Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Lambic in 1932 (part two)

We're back with that 1930's article on Lambic. With more surprising stuff about blending.

I wish I had more material like this on Belgian brewing. Then again, maybe it's better I'm not distracted any more than I already am from my primary aims. But every time I read something modern about Belgian beer history I get uneasy. The same assumptions that have plagued histories of British beer seem at play. Projecting the present into the past being the most dangerous.

First some more about the beer itself.

"The spontaneously fermented beers of the Brussels district are usually brewed from equal parts of malt and ungerminated wheat. Several types are frequently obtained from the same brew. For example, the first wort gives Lambic, the later runnings give March or small beer. Faro is obtained by blending the two. The Lambic is often kept two or even three years before use. Gueuse-lambic is natural Lambic to which no additions have been made. The customer may add sugar if he so desires. It is often kept several years in bottle."
Brewers' Journal 1932, page 581.

I've read about the three types of lambic brewed from a single mash in 19th-century texts. I can't imagine that they currently make anything weaker than Faro. I wonder if that's brewed as is or made from diluting Lambic? It's interesting how the term Gueuse-Lambic is used differently from today. Now it means a blend of aged Lambic blende and bottled. Back in the 1930's, it seems to have meant uncut Lambic. I wonder when the meaning changed?

The grist sounds much like today: a mix of malted barley and unmalted wheat.

"One is frequently asked what is the origin of the name Gueuse-lambic. It may simply be the Lambic of the poor. It is known that the latter adopt as a title of honour the name which was given to them in contempt. The poor woodmen and sailors reserve for themselves the best drinks and foods they produce."
Brewers' Journal 1932, page 581.

It's all very well coming up with an explanation about the Gueuse bit, but what about Lambic?

Now some more about blending.

"Tasting is a very important ceremony in the preparation of special beers. As with all luxury drinks, the aim is always to please customers. Each brewery consequently has a taster who has to determine the quantity of candy syrup or old beer which must be added. He has to regulate the blends and must know the taste of every customer. Each brewery thus tends to produce a beer of special flavour and the fermentations differ from one brewery to another. Details of brewing also influence the flavour. Thus blending in cask or fermenting vessel have different effects. It has been noticed that the flavours marry better in the latter case, as some of the constituents of the old beer may be modified during fermentation. The Lambic may contain all sorts of disease organisms and may have suffered from ropiness or haze. The yeast must consequently progressively become more infected, and the bad effects show themselves in the beer after quite lengthy periods of storage, sometimes months or even a year. Wort to which additions are to be made is comparatively strong, and in it 25 to 50 per cent, of wheat or other grain is used, with 8 to 12 lb. per barrel of hops. The beer is fermented in large storage casks and clarifies spontaneously. After the secondary fermentation it is kept long enough to become definitely acid."
Brewers' Journal 1932, page 581.

You can what they mean by blending is quite different from today. We'd now proably call mixing with syrup or vinegar cutting rather than blending. And note again that they mention blending in old beer with wort before fermentation. Having a skilled blender is still important in Lambic breweries. I can remeber being told that was one of the problems at Belle Vue. That produced some of the best Lambic, but not having good blenders couldn't get the most out of it. Or maybe it was just the sugar and other shit they were putting into it.

Yeast getting infected? Isn't that the whole point of Lambic brewing? That's rather a lot of hops for beer of this strength. Sadly, there's no mention of their age. I'd be shocked if they used that quantity of fresh hops, as it's a 19th-century IPA type level of hopping.

I'm intrigued by it souring "after the secondary fermentation". What's going on then? Is there a tertiary fermentation? Having seen a breakdown of a Lambic fermentation, it seems to go through multiple fermentations, with different organisms taking the lead, after finishing primary.

"The alcohol content of Lambic varies from 4 to over 6 per cent., with solid matter between 6 and 3 per cent. The beers are better fermented in open casks than in fermenting vessels as the attenuation is too rapid in the latter. The lactic acid develops first followed by the acetic. The fermentation is slow and the characteristic flavour is not developed in less than a year. The beers are very dextrinous.— Petite Gazette du Brasseur."
Brewers' Journal 1932, page 581.

Now there's a thing. While many Belgian styles have become stronger Lambic hasn't. If anything, it's got weaker. Nowadays they're always around 5% ABV. I know that there were stronger versions because I've an analysis of a 19th-century Lambic that was 6% ABV.

That's it for this article. Must pan the Brewers' Journal for some more nuggets.


Rod said...

This comment, at the end, is interesting -
"The beers are very dextrinous"
Different to today's very dry Lambic, and arguing, perhaps, that Brett wasn't present - if it was, surely it would have nibbled away at the dextrins during maturation?

Another difference seems to be hinted at when the article says that lactic acid is produced first, followed by acetic acid (which takes us back to the mention of adding vinegar) - today's Lambics certainly have lactic acid, but little if any acetic, do they?

Lady Luck Brewing said...

I think you should schedule a trip to Brussels to visit Cantillion. Having a research talk with Jean-Pierre van Roy could be an interesting project.

Ed said...

I went through a 1895 JIB article on lambic here:

J. Karanka said...

Ed, that's really interesting! No surprise they loved British ales over there at the time! (A lot of the Belgian strong beers / trappists were a purposeful reaction to take back market share.) Have you read about West Country White Ale in Zythophile? Some of the descriptions mentioned it was like a Belgian beer, which I thought meant lambic, but it clearly points to the thick, white ale that was drunk while still fermenting that your post mentions. Brilliant stuff! A few beers there to be recreated!

Ed said...

Much as I love recreating historical beer I think West Country White Ale is a beer style best left extinct!

etripp said...

I think there may be some confusion from the author as to what goes on in the brewery versus the cafe. It seems in the cafe quite a lot of adulteration went on, from cafe owners, blending their own gueuze from different accounts, to sweetening, or cutting the brew to the taste of whomever ordered. Quite similar to the schuss used with Berliner.

What is confusing even more is that some breweries, even today, use candy sugar to give carbonation in the bottle. If they instead used young beer they'd need enough that the overall taste would be changed too drastically.

I also think the definition of Gueuze here is a misunderstanding. Yes, Gueuze is made from 100% lambic, that doesn't mean it's not a blend of different batches, ages, etc. I don't think "uncut Lambic" was a bottled product until quite recently. What I've gathered is that Lambic by the barrel was sold to cafes which then did what they liked with it, and gueuze was sold in bottles where it had a refermentation due to blending and produced carbonation. There's even been some indication that the line between the two is pretty much drawn down to carbonation, but that's with a decent dose of simplification.

The character of Lambic comes as much from brettanomyces as it does from Lactic acid. Sure Lactic brings most of the sourness, but the Brett brings a whole host of character to balance it out. And acetic acid is definitely present in most examples, (brett manufactures it efficiently enough) though it shouldn't be too prominent or it would be considered a defect.

When they talk about yeast becoming infected, it's pure bullshitting. The yeast doesn't become diseased, it's merely that different microbes are active at different times. I think the text sounds as it does due to some prejudice against "infected beer" by the author.