going to prepare it. If you look at the picture, these are tiny wheat berries, and they're rock hard. I doubt I can mash them as is; do I grind them? Pre-cook them? I just don't know. I'll have to wait until some of my books arrive/I learn Flemish.

Speaking of the mashing, I'm really excited. They've got this great method, turbid mashing, which is a lot harder than all the regular mashing techniques, and results in a starchy, poorly-converted, proteiny, turbid, low-efficiency, puckeringly tannin-ridden wort. All that and it takes twice as long. How awesome is that? I love this project.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

(the proposal)

Lambic beer is a variety of spontaneously fermented sour beer native to the Senne valley in Belgium. Generally, even before Pasteur provided a microbiological perspective, brewers have strived for a 'clean' Saccharomyces fermentation, while lambic brewers have allowed their beer to be fermented, soured, and enhanced by a wide variety of native airborne microbes, including Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus. It is an anomaly among beers; it embraces and is defined by the same processes considered spoilage in other styles of beer. I would like to examine how lambic fermentation has been understood as opposed to 'clean' fermentation in both the pre- and post-Pasteurian understandings of fermentation.

In exploring the philosophy of lambic brewing, I will attempt to recreate several processes in lambic brewing. Initially, I will perform a lambic-style mash, which varies from conventional brewing methods in several ways, including intentional tannin extraction (to support the extended bacterial fermentation) and the use of a high proportion of unmalted wheat. I will boil five gallons of the resulting wort with intentionally staled hops, another lambic brewing method, but, rather than allowing the beer to cool and be inoculated in the open air, I will ferment it (with a keen sense of irony) using pure cultures of the predominant yeast and bacterial strains found in genuine Belgian lambics. This will provide a beer closely mirroring genuine, traditional lambics, and will allow me to observe in detail the various stages of lambic fermentation. (I might also be treated to the bafflement and skepticism of conventional brewers as I expose my roommates' brewing equipment to dreaded lacto and brett infections.)

The above experiment will provide the closest beer possible to a true lambic; it does not, however, mirror the philosophy of lambic fermentation. It uses pure cultures in a closed environment, more closely mimicking the methods of post-Pasteurian conventional brewers than lambic brewers of any stripe. Thus I have arrived at the second, more diabolical stage of my experiment. I will save a few litres of sterilised wort from my first lambic batch. When spring arrives, I will take this wort with me out of the city (where I'm unlikely to catch anything good with it), preferably to an orchard, place it in a broad, shallow pan (in the lambic style) overnight, and allow it to be inoculated with the Nova Scotia local blend of airborne microbes. On my return, I'll brew up another lambic-style wort, but this time I will mix it in with the spontaneously fermented starter culture. The resulting beer will be one made in accordance with the philosophy of lambic brewing.