#57 Lambic 2012

Eureka, its time for another very cool project of mine. I have to apologize for the very few postings lately. I am very busy with my lab research lately. However, I am still homebrewing, drinking beers and yeast ranching. So no worries.

Fig 1: Girardin’s Faro

I visited my local last week after several months once again and had the opportunity to try a lot of great beers from other homebrewers and even some really amazing commercial examples. They even had Girardin’s Oude Lambik on tab. Wow! Even a Girardin Lambic tastes great. However, a Lambic is not as complex as you would expect from a Geuze because Geuzes are blends of different Lambics to improve the complexity. And this Lambic was no exception. The Oude Lambik has a very subtle sourness and even a malty aftertaste. By the way, the Oude Lambik was flat as expected. I then tried Girardin’s Faro. A Faro is basically a blend of Lambics and then bottled with sugar and sometimes spices or other sources of sugar such as molasses, caramel are added in addition. In the Faro from Girardin caramel is added. I really liked the Faro because it has some carbonation which makes it easier to appreciate in my opinion.The taste and aroma reminded my of a very young Lambic. Once again, the complexity, sourness and funkiness were rather subtle. It even had a bitter aftertaste. I then tried Girardin’s Framboise before heading home. I assume this Framboise was bottled just a few weeks before. The aroma was just incredible. I have never encountered such an intense raspberry aroma in a beer before. It smelled like a homemade raspberry jam. Amazing! And no sourness or funkiness at all. Just amazing! On the other hand, this particular Framboise was not sweet like other even pasteurized examples. The last Framboise beers I had (like 3 Fonteinen’s) were rather “old” and the fruity character was no longer detectable or lets say rather subtle. Sourness and funkiness were the main components there. However, I would prefer a Gueuze in this case instead. It is somewhat not worthy in my opinion to store a Framboise, Kriek etc. to lose the fruity character. Enough with commercial examples. The whole sour beer stuff reminded me of my latest Lambic attempt.

This post is all about my second attempt to brew a Lambic style beer. However not a traditional Lambic beer with the spontaneous fermentation method.

My first attempt to brew a Lambic ended in a very sour beer. Nevertheless, I still wanted to give this style another go. It took me nearly five years to brew my second attempt… The five years gave me a lot of opportunities to read books, blogs and other sources about sour brewing. And tasted a lot of great Lambics and Gueuzes (like described above). In Spring 2012, I decided to finally brew another Lambic. This time, I went with a traditional turbid mash instead of a single infusion step. Lets go through the recipe:

Recipe: Lambic 2012
Numbers: Volume [L] 45 (11.9 gal)
Original gravity 13.5°P
Terminal gravity N/A
Color Around 5 EBC
Grains: Pilsner malt (4 EBC) 6.3 kg
Wheat flakes
3.5 kg
Hops: Old hops (< 1% AA) 240 g and boil for 120 min
Yeast: Wyeast’s #3278 Lambic Blend and Milupa1 for primary
(see description below)
Water: Burgdorf Mash: 41 L (10.8 gal), sparge: 34 L (9 gal) @78°C (172°F)
Rest: Turbid mash (see description below) Mash in @45°C (113°F), 20 min @45°C (113°F), 15 min @52°C (126°F), 45 min @65°C (149°F), 30 min @72°C (162°F), 5 min @78°C (172°F)
Boil: Total 120 min
Fermentation: Primary > 365 days @20°C (68°F) in glass fermenters
Secondary N/A
Maturation: Carbonation (CO2 vol) N/A
Maturation time N/A

I would like to give you a short overview about the whole turbid mash schedule first. Have a quick look at the schedule below. The whole process sounds really difficult but it is not. You basically need three different kettles and that’s it. To get you an idea what a turbid mash schedule looks like have a look at this Youtube video.

Fig 2: Mash kettle preparation with perforated bottom

06/28/12: Lambic brew day. I chose to do a traditional turbid mash this time. All started with heating up 41 L of water to approximately 45°C in the water kettle. I added my false bottom in the mash kettle to drain off the turbid mash later on (Fig 2). I then transferred 8.2 L of water from the water kettle into the mash kettle and mashed in (Fig 3). The whole mash was very, very thick. I then left the mash rest for 20 min at 45°C. The remaining water in the water kettle was heated up to a boil.

