A Wild and Crazy Brew

Generally, every summer I brew a batch of some kind of Belgian-style sour beer; while not always a Lambic per se, it’s always a chance to play around with wild yeast and/or bacteria. I have one fermenter which I only use for these brews, I don’t dare brew a “normal” beer in a vessel that has been inoculated with any variety of Brettanomyces or the like… no matter how well I clean it and sanitize it, I just don’t trust it henceforth. Same with tubing and bottling spigots – I have a set of racking canes and a second bottling bucket that I only use for the “wild” brews…

This summer I am opting to intensify my sour experience. Today I brewed the base beer for what will be a Kriek, a sour cherry-flavored ale; it is fermenting with White Labs “Belgian Sour Blend” (which contains a Brettanomyces strain, a wild Saccharomyces strain and some Lactobacillus just for fun) and an expired Wyeast Lambic Blend as well (a similar mix). In a couple months I will rack it onto a winemaker’s cherry puree and add some black cherry juice concentrate. Then I will exhibit a Belgian Monk’s patience and age it for a year before bottling it and another  couple of months before tasting it. So check back with me in about May of 2014 for the first results…

Additionally, I am planning to brew a true (well, almost) spontaneously-fermented ale in October. Talks with a few friends and a great article in the September 2012 issue of Brew Your Own convinced me that it was worth trying to see what I might be able to do with the ambient micro-flora and -fauna of my Tunbridge hilltop… so I reserved a small portion of the wort for this Kriek and set it out in a couple places to collect wild yeast etc. I will carefully select anything that seems to be fermenting on its own (and seems palatable!), build up a slurry and brew another similar beer in a couple months.  If nothing develops, well, I’ve wasted about a quart of wort. If, however, as I hope, I get a nice wild yeast sample, I may end up with a really interesting beer. Again, I won’t really know anything for a year and a half at best. Patience, grasshopper!

Smoky Creek Sour Ale – Belgian-style pseudo-lambic with fruit

5 gallons, all-grain

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs. Chateau Belgian Pilsner malt
  • 1 lb. Rahr white wheat malt
  • 1 lb. Rahr floor-malted wheat
  • 1 lb. Weyermann’s light wheat malt
  • 12 0z. Weyermann’s Oak-smoked wheat malt
  • 4 oz. Briess Cherrywood smoked malt
  • 1 lb. flaked wheat
  • 2 oz. 3-year old homegrown Chinook hops
  • White Labs Belgian Sour blend (WLP655)
  • Wyeast Lambic Blend (3278)
  • 8 oz. Knudsen’s Black Cherry juice concentrate
  • 3 lbs. Vintner’s Harvest Cherry Puree
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)
  • 7 g dry ale yeast (any) for bottle conditioning

Procedure:

Crush grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 164°F. Dough in grains (including the flaked wheat), hold 60 minutes at 152°F. Heat another 13 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts of sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add 2 oz. old hops, boil 60 minutes. Chill to 80°F, pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeasts and seal. Ferment 6 – 8 weeks at 65 – 70°F. Put cherries and juice in a sanitized secondary fermenter (glass carboy, preferably) and rack beer onto the fruit. Age one year (yes, one year) – check airlock regularly to be sure it does not dry out. A week before bottling time, rack to a third fermenter to get beer off the fruit solids (to allow better clarification). To bottle, add corn sugar (boiled in a cup of water) and bottling yeast, bottle and cap. Condition cool (50°F) for 6 to 8 weeks.

OG: 1054

IBU’s: irrelevant

Notes on yeast, etc.: In the past I have always done similar beers by doing the primary fermentation with a Belgian ale yeast and added the Lambic cultures with the fruit in the secondary. This is a departure for me, intended to make a much more sour and funky beer. If you don’t like the really dry/sour classic Lambic style, you can substitute almost any Belgian ale yeast in the primary…

Note on hops: This is not a hop-flavored beer. The hops are present merely for their pH and preservative values. Old stale hops, 3 or 4 years old or more, are used and the variety really doesn’t matter.

Note on smoke: Curious about the presence of 2 lbs. of smoked malts? This comes from conversations, a couple of years ago, with my friend James, a blacksmith/sculptor/artist who enjoyed smoking his own meats and vegetables. We considered trying to cold-smoke some fruit for brewing, but never got around to it before he and his wife moved to Alabama. Not being adept at cold-smoking stuff, I decided to use the smoked malts in this beer to get an idea of what might have been…

 

A Belgian State of Mind

Blame the weather, blame the sun, blame… the Belgians! Anyway, two recent brews that have not yet been documented, for your consideration.

pLambic 2011
10 gallons, grain/extract with fruit

My annual batch of pLambics, aged on fruit. Soured with bacterial cultures and various Lambic dregs… This is a semi-complicated fermentation, although the brewing process itself is pretty straightforward. I try to time this brew to coincide with ripe fruit, although this year I am using last year’s harvest.

