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.