Mon 6 Dec 2010
With VeganMofo over, time for quick homebrew update.
On November 7th of last year, I brewed my first lambic. About three weeks before the deadline for the National Organic Brewing Challenge, I bottled up 1/2 gallon of the nearly 1 year-old organic lambic, with the intention of entering it into the comp. Before I sent it out, however, I sampled a bottle with Kevin the weekend of our Stone IRS tasting. I was very disappointed to find the beer was flat, vegetal tasting, hazy…a drain pour. Needless to say, it did not get entered. As the samples from the fermenter tasted awesome, I felt it must have been a shitty bottling job and/or it just needed more time. It was probably too soon to open a carbonating bottle. I left the other bottles to sit for a few more weeks, then, on the beer’s birthday, I gave it another try. Wow! I was simply blown away. VERY happy with the results.
The appearance is amazing. Brilliantly clear, golden straw-colored body, with a delicate head of tiny bubbles. The aroma and flavors are very similar: funk/mustyness, lots of grape notes and a touch of pineapple/citrus. Definitely sour/tart, but not overwhelmingly so. Dry finish, that makes it very enjoyable to drink.
Right off the bat, I found it to be a lot like the flavors of Cuvee de Castleton, without the sweetness and complexity of Cuvee’s muscat grape addition. Yesterday, I brought a bottle to a sour beer tasting with some friends that are all very familiar with the Cuvee de Castleton. They too got the same impression. Among the 20+ sours we had (including some of the greats, like Lambicus Dexterius and Isabelle Proximus), it held its ground. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.
A few notes about this beer worth mentioning. First off, I think the complicated mash schedule is worth the effort. It seems to me, this gave the microbes a lot to chew up and resulted in a very nice fermentation. Also, I did not use any primary saccharomyces strain, with the exception of the Belgian ale yeast in the Wyeast Lambic Blend. Traditional lambic is not made with a primary saccharomyces strain, so I choose to ignore the advice of some expert homebrewers like JZ, who say to start the fermentation with a neutral yeast strain. Instead, in an attempt to mimic what would happen when wort is added to inoculated barrels at lambic breweries, I simply pitched the pure culture lambic blend and the dregs at the start of the fermentation process. It took a bit longer to get going, but it definitely did not have a problem attenuating. The beer is already below 1.000 and is basically living off of the unconverted starches at this point. I believe this gave the beer the signature aged lambic complexity earlier on in the process.
Finally, once the beer was fermenting, it never moved. Again, like traditional lambic, it was never moved off of the yeast cake, as this provided a food source for the microbes as well. A year of aging and absolutely no off flavors from autolysis. During the bottling process, I did move it into a keg. With the increased headspace and fallen pellicle, I want to be able to keep the oxygen out of the beer by purging the keg with CO2.
I intended to brew another lambic this year to, eventually, blend into a geuze. However, I don’t know how much longer I can take living in Albany. I need to return to the civilized world, where a vegan who doesn’t drive isn’t considered a complete weirdo (i.e., Portland). As I can’t move a carboy of aging lambic, I probably will not commit to the geuze and will bottle this lambic up in the next few months.
At some point – perhaps the next Organic Challenge – I’ll enter it into a competition for more objective feedback. Anyway, I think this is a solid recipe, perhaps my best so far.