Before diving into the “why you shoulds” and “how you dos” lets take a look at what spontaneous fermentation means in the beer world. As we already know, all fermented beverages/foods were once caused by spontaneous fermentation and not controlled lab cultures.
Lambic. Possibly the most coveted and rarest of beers. Also, one of the hottest debate topics in the beer world. What is it and what are its sub categories? The TL;DR version is turbid mashed, ~65/35 pils/raw wheat, aged noble leaf hops, spontaneous fermentation, barrel aging, standard strength golden ale from the Pajottenland in Belgium. Although many breweries label beer as lambic without following these rules people seem to look the other way. (See Cantillon Iris, Drie Fonteinen Nocturne, the dozens of back sweetened abominations and many others). Lambic has a mysterious origin and history with references all the way back to the 1500s. Aside from gruit lambic is possibly the oldest style of beer. With the modern advent of the bottle, lambic has been blended and Gueuze/Geuze (blend of 1/2 and 3 year old lambic) was born in the late 1800s. Shortly after Kriek (Cherry lambic) and Framboise/Framboos (Raspberry Lambic) joined the party. We saw a dark age when back sweetening became popular. Many breweries/blenderies fell throughout the 1900s. Then the craft beer boom began we saw a resurgence of lambic and creativity. To this day we continue to see lambic growing. So much so, that American craft brewers and blenders from other countries began to make their own “lambic”.
For the purpose of keeping arguments down and to make things a bit simpler lambic and Méthode Traditionnelle (MT) are going to be used interchangeably. Besides many of the lambic producers/HORAL members “stretch” the definition of lambic.
So that leads us to today. Yes you sitting at your desk pretending to work I am talking to you. If you are reading this blog you either are a homebrewer, have been a homebrewer or are thinking about becoming a homebrewer. Whatever the case is you should consider brewing a lambic. Yes the longest beer style with the most variables of screwing up. You. Should. Brew. One. I have yet to meet a homebrewer who has not toyed with the idea of brewing a historical style or a hard to brew style. Lambic ticks both those boxes while still being easy to ferment.
So why should you brew one? No temp control needed or yeast handling equipment required! Old hops are pretty easy to find in homebrew clubs (and often free). It is the cheapest grain bill you can imagine. FREE YEAST. 20 year (or more) expiration date once packaged. The down sides? Mashing take forever, 3-4 hour boils are boring, barrels for homebrewers are $$$ and hand to find, waiting years sucks, potential to never turn out.
So to take some of the cons away I have developed my own way to make these beers. As you can see turbid mashing is slightly more convoluted than a single step infusion mash. I have simplified (see below recipe) not only to save time but also to remove a few steps to make the day more manageable.
Something simple. I use filtered tap water for “authenticity” but if you have less than great tap water something like Brewers Friend balance profile 1 will work perfectly.
60% Pilsner Malt (Belgian or local is my go to)
40% Raw Wheat (Belgian or local is my go to)
Ok here is where things get… fun. This first step I like to do in a bucket as to not knock my mash manifold out of place and to not have mash tun dead space affect me.
- Mix in grain with 0.6 qt/lbs of water to end with a mash temp of 113F.
- Rest for 20 min.
- Infuse water to end up with a thickness of 1.6 qt/lbs and a temp of 136F
- Rest for 5 min
- Pull 15% of your PREBOIL volume (you will have to calculate this for your system/boil off rate)
- Raise the temp of this milky looking starch water to 185F and hold there (this is your turbid portion)
- Infuse the mash with boiling water to reach 149F
- Rest for 30 min
- Infuse with boiling water to reach 172F
- Rest for 20 min
- Begin fly sparging with 185F water into the pot with your turbid portion
- Begin heating to boil while you sparge
This seems crazy but is actually pretty simple. Keep in mind this is a 3-4 hour boil so over sparge and get that volume up! Kettle too small? Collect in a bucket and add back to the boil as you go.
Believe it or not you are past the tricky part! As you begin to sparge add your hops. I add 0.8-1 oz/gal of final boil volume. So if I am targeting 5 gal into fermenting vessel I add 4-5 oz of aged noble leaf hops. Remember these hops suck up a TON of liquid. So set your timer for 180-240 min and boil away!
You are a homebrewer. You do not need a coolship. You have a kettle for that! Set the kettle outside or near a window. I cover mine with cheesecloth to try and keep critters out. Come back in the morning (8-16 hours after flame out) and fill your fermenting vessel. You are supposed to use a barrel but homebrew sized barrels are A) expensive, B) hard to find and C) less than ideal for long term aging. Glass and a few oak cubes is perfectly fine! If you do have a barrel fill with boiling water, drain and fill with cooled wort. I have filled with wort still at 75F and also with wort at 41F.
You may have noticed something there. 41F is not a temp generally reached in the warmer months. That kettle was actually left out at 25F over night. Traditional lambic brewers advise only brewing these beers when the overnight low is 25F-46F.
So why am I telling you this now as the days get warmer? Planning! These brews take time and planning. Not the best to do on a whim. Also these traditional lambic brewers also claim that “lambic cannot be made outside of the Pajottenland”. Last I checked Jester King, Microbrasserie Pit Caribou and Block 3 have all brewed “lambic” so perhaps these lambic brewers may be wrong again. I do plan to brew a “lambic” this summer on a cooler night to see what happens. Will report back with what happens on that experiment. Also you can produce lambic wort, chill and pitch lambic dregs + siason yeast as “practice” until the temp is right outside! I am switching all of my mixed culture brewing over to turbid mashing as I have found it really emphasizes brett character.
Anyways if you have made it this far I hope I have encouraged you to get thinking outside the box. So far my lambic attempts have turned out. None are done fermenting/developing yet but they have certainly turned into beer! I look forward to blending and fruiting these as I continue to push Reverence along.