Lambic brewing year 3, plus Lambic blending year 2 and Framboise

It’d been far too long since I posted an update to this blog. Apologies for that, but I’m finally getting around to writing up some of the progress in the Lambic project.

I can’t believe it’s been 3 years since the first brew. Lambic project activities have become one of my favorite traditions. What could be better than producing wonderful beer with your best friends, while drinking and eating more wonderful things? Year 3 blending will soon be upon us, and perhaps the first in the world Lambic style beer produced by multi-barrel Solera method.

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Preparing the water and grain for mashing

This year was one of the smoothest yet. We realized after last year’s debacle we just can’t produce so much beer on such a small system. We decided to make nearly 90 gallons this year, so we split it up with us doing about 60 on the big system and a few smaller systems doing 10 each. This was so much better! The brew day was pretty easy, no stuck mashes, no drama, and the extra systems running kept everyone on their toes and warmer as a result. We were also able to boil more vigorously, and no longer had issues with freezing tanks.

This year’s brew was special. After attending Toer de Geuze this past year, I was really excited to brew Lambic van Oud Beersel. Gert and friends impressed us so much with their love and dedication not only to the past but to the future. I don’t know why Oud Beersel isn’t as lauded in the states as other producers, but the blendery was an amazing place to see and the beers were phenomenal (even the Tripel! Not normally my style.)

One interesting fact about Oud Beersel is that their Lambic recipe differs some from other producers. Yes they use the standard mix of Pils and Wheat malts, and loads of aged hops, but their wort is higher gravity, and they do a late addition of Noble hops around 20 min left in the boil. Werner (our guide from the esteemed Die Geuzen van Oud Beersel club) gave me some hints as to the type and amount of hops but wouldn’t divulge exactly.

So for this brew we decided to emulate Oud Beersel. The wort gravity was raised to 1.056, and we planned to add willamette hops at about about 1/3 the weight of the the first kettle addition in the last 20 minutes. I also grew up a special additional 2 liters of microbes harvested from the Oud Beersel facility. Our hope is to have a softly acidic beer with that lovely Oud Beersel spiciness and minerality in the finish.

Once this years brew was nearing a close we set about to blending. One nice thing is this year we have a control batch to calibrate our palates. We also had a wonderful recent bottling from Girardin. While at Toer de Geuze we wound up in a crazy beer fueled, impromptu blending session with Uli Kremer at In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst. Uli is a great guy to drink and to blend beer with, and he imparted a few choice bits of knowledge to me that really influenced this blend.

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Blending year 2

I had never understood why Girardin was so esteemed by the other Lambic producers in Belgium. I loved there Black Label Geuze, but still I didn’t get why they were so significant. Then, drinking their straight 2 year Lambic with Uli, it became apparent. I wish I could quote him, but the best I can do is approximate… He explained that Girardin is the best base for a blend. It has almost no sourness even at 2 years old, but the taste fills your entire mouth. It has an incredible amount of character, but it’s still soft, and the finish is long and lingers after you swallow. It creates this broad canvas where you can use other Lambics like spices to tease out the character you want to highlight.

This was a completely new idea of blending for me. Luckily on this blending session we had a barrel that had this kind of character. It was sort of unspecific, it was mildly orangey with some mellon notes, almost no tartness at all, but a very full, round flavor. This comprised nearly half of the final blend. In one of the other barrels we found incredible lemon rind and funk aromas, and in the final one the more characterful flavors of bitterness and tartness. We’re really excited about this blend. The characters, fullness, aroma are all nicely balanced, and it’s got so much room to mature.

The following day we racked the blend and bottled about 30 gallons worth. We used the same methods as the past year. It’s a very simple way, using buckets and siphons, but we saw no damage to the beer with this method last year, and it’s pretty easy to do.

This year instead of making Kriek we made Framboise. Our friends at Crime and Punishment Brewing Co. had an extra couple boxes of Raspberry puree from Oregon Fruit Products, which they were kind enough to give us. We used the same blend from the bottling and added about 1.33 pounds per gallon. This initial blend tasted more like a Raspberry smoothie than beer, but that will change over the next couple months.

This years brewing, blending, and bottling went wonderfully. I’m glad we’re getting all the processes dialed in. It’s been a couple years now for our initial brews, and the beer is aging slowly and becoming quite elegant and complex. I can’t wait to blend year 3!

Vive les Geux!

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3 comments

  1. Very inspiring as usual! Can you go into more detail about your bottling procedure with the buckets please? How long did it take you to bottle with this procedure? Thanks!

    1. Dan, thanks for the kind words. Bottling 30g of beer is definitely time intensive, but we’ve come up with a couple ways to make it as fast a possible. It’s hard to come up with even an approximate time for bottling, as there’s a good bit of setup and cleanup, and we’re always drinking and taking it pretty easy as we go. I want to say it only takes about 5 minutes to bottle 5g. So with all the other stuff going on, the actually bottling is probably only 45 minutes or so, maybe less on a good day. But that’s not including setup, blending and cleanup (where the real work happens).

      One of the biggest aids to bottling this fast is Bessie, our bottling rig.

      Bessie

      The goal was to have a multi-head bottle filler, that filled fast and that you could run sitting comfortably in a chair. As you see in the picture we are only using 2 out of 4 valves. 4 was way overkill; It’s almost impossible to keep up with it, as the fill speed is very fast. What you can’t see is a small dip tube on the inside of the bucket (on one of the spigots) that allows it to pick up right off the bottom. The metal thing at the bottom left is a gas sparger. We usually have about 5 people for bottling. A bottle prep, a bottler, a corker, a capper, and someone handing people things and keeping the glasses full. I fill the first bottle half way before starting the second and from then on it’s just switching back and forth until the bucket’s empty.

      As for blending, we work out the ratios the night before. In the morning we do the math to come up with 30g. The barrels all have taps mounted in them, and starting with the largest volume, we pull beer off, using the buckets to measure. That then gets racked into a large bottling tank, in our case a repurposed pickle barrel. That tank also has a tap on it, and when we’re bottling we just fill a bucket from that, bottle it off and repeat until we’re done.

      We’ve considered using pumps and whatnot, but some of the amounts of beer you are moving are so small it doesn’t really save you much time. The bucket method is easy and hard to screw up if you’re paying attention. So far we haven’t even needed to adjust our blends after racking, they always taste just how we intended. Hope this helps!

  2. Wow that’s cool!

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