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Monday, March 08, 2010

Easy Lambic

Yesterday afternoon, I transferred a batch of lambic that had been sitting on peaches for about a month. I know braver brewers go longer with their fruit, but I got skittish--peaches just sitting there at room temperature all that time. (Finding: when I dumped the spent peaches in the compost, they were perfectly preserved and not remotely close to ruining the beer. Should have kept my powder dry.) As usual, I had a sample during transfer and: wow! This should be an amazing beer.

As I have confessed many times, I'm a poor brewer. By the standards of the time when I started (1993), I was pretty good. But, when I try beer brewed by folks like Gansberg and Ganum, Harris and Swihart (just to name a few)--well, what I do shouldn't properly be mentioned in the same breath. Except--and let this be a lesson to everyone who loves sour beer--when I brew with Wyeast 3278.

A traditional lambic is a hairy beast to brew, even leaving aside the spontaneous fermentation. There's this nightmare known as a turbid mash, which I've never even considered. But a psuedo-lambic, fermented with this strain, is super easy. Just brew it like you would any beer, with a ratio of about 60-40 barley-wheat malt. If you have foresight or plan to be brewing a lot of years, buy some low-alpha hops (Saaz, Hallertauer, etc.) and throw 'em in a paper sack and let them sit. Otherwise, just use fresh ones in small quantities. (You can try to subject them to low heat to speed-age them, but it's unnecessary.) Then pitch with the Wyeast Lambic blend, and let the little beasties do the real work.

Lambics are all about the yeast, and this is an amazingly well-designed blend. Like a good sour ale, it produces beer that evolves. In the last lambic I brewed, I added some apples from my tree out front. I didn't use enough though, and the effect was exceedingly subtle to begin with. A bit in the nose. But as the brettanomyces continued to work and stripped away the last of the malt sugars, the evanescence of the apples emerged. Still very mild, but now clearly evident. Straight lambics evolve, too, and become these fantastically layered, austere beers after a couple years.

Fanatics will observe that these are neither real lambics nor as singular and intense as versions from the traditional breweries. But they're definitely in the ballpark. And since I usually can't even see the ballpark from where I man the kettle, this is enormously satisfying. If you like to brew, you like lambics, and you have some time, give it a shot. Results guaranteed ... eventually.

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