After the first rest at 45°C, I added another 8.2 L of boiling water to the mash. The temperature now was 52°C. Another 15 min rest.

Fig 3: First rest at 45°C

Fig 4: First turbid wort

After the second rest, I removed 5.5 L of the liquid from the mash kettle. This wort is called turbid wort. You can easily see why in Fig 4. The turbid wort was heated up to 88°C.

After the second rest in the mash kettle (and after removing the turbid wort), I added 12.3 L of boiling water. The temperature now was at 65°C. Rest for 45 min at 65°C.

As the third rest passed, I removed another 5.5 L of turbid wort and added it to the preheated turbid wort from the previous removal and reheated to 88°C again.

I then added another 12.3 L of boiling wort to the mash kettle. The temperature now was at 72°C. Rest for 30 min at 72°C.

Now was the time to heat up the 34 L of sparging water to 88°C.

After the rest at 72°C, I added the turbid worts back to the mash and the temperature rose to 78°C. I then left the mash rest for 5 min and sparged to a gravity of 2°P. By the way, the wort was iodine positive. Indicating some starches were still left in the wort.

This was the whole turbid mash schedule already. Adding hot or boiling water to the mash to increase the temperature is basically a decoction mash. The special step in turbid mashing are the removal of turbid worts. The turbid worts contain enzymes, sugars and starches. By heating them up to 88°C, the enzymes get denatured (destroyed) and can’t work anymore. This leaves the sugars and starches in this worts. The resting time of approximately 5 min at 78°C after you add these turbid worts back to the mash are not enough to convert the remaining starches and sugars. Meaning, you add some unfermentable sugars and starches back to your wort. These unfermentable sugars are quite important for the Brettanomyces and maybe some bacteria later on during the fermentation. Brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) can’t ferment unfermentable sugars and starches. I guess this why they are called unfermentable sugars after all. These unfermentable sugars however can be metabolized by the Brettanomyces and gives these yeasts an opportunity to grow during the fermentation process as these yeasts are rather slow growers.

Back to the wort. I boiled the wort for two hours with the addition of 240 g of old hops I stored for at least two years. Can’t remember the variety. I guess it was a German variety like Tettnanger, Hallertauer or Saazer. Then cooled the wort down, added two packages of Wyeast’s Lambic Blend and filled two 10 L, one 20 L and half a 10 L glass carboy with the wort.

Fig 5: Fermentation in progress…

06/29/12: I already had to replace all the airlocks because the fermentation was already in progress (Fig 5).

07/07/12: Lambic already nine days in the carboys. The fermentation calmed down and it was time to add the real souring bugs. I first added medium toasted French oak chips to the carboys (25 g per 10 L). I boiled the chips in some water first (approximately 2 min) and discarded the dark brown water. Then added fresh water again and repeated the boiling process once again. Then discharged the water again and added the chips to the carboys. Then added my own souring mixture called Milupa1. This mixture consists of the following bugs: Wyeast’s Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Wyeast’s Brettanomyces lambicus, some Girardin Gueze dregs, some dregs from Les Trois Dames’s Oud Bruin and a Brettanomyces strain I previously isolated from a Cantillon Kriek. This mixture was quite aggressive in some trial fermentations and a pellicle formed just after a few days. Good enough for me to let this mixture eat through some Lambic wort. I added some of the mixture to each of the glass carboys (except one) and left the wort to the new introduced bugs. The one without the Milupa1 bugs is a control to test how the single Lambic Blend from Wyeast works.

10/13/12: Lambic now three months in the carboys (Fig 6). The carboys on the left side and right side are the ones with Milupa1. The carboy in the middle has no Milupa1 bugs. The 20 L carboy is not shown. The Lambic already smells amazing. However, I haven’t tasted any of the Lambics. Still a long time to go…

Fig 6: Lambic after three months in carboys

I hope I could give you some insight into the whole Lambic homebrewing process and maybe give you some new information as well. I will keep updating this post in the future. Stay tuned!

Tasting: #44 Traditional Berliner Weisse

Eureka, its time for another tasting post. Today is all about my first Berliner Weisse. I brewed my batch (#44 Traditional Berliner Weisse) back in February 2012. I went with a traditional grist (Pilsner and wheat malt) and did a spontaneous mash-souring. So no addition of any Lactobacillus or any other bacteria. Did a primary fermentation with a classical European yeast (Wyeast’s #1338 European Ale) kegged one share and bottled a small part of the batch with some Brettanomyces I isolated from a beer made by BFM. Nearly four months now passed since the bottling. Lets see how the beer in the bottle (with Brettanomyces) turned out. By the way, the share without Brettanomyces in the keg is very similar to this one although not as sour and complex. Therefore no tasting notes about the share without Brettanomyces.

