Thursday, 24 July 2008

19th century Belgian beers

I don't currently have details of many old Belgian beers. A few lagers from the 1950's. Nothing that interesting there. And a handful from the 19th century, mostly lambics. That's more intriguing.

Let's take a look at them.

Someone asked the other day how the acidity was measured in one of my tables. In this case, it's lactic acid percentage by weight. If you compare these lambics with the German top-fermenting beers I wrote about a couple of days ago, you'll see that the lactic acid content of some of the German beers is even higher. Mouth-puckeringly sour, I would say.

The attenuation of the lambics is, as you would expect, pretty high. What surprised me was the alcohol content. Much higher than modern versions. Now can anyone explain that? The Petermann is also unexpectedly strong. I would have guessed 5% ABV max. Just goes to show how accurate guesswork is.


Brendan said...

You should probably point out that the bacteria which ferment lambics do not convert sugar into alcohol as effectively as yeast, because if the first lambic were fermented entirely with yeast, its abv would be around 8% or so.

Joe said...

Hmmm. Boon lists its Mariage Parfait as 8%... Not sure, but maybe this is because it is a blend of 3-year-old lambics instead of younger ones?

Baums said...

OK, I'll admit to the sickness of being perhaps as interested in this table as the author is.

Similar stats for more recent (but anonymous) commercial examples are buried in for instance this page

That old stuff seems extremely sour (unsurprising I guess) and about as strong as I think one might expect (except for the one). I do recall reading that Boon has said a "light chaptalization" was common in the old days to boost alcohol content.

The thing that surprises me is the FG--unless that's real FG as opposed to apparent?

marcus oregonensis said...

Oh yes, interesting as all get out. Anyone commenting on one of your posts should be required to use the word "interesting" in the first paragraph, with all the scholastic ground you're breaking.

May I ask what your source was for the 19th century lambiek numbers?

Those final gravity figure do seem implausibly high, according to my poorly informed expectations, unless those brewers were curtailing fermentation by some means (ah, pasteurisation? The first OED citation for the use of the term "pasteurize" appears in 1881,well after a good number of your entries. Interesting that the numbers seem unphased by Louis's impact. . . ). I would guess that people figured out the gist (no Dutch/Anglais pun intended) of the procedure prior to that.

"Are your bottles exploding, Henk? Well, just heat your beer a bit before bottling. Duizelige stom. Zweig."