Most of you know that I have a liking for Belgian beers and have been on several Belgian beer tours over the last few years to enhance my passion. So, as lambic and gueuze (blended lambics of one, two and three years old) beers are particularly to my taste, I planned to have a go and make one.
Now, the initial making of a lambic beer is the same as making any beer but it all changes at fermentation and on into storage. True lambics are commercially made by using an open shallow tank up in the roof space of the brewery (called a cool ship) so that the native micro flora can infuse the wort overnight and cause spontaneous fermentation. They are then transferred to be fermented and stored in wood for at least three months and often longer.
I can’t do that as I don’t have the micro flora to cause spontaneous fermentation, but I can create it artificially. I can easily, however, ferment and store the beer in wood.
To enable me to do this, back in the summer of 2016, I commenced my plan by ordering a three gallon oak barrel from a family business in Kent who specialise in making various sizes of oak barrels. It arrived with a stand, tap and spike. I then filled it with water to help the new oak to swell and make the barrel water (and beer) tight. This took quite a few weeks with several toppings up of water before no more leaked out. I then decided to make a five gallon kit red wine and then fill the barrel with the completed wine so it could soak into the wood. Don’t know what happened, but the wine came out as a red rosé, a bottle of which I entered in the Rosé Kit Class at the National in 2017 and got a first. I left the wine in the barrel for about a year and it came out so full of oak it was undrinkable.
Earlier, I was contacted by Elaine with the view to providing a beer for the Guild AGM in November as something different. I said that funnily enough, I was just planning to make a Framboise (Raspberry) Lambic and this should make an ideal aperitif beer for the Friday night as it is often used as a palate cleanser on the continent. So, I now had the incentive and a target date.
I have a couple of books about lambic beers, and after reading through them, came up with a recipe to follow.
Ingredients: To make 18 litres
- 2.5kg Pale Malt mix of MO and Propino
- 1.2kg unmalted wheat
- 7.5g Old Fuggles
- 7.5g Old Goldings
- 7.5g Old Challenger
- 2.5kg frozen raspberries
- 2ml vanilla extract
The choice of the barley malt is not specific as some breweries use pilsner malts and others pale malt, either winter or spring. One book I have recommends a mix of winter and spring barley to make pale malt to use in lambics so I had a chat with the maltster at Tuckers Maltings. I learnt that a lot of modern brewers are using a mix as well unless they specify a particular malt is being used and the one I used was readily available at Tuckers. It does reduce the flavour of Maris Otter and that is what I wanted. I picked up a 25kg sack from them when I attended the Wales and West Festival earlier that year.
I ordered the unmalted wheat from The Malt Miller (amongst other requisites) and then I hit the problem of getting old hops. I needed hops at least two years old, dry, lifeless with no hop aroma (like the hops we used to get in the old days from home brew shops). Friends were bemused when I asked if they had any old hops lying around and I managed to acquire a supply from assorted sources. What I have left are hanging up in my brew shed in clear plastic bags and exposed to light and temperature changes. I want them fully oxidised with no aroma at all. They are only wanted for their preservative properties. Nothing else. The frozen raspberries I bought from Tesco’s as they had a deal of three for the cost of two packs which brought the cost down.
I followed a decoction method.
- Heat 6 litres water to 60°C and mix with un malted wheat and 10% Pale (250g)
- Rest for 10 minutes then bring to boil for 30 minutes
The reason for doing this is because the starches inside the wheat have not been modified and cannot be mashed in their raw state. They must be gelatinised by cooking the grain as otherwise the amylases from the malt do not have access to the wheat starches and cannot convert them to sugars.
- Mix 10 litres water with rest of Pale (2230g)
- Hold for 15 minutes at 46°C
This is known as a protein rest which is probably not necessary but does get the mash up to a reasonable temperature for the next stage.
- Add the boiled adjunct and hold for 15 minutes at 60°C.
This is the beta amylase rest period. Then raise the temperature to 70°C to complete the starch conversion
- Slow sparge.
I kept recycling the wort until it ran clear and then let it run into the boiler slowly. The sparge water was around 90°C to help get into solution any unconverted starch granules and husk phenols left in the grist.
Note to brewers: this practice is only desirable for lambic beer as it gives microbial flora a chance to hydrolyse and utilise the insoluble starch during maturation and aging.
- Boil for about two hours.
The starting gravity should be around 1.030 and it is desirable to achieve a long rolling boil as this precipitates as much hot break as possible, that is mostly proteins and some phenols, and to start hydrolysing some of the complex, high molecular carbohydrates left in the wort. Hops should be added early to the boil.
After cooling I then ran the beer into the fermenter and added Safale 05 which is an easy to use California Ale Yeast. This took 8 days to complete. Original Gravity 1.050
Final Gravity 1.015
I decided to do the fermentation this way as it meant I could ferment as normal in my brewery without the extreme likelihood of infecting the surroundings. I decanted the beer into the barrel in a garden shed with the beer, added the raspberries and vanilla extract as well as WLP655 to mini- mise the possibility of contamination. This is a mix of California Ale Yeast, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. I left it in the barrel for 9 weeks at around 20°C.
Bottling became a problem as there was no way I wanted this beer anywhere near my normal beer shed so I managed to get the beer out of the barrel into some demi johns in the back garden. I then added some secondary sugar and bottled the beer. The recipe in the book that I had based my recipe on recommended that a second infusion of bacteria be used, that is, another tube of WLP655. Problem was that I could not get hold of one at that time.
Moving on, about a month later (August), I tried the first beer. As soon as I opened it, I heard the hiss of escaping carbon dioxide and could smell what we would refer to as sour but in Belgium as acidic. I moved into Beer Judge mode. Colour was a lovely red, clarity was brilliant and good head and condition. Disappointingly the head died away fairly quickly but there was still a rapid rising bead. The bouquet was strongly sour with some raspberry and a hint of Brettanomyces. This followed into the flavour. So, whereas it was not like a lot of framboise’s I had tried in the past, it was not a bad beer for my first attempt. I enjoyed drinking this beer.
Interestingly, I tried the beer again in early October and the flavour profile had changed a lot. It was sort of 50-50 sour and brett. Come the Friday night of the AGM in early November, the beer still had good condition but lost the head quite quickly, there was a low raspberry flavour but everything else had reversed. There was a slight sour flavour but the brett was more dominant. Still, I thought it did make a great aperitif beer which is what I was asked to make. I would also say that with my experience of all the official lambic beers available that this was a gentle starter for those who had never tried a lambic beer before.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about how I got to making a framboise lambic beer which is quite a complicated process, I hope that those of you who attended the Guild AGM and tasted the beer enjoyed it and I can advise that the adventure goes on as I bottled a straight lambic beer yesterday with an added second tube of the bacterial mix. I hope this will be a much sourer beer as there is no fruit to balance off the flavours. Problem now is, what shall I make next?