Aroma: Very lemony and lots of apples. Some sourness detectable (lactic acid). Some funkiness as well. Very similar to a cider. Smells clean.

Appearance: Yellow, cloudy, white head, lots of carbonation visible.

Flavor: Not a lot of flavors. There is some sourness detectable. Some hints of grains (malty-, breadyness). And again some apple notes as well. All in all very similar to a cider. Maybe the sourness in the Weisse is just a bit more powerful than in a cider.

Mouthfeel: Light body, lively carbonation, medium lasting malty/bready aftertaste. No sour or astringent aftertaste.

Overall Impression: What shall I say. Looking back, I would not have guessed it would turn out like this. This is a very drinkable beer indeed. Some notes of a wheat beer (grainyness, head) but with some sourness attached. For my taste, the sourness level is a bit too low. However, this recipe was not about the right level of sourness. It was about the spontanteous sour-mashing technique. In my opinion, this worked completely. All the Berliner Weisses I had from this batch were ok. Nothing to complain about.

My next Berliner Weisse is already in the pipeline. Just got my #3191 Berliner Weisse blend today and a Berliner Weisse brew day is in the near future. I just have to wait to get some empty bottles… (And I am already working on it…). And I already planned to isolate the Brettanomyces from the blend (my longtime followers will already have guessed…).

This was a very interesting and very informative experiment in my opinion. Not only is it possible to make a beer without ever boiling it, but it is also possible to use the microorganisms on the grains to sour a beer. A very neat way in my opinion to get yourself a sour beer if you do not want to purchase any souring bugs. However, comparing the Berliner Weisses with and without Brettanomyces, the one without it is clearly less sour. Brettanomyces seems to enhance the sourness level as well. From now on, all my Berliner Weisse brews will have some Brettanomyces in it, like a traditional Berliner Weisse.

This post closes another experiment of mine. Stay tuned for further experiments!

#11 Sambic the First

Eureka, its time for another recipe from the past. All started with a tasting of a lambic made by Timmerman’s back in 2007. It was the Blanche Lambicus with an ABV of 4.5%. I was so surprised about the complexity and sweetness of this brew that I wanted to give this style a go. Easier said than done. It turned out to be pretty hard to find some information about how to brew a lambic back then. However, I found a recipe in a book and went for it.

Recipe: Sambic the First
Numbers: Volume [L] 20 (5.3 gal)
Original gravity 16°P
Terminal gravity N/A
Color Around 9 EBC
ABV >7 %
Grains: Pilsner malt (4 EBC) 3.6 kg
Wheat flakes (0 EBC) 1.5 kg
Hops: Old hops (?% AA) 51 g and boil for 90 min
Yeast: #3278 Lambic blend
Water: Burgdorf Mash: 15 L (4 gal), sparge: 12 L (3.2 gal) @88°C (190°F)
Rest: Mash in @55°C (131°F), 30 min @ 55°C (131°F), 45 min @ 68°C (154°F), 10 min @ 78°C (172°F)
Boil: Total 90 min
Fermentation: Primary 365 days @ 20°C (68°F) in plastic fermenter
Secondary None
Maturation: Carbonation (CO2 vol) 3
Maturation time N/A

08/11/07: Brew day. Prepared all the malts and begun with the resting steps as described above. Did a pretty easy infusion mash, no typical turbid mash or decoction. Then sparged with 88°C (190°F) hot water and added the hops to the boiling wort. Concerning the hops. The hops aged for maybe a year or so. Can’t remember which variety it was. Then cooled the wort down, transfered the wort into a plastic fermenter and pitched a package of Wyeast’s #3278 Lambic blend.

I then left the fermenter in my basement for a whole year. After a year, a first tasting: It was extremely sour! Even more sour than any vinegar I know. I though about how to rescue this batch but in the end I dumped the whole batch down the drain… Pretty disappointing!

