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.