Last weekend, on MLKJr day, I brewed my first lambic. Technically it was a pseudo-lambic (or pLambic) because I pitched a culture rather than letting nature inoculate the wort.
There are many ways to get a souring culture, one of the most common is to buy a bottle of lambic beer that isn’t pasturized, and grow up a culture from the bottle dregs. I went a different route, largely due to the overwhelming popularity of the results. I bought a pitch from East Coast Yeast of Al’s BugFarm 5 (the 2011 variant) and made a starter.
Making a pLambic isn’t necessarally super hard, you can do a regular infusion mash and just pitch a mixed culture to make a sour beer, but after reading Wild Brews and nagging Michael Tonsmeire. for advice on a number of occasions leading up to brewday, I decided to make it in as traditional a manner as possible, which most importantly includes a turbid mash.
If you want to know all there is to know about a turbid mash, I’d recommend you read Michael Tonsmeire’s article, and then proceed to Wild Brews. In a nutshell though, it’s a specific mash process that leaves a significant portion of the starches from your cereal grains as they are, which sets them aside to be food for the non-brewer’s yeast to tear apart and eat over the 1-3 year fermentation cycle. A traditional mash breaks them down into simpler sugars, so that brewer’s yeast can easily convert them to alcohol and other by-products.
OK. So, I was a little anxious about the turbid mash, because it was a deviation from the process that I know so well, so I referred to Michael Tonsmeire’s website, Wild Brews, and a third article by the Cult of the Biohazard Lambic Brewers in order to make myself a spreadsheet, outlining the various infusions and runoffs. I was able to move through these steps on brewday fairly flawlessly, with the exception that there’s one step towards the end, where it would be handy to have a third pot and second burner. Oh well, minor delay. If you want to know what steps I followed, read Michael Tonsmeire’s article, he has the same steps all laid out with photos.
The boil is where this really becomes a drag. Due to the high volume of water used in the mash process, you end up with a 9-10 gallon pre-boil volume, which can take a really long time to boil down. I have a Bayou Country propane burner, and it took me about 4 hours to get to my final volume.
Hop selection is also of concern when making a pLambic — you don’t want to use high-alpha hops for bittering, even if you only use enough to hit your 20 or so IBUs — you want to use low-alpha hops that have ideally been aged a few years to have even less bittering power. I used 4 year old Challenger hops, that I calculated to be at 2.7%AA. And as the books say, yes, they do smell like cheesy, smelly feet. I put them in the boil early to make sure that I blasted out all the smell and flavor.
Fermentation was fairly mellow, and it seemed to finish it’s primary phase in 4 days. The krausen has now fallen, and I’m sure the secondary microorganisms are now taking over the show. I’ll post some followup photos here as things change, I know it’s going to be a long process.
Recipe: 2012 Lambic #1
Style: 17D-Sour Ale-Straight (Unblended) Lambic
Wort Volume Before Boil: 10.50 US gals
Wort Volume After Boil: 6.25 US gals
Volume Transferred: 5.50 US gals
Expected Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.032 SG
Expected OG: 1.053 SG
Expected FG: 1.015 SG
Expected ABV: 5.0 %
Expected IBU (using Daniels): 19.2
Expected Color: 3.9 SRM
Mash Efficiency: 98.0 %
UK Pale Ale Malt 6lb 12oz (71.1 %) In Mash/Steeped
US Flaked Soft Red Wheat 2lb 12oz (28.9 %) In Mash/Steeped
UK Challenger (2.7 % alpha) 2.00 oz Loose Whole Hops used All Of Boil
Yeast: East Coast Yeast ECY01 – BugFarm 5
Mash Type: Turbid Mash