Tasting Notes: Lost Lambic

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Mmmm . . . unexpected lambic.

Back in 2001, 2002, and 2003, I brewed at least a couple batches of lambic each year. In 2004, I blended some one-year-old, two-year-old, and three-year old lambic to make a gueuze (a blended lambic). The beer turned out well. It won Best of Show at the 2004 Austin ZEALOTS Inquisition. And, I had 15 gallons (57 L) of it as each blender was 5 gallons (19 L) in volume. There are better gueuze blending strategies than this, but at the time I did not know them. Even so, this was one of the coolest things I ever did as a homebrewer, and I even wrote about it awhile ago.

With 15 gallons (57 L) of beer into to put into bottles, I had to scrounge around to find every available package I had. Along with a few cases of 22-ounce (650-mL) bottles, I ended up using several 1 L bombers to hold some of the beer. After bottling, I set the 1 L bombers aside . . . and forgot about them.

A couple weeks ago, while scrounging around my brewing equipment, I found them. So, suddenly I had six bombers of gueuze that was 10 years old. I immediately put one of the bottles in my fridge, let it cool overnight, and sampled it the next evening. I sampled a couple other bottles in the past few weeks, too. Here is what I found.

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Blending Beers

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A gueuze is the only major beer style that must be produced by blending, but there are many other blends you could try.

Very few homebrewers produce blended beers. Unlike winemakers, we are used to formulating the recipe, brewing the batch, and drinking the beer as is. However, there are several opportunities for brewers to make a blend from two beers and have all three beers — the two original beers and the blended beer — fit within established style guidelines. And of course, if you’re willing to throw out the style guidelines, there’s no limit to the types of beers you can create. Here are some of the more conservative blends a homebrewer could try. He or she could brew two 5.0-gallon (19-L) batches and end up with 3.3 gallons (12.5 L) of three different beers.

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Blending A Gueuze

IMG_3111When it comes time to blend their gueuze, traditional lambic producers have a brewery full of barrels to select from. They can sample from their barrels, select those to contribute to their gueuze, dedicate others to fruit beers, and tag others for continued aging (or the drain). You, in contrast, will have three buckets (if you follow the plan in the accompanying article). Still, if your three beers turned out well, you can still blend of very fine gueuze at home.

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Basic Homebrewed Lambic Recipe

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Bottled gueuze aging at Brouwerij Cantillon in Brussels, Belgium.

If you ask 10 sour beer brewers how to brew a sour beer, you’ll get 11 answers. Here is mine. This is a basic lambic beer. It can be used as the base for a fruit lambic, like a kriek or framboise. It can be used as a blender in a gueuze. (See my article on brewing a gueuze for more information.) Or, it can be enjoyed on its own. Over the years, I have adapted traditional lambic brewing techniques into something that can be done on a normal homebrew system. The main recipe is given in a stovetop extract formulation (countertop partial mash), but I also give an all-grain version.

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Go For The Gueuze

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A chart of the plan to brew sour beers each year and blend a gueuze in the fourth year. An extra bucket of lambic each year will allow you to make a kriek or framboise. (Click on the chart to enlarge it.)

Traditional lambic makers brew during the cooler months of the year, and take the hot summer off. Spring is a great time for homebrewers to begin a sour beer. The main fermentation can complete at normal ale temperatures, and then the beer can sour over the summer. During this time, the temperature of the fermenter can rise (within reason). The added heat will help the souring bacteria do their work more quickly.

One type of traditional lambic is gueuze — a blend of young and old lambics. “Young,” in this case, means one year old and “old” means either 2 or 3 years old. Today I’ll lay out a plan for a homebrewer to brew lambic-style ales for three years, then blend a gueuze from 1, 2 and 3 year old lambic in the fourth year. If you’re wondering who would ever do such a thing, I know one homebrewer who did it — me. (And, my resulting gueuze won Best of Show at the Austin ZEALOTS Inquisition that year.)

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