Long overdue – however appropriately timed, just starting to drink this beer as the heat cranks up. Enjoy!
To me, Lambic represents the top tier of the brewing world. It is a tough beer to brew – the mash schedule is wild, the boil is long, the cooling methods can require specialized methods, and the fermentation takes place in wood (for many years.) That isn’t mentioning blending – a skill that isn’t easily taught through literature – plus it’s not as though breweries are selling unblended wort to experiment with (although that could be an interesting business venture…). This post is looking at my unblended lambic – lambic that has been produced and taken from a single barrel. The BJCP states that unblended lambic should have little to no carbonation and is very rare to find – in fact the only listed bottle is Cantillon Grand Cru Bruocsella. I’ve been told you can get unblended from the brewery directly, but since that is quite the hop over the pond, I decided to make it here.
I researched pretty much all the literature I could find on the subject of Lambic. I found old articles in Brewing Techniques, Lambic: Classic Styles, Geuze & Kriek: The Secret of Lambic Beer, Wild Brews, and even found several old threads/forums on the subject. Older threads didn’t provide as much information; I found Wild Brews to be exceptionally helpful, as well as the older Brewing Techniques articles. After extensive research and thought, I decided to use an old Riesling Barrel that recently had Saison pulled out. I felt as though I would rather have the fruity notes of Riesling than the smoky-vanilla whiskey flavors for the Lambic.
To prep the barrel, I hot water cleaned the barrel (160F) and did several rinses the day before brewing. I decided to brew the whole batch in one go using a 55 gallon Blichmann setup I had bought the previous year. I used my 15 gallon keggle setup as the side kettles for the wort as it was heated to step the mash up.
I chose a standard grist of 33% Raw wheat and 66% Pilsner. The raw wheat was used due to an ordering issue – but I didn’t want to put off brewing this any further. The night before, I crushed over 120lbs of grain using a drill, a barley crusher, and a Netflix account. I made sure to mix and integrate the two grains prior to crushing, due to previously using the barley crusher just for wheat was not as effective.
I followed a turbid mash method and mashed all morning. It was a lot of work figuring out where all the water and wort was going and would love to see this done on someone else’s setup just to see how they did it. Fun fact: this style of mashing was invented because, previously, breweries were taxed by the size of their mash tun, not the volume produced – so it was crammed with as much grain as possible – thus, water would be introduced, rest, removed, then so on. That, and the brewers would step mash at different temperatures, then sparge with super hot water (190F) to ensure as much sugar was extracted from the grains as possible. Normally mash time is a time to relax, sanitize fermenters, etc – this was the busiest time of my brewing career.
After turbid mashing, I added 2# of hops I had from a 2001 harvest, as with a lambic the brewer wants the preservative quality of the hops and not the bitterness or flavor/aroma. I chilled using my therminator, and was able to get all 50 gallons down to pitching temperature in the barrel within 20ish minutes. I didn’t take notes or record actual data on the chilling.
Where I used a therminator is where normally wort would be transferred to what is known as a coolship. This flat vessel is designed to chill the wort down and inoculate it with local yeast & bacteria. I pitched Wyeast 3728 rather than taking the chance and using my coolship as I didn’t want to risk anything going wrong with 50 gallons of wort.
This lambic aged for 1.3 years – considered a young lambic – but I am moving soon and wanted a chance to age some on fruit and drink it before I move! The clarity is remarkable for being a beer with so much wheat – I really didn’t expect that! I also chose to carbonate one keg of the beer and leave the other keg flat.
All that being said, this is not an impossible feat. You too (if you haven’t already) can brew this fantastic beer. Do your research, and plan out what you’re going to do, ahead of when you are going to do it. The last thing you want is 15 gallons of wort without a place to go.
Appearance: Clearer than expected. Straw color, thick, white head which lasts several minutes then fades away.
Smell/Nose: A mix of funk, citrus, and fruit. very classic. Light notes of lemon and apple.
Taste: Noticeably sour with a nicely balanced sweetness. The funk is not overpowering, but pleasant to taste. The yeast/bacteria really did a nice job with cleaning this up.
Mouthfeel: Quite light in the body, despite the fact that I destroyed the grain bed with almost 200F water. I am really enjoying the carbonation in half. Very smooth.
Drinkability/Overall Impression: Really enjoying the balance of sweet, tart, and crispness to this beer. I will continue to age some of the beer in the keg to see how it changes over time (that, and there is plenty of it!)
Overall “score” 9/10