Well, this is just sad. I can’t really remember what kind of sourness it was. It is therefore pretty hard to investigate the source of the sourness. Maybe it has something to do with the fermenter I used. It seems possible that the fermenter (plastic) is not suitable to make sour beers because of the high oxygen permeability of the plastic itself. I already made a new batch of a Flanders Ale to test if the plastic fermenter I have leads indeed to a more sour pronounced beer (due to the higher oxygen permeability). One part of the Flanders Ale matures in a plastic fermenter and others maturate in glass carboys. A sensory evaluation of the different beers will tell me if there is a difference.

Looking back and having tasted a lot of different Lambics and Gueuzes since, the Timmermann’s Lambic is not a very typical Lambic in my opinion. A typical Lambic should be rather dry, sour and without any sweetness if you talk about the style. However, I have to admit, I really like the sweet Krieks from Lindemann’s as well. The process to get yourself a sweet Lambic is yet another story. If you just dump a package of Wyeasts Lambic Blend in your wort, you will get a dry beer. To get it sweet you could add some sugars or fruits and either drink it fresh or pasteurize it.

To summarize, I can’t tell what happened here exactly but further years of experiments might lead to an explanation. One thing is for sure: If you ferment a beer with a Lambic Blend, you get yourself a dry (maybe sour beer) one, no sweet one. No surprise here, right?

I already planned another pLambic brew with a typical turbid mash. Will post about the recipe soon. Stay tuned!

#44 Traditional Berliner Weisse

Eureka, the following brew is one of the weirdest I have done so far. The recipe I am talking about is a Berliner Weisse recipe influenced by a traditional way to get it sour.

The story begins in Berlin, 1908. A man named Otto Francke patented a method to get a more consistent sourness in Berliner Weisse beers. The old way to sour a Berliner Weisse was to get the sourness from lactic acid producing bacteria during the fermentation. One disadvantages of this method was the inconsistent sourness. Otto Francke’s method changed that. Those of you who are familiar with German find the patent here. A short summary of his process: The process basically is about sour mashing. Otto Francke describes a method were you add lactic acid forming bacteria to your mash and let it ferment until the sourness is at an appropriate level. I assume that a kind of Lactobacillus strain was used for this task. Then you just heat up the whole mash and kill the bacteria. The level of sourness is now fixed. Then cool it down and let it ferment with a yeast.

The following information are from a thesis I got from a homebrewer in Germany. The thesis’ title in English is “About the flavor formation in Berliner wheat beer regarding acids and esters” and was written by F.J. Methner in 1987.

As already mentioned, there are at least two different strategies to sour a Berliner Weisse. The first one involves a pre-souring of the mash with the addition of Lactobacillus as described above. The wort is then pasteurized and fermented with a Saccharomyces strain and Brettanomyces bruxellensis is added at bottling. Yes, there were some Brettanomyces in the beer as well. This method is useful to get a consistent sourness. Another method to sour the beer is pitching Lactobacillus in addition to yeast for the fermentation. The important step here is to pitch a least a 1:1 ratio of the Lactobacillus: yeast cells. If there are more yeast cells than Lactobacillus at the beginning, the growth of the yeast can prevent the Lactobacillus and therefore lead to a lower sourness. Some of you familiar with Lactobacillus might know that some Lactobacillus strains are hop sensitive. One example of such a strain is the one available from Wyeast, Lactobacillus delbrueckii. This strain can therefore be used for sour mashing because there are no hops in the mash at this time. Problems could arise when you use this strain in the fermentation vessel for souring as there were hops in the wort or mash. Hop-insensitive strains such as L. brevis can be used for souring during the fermentation. But this strain is not available for homebrewers as far as I know.

Another interesting fact about sourness, the sourness in unboiled worts get higher than in boiled worts. The boiling seems to hinder the Lactobacillus in some way. It is therefore advisable to use a no-boil technique if the souring will be done in the fermenter.

The history and techniques of Berliner Weisse breweries in Berlin are not very well documented and research is still going on. This research and documentation seem very important to me since the Berliner Weisse breweries are very limited in Germany and the knowledge of Berliner Weisse brewing might get lost. Luckily there is a growing homebrewer community which helps to keep the knowledge of Berliner Weisse brewing. But there are some homebrewers in Germany as well who try to replicate the old Berliner Weisse that once existed. Luckily for me, all the old articles about Berliner Weisse are written in German and therefore have no problem understanding them.