Ingredients:

  • 9 lbs. lager malt
  • 5 lbs. malted wheat
  • 1 lb. unmalted wheat
  • 1 lb. flaked wheat
  • 1/2 lb. carapils malt
  • 1 lb. extra-light dry malt extract (DME)
  • 1 lb. wheat dry malt extract (DME)
  • 1 oz. whole (stale) Chinook hops (home-grown)
  • 1 oz. whole (stale) Cluster hops (home-grown)
  • White Labs Belgian Ale Yeast Blend (WLP575)
  • 4 lbs. frozen cherries
  • 4 lbs. frozen blackberries and/or raspberries
  • 4 lbs. frozen black and/or red currants
  • 4 lbs. frozen blueberries
  • White Labs Belgian Sour Mix (WLP655)
  • Wyeast Lambic Blend (3278)
  • 2 cups corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:
Crush grains. Heat 22 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold at 150°F for 90 minutes. Heat another 22 quarts of water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 42 gallons QUARTS of sweet wort. Stir in the DME, bring wort to a boil, add Chinook hops. Boil 30 minutes. Add Cluster hops, boil another 30 minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into sanitized fermenters, spalshing well to aerate, and pitch yeast. Seal and ferment 10 to 14 days at 70°F. Rack to separate carboys with each of the fruit (approximately 2.5 gallons each), add the Lambic cultures and age in carboys 4 to 6 weeks. Prime each small batch with 1/2 cup corn sugar, bottle and condition 6 to 8 weeks.

OG: unimportant
IBU’s: meaningless

Notes on style: True Lambics are produced in one very specific region of Belgium. These being produced in Vermont, I use the lower-case p to indicate that they are pseudo-Lambics. I’m sure that my land, my equipment and my process give mine a distinct “terroir”…

Notes on fermenters and kettles:My set-up is very convenient for 5-gallon batches. Brewing 10-gallons pushes the limits, hence it is rare that I brew this much at once. I needed three kettles to bring this all to a boil, and needed to add some DME because I could not get a high enough OG from a mash-only wort. The primary fermentation took place in two 6.5 gallon plastic buckets (pre-bacteria), and the secondary aging on fruit is taking place in 4 3-gallon glass carboys.

Left to right: kriek (cherries), cassis (currants), framboise (rasberries) and bleuets (blueberries).

Note on yeast and cultures: Some Lambic brewers will do the entire fermentation with a blend of ale yeast and bacteria. I prefer to ferment out the beer first with a straight yeast and add the Lambic cultures along with the fruit in the secondary. I get a milder sourness, overall, and I don’t ruin my fermenters :).

Note on fruit: Cherries and raspberries are traditional in Belgium (Kriek and Framboise, respectively); currants are found occasionally as well (Cassis). I have had marvelous results with my blueberries in the past, but there is probably no traditional Belgian Lambic with “bleuets”.

Note on hops: These beers really have no discernible hop flavor or aroma. Hops are used in Lambics basically for their preservative value. Many Lambic brewers will use stale hops, as I have in this batch, which will still contribute some preservative but very little bitterness.

 

Gargouille

5 gallons, all-grain

Another beer inspired by a mention in the Northern Brewer catalog, meant to be a highly hopped Belgian Strong Ale. Their name for it was in incorrect French, I fixed it and then decided to change it entirely. The result is basically a Belgian IPA, hence the new name which is a tribute to the one brewed by Stone.

Ingredients:

  • 10 lbs. Belgian pale malt
  • 1 lb. malted wheat
  • 2 lbs. cara-pils malt
  • 1/2 lb. light candi sugar
  • 1 oz. Perle hop pellets (@8% aa)
  • 1 oz. Saphir hop pellets (@5.6% aa)
  • 1 oz. Magnum hop pellets (@8.8 % aa)
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets (@4% aa)
  • White Labs Trappist Ale yeast (WLP500)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure:
Crush grains. Heat 15 quarts water to 168°F. Mash in grains and hold 60 minutes at 156°F. Heat another 15 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 27 quarts sweet wort. Add candi sugar, bring to a boil. Add Perle hops, boil 15 minutes. Add Saphir hops, boil 15 minutes. Add Magnum hops, boil 15 minutes. Add Saaz hops, boil 15 more minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment 8 to 10 days at 68 – 70°F. Rack to secondary, age two to three weeks at 65°F. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition three to four weeks.

OG: 1080
IBU’s: 90