So I planned on doing a sour mash as well but did not add any kind of Lactobacillus, just some additional malt. There should be some kind of Lactobacillus on the grains to get the mash to the appropriate sourness level. Lets first get through the recipe, details about the process are mentioned below. I used J. Zainasheff’s “Saures Biergesicht” recipe and tweaked it a bit.

Recipe: Traditionelle Berliner Weisse
Numbers: Volume [L] 18 (4.8 gal)
Original gravity 10.4°P
Terminal gravity Not yet measured
Color Around 6 EBC
Grains: Pilsner Malt (4 EBC) 1.9 kg
Wheat Malt (4 EBC) 1.36 kg
Acidified malt (6 EBC) 0.2 kg (added after pre-mashing)
Hops: Hallertauer (4% AA) 28 g Mash hops
Yeast: #1338 European Ale
Water: Burgdorf Mash: 8.5 L (2.2 gal), sparge: 23 L (6.1 gal) @78°C (172°F)
Rest: Pre-mash Mash in @66°C (151°F), 60 min @ 66°C (151°F), cool down to 50°C (131°F) and add 0.2 kg of acidified malt. Leave mash for two days at around 38°C (100°F).
Second mash Add hops and heat up to 78°C. Rest 15 min @ 78°C (172°F).
Boil: No boil
Fermentation: Primary 7 days @ 20°C (68°F) in a plastic bucket
Secondary N/A
Maturation: Carbonation (CO2 vol) 3.5 vol for bottles, 1.75 vol for keg
Maturation time 3-4 months

02/10/12: Brew day. Crushed the malts and mashed them in at 65°C. Then held the mash at this temperature for an hour. I then let the mash cool down to approximately 50°C (131°F) and added some crushed acidified malt. I then set my electrical kettle to 38°C (100°F) and let it sit.

Fig 1: Souring mash after 24 h at 38°C (100°F)

Luckily, there is no smell coming with the pictures. The smell after 24 h was just incredible (Fig 1). There were some notes of fermented lemons, some sourness, and a very overpowering smell of vomit… The heat helped to distribute the smell evenly in my basement. And the mash was bubbling a bit (see white bubbles at the surface in Fig 1). Well, the smell was just too much! I was very close to dumb the whole thing to get rid of the smell in the basement. But I left the mash sour for another 24 h. By the way, there was some sourness detectable as I tasted the mash.

Fig 2: Added the hops to the mash

Then happened the first miracle. The next morning, the mash now rested for nearly 48 h, the vomit smell was gone, although still in my basement, but there was a very pleasant lemony smell. And the mash was even more sour than the day before. So I proceeded with my mission to replicate an original Berliner Weisse. I then added the hops directly into the mash and heated the whole thing up to 78°C (172°F) and left it there for 15 minutes. Then sparged the wort directly into the fermenter.

Fig 3: Mash is resting at 78°C

Another interesting thing here was the consistency of the mash. The mash was a kind of mushy as it can be seen in Fig 3. And this made the sparging a really hard job. I tried three different false bottoms I have for fly sparging. I then decided to go with a batch sparge. This did not improved the whole sparging a bit. So I went for a stir-and-flow technique. I first stirred up the whole mash and collected the runnings until it got stuck and repeated this process until the fermenter was full. I guess I do not have to mention that my efficiency of this batch was one of the lowest ever….

I then let the fermenter cool down outside and pitched a package of Wyeast’s European Ale yeast. Another thing that made me worry was the European Ale yeast. I know that this particular strain tends to a very long lag-phase before proceeding to the fermentation. But the fermenter stayed there for nearly two days without any signs of fermentation, kräusen or change in gravity. I already assumed that maybe the souring could have altered the mash in a way to make it unfermentable for the yeast. But then, another miracle, the fermentation took off after two days.

02/28/12: Bottling time. I added some table sugar for the appropriate carbonation levels and bottled half of the batch in a 9 L keg (2.4 gal) and the remaining liters into bottles. I then added some sediment from my BFM dregs, which include a Brettanomyces strain, to each bottle. No Bretts for the keg. The bottles and keg will now mature for nearly three to four months. I am really looking forward how this brew turns out. I hope that the tasting will be the third miracle…

By the way, I had a look at the mash with my microscope. And I could see a lot of different bacteria in there… Stay tuned for the tasting in late June.

07/19/2012: Uploaded the tasting notes of the share with Brettanomyces.