You can imagine my delight when I found an article about Lambic. I don't know about you, but I can never learn too much about Lambic. This piece is particularly informatibve with regards to brewing techniques.
Visitors to Belgium usually wish to taste some of the beers typical of that country, such as Lambic or Faro, though they afterwards admit, not infrequently, that their palates would require a certain amount of education before they could fully appreciate the special qualities of these beverages. One of the characteristics of these beers consists in the use of grain other than barley. Wheat is generally used in the form of raw grain mixed with malt. The quantity employed may be even equal to that of the malt, it is usually said that wheat beers froth a great deal, but it would be more correct to say that they hold their head better than all-malt beer. Lactic and acetic acid are very quickly produced in them, and this is one of the characteristics of the Special Brussels beers. The high percentage of acids produced esterifies the alcohol during storage and gives the typical aromas to these beers. Use of different kinds of wheat gives special characteristics to the beers, while rye, oats and buckwheat are also occasionally used in addition.
The fermentation methods adopted in the breweries may resemble either bottom or top fermentation. In the first case the temperature is kept below 50 deg. Fahr. and the yeast settles on the bottom of the fermenting vessel. The top fermentations are carried out at the temperature of the air and the yeast comes up. In certain cases the fermentation is spontaneous and started by organisms from the air or in the casks. This fermentation is very slow, and is not now used in the breweries devoted to making these beers.
Additions of wort or very acid old beer play a very important part in the brewing. These are made in variable proportions to suit the taste of customers, and sometimes even vinegar or acetic acid are added. The old beer is acid and has passed through a sequence of diseases. If it is added to the casks, it is advisable to pasteurise it by heating it for a short time at 158 deg. Fahr. If the old beer is added before fermentation, it may be boiled for a few minutes in the copper and afterwards passed over the refrigerator before mixing with the wort in the starting vessel.
Tho spontaneously fermented beers of the Brussels district are usually browed 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.
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.
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 und clarifies spontaneously. After the secondary fermentation it is kept long enough to become definitely acid.
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.
My palate certainly needed education to appreciate Lambic. I was didtinctly unimpressed the first time I tried it. But with knowledge has come love. I'd forgotten just how much I loved Lambic until we bumped into one another at the ZBF this year. When we parted, we promised to keep in touch this time. I hope we do.
Rye, oats and buckwheat used, too? Sounds very renaissance. A couple of hundred years ago three or four grain beers were the norm in the Low Countries. With oats often making up a surprising proportion of the grist - more than 50% sometimes. It sounds like Lambic fits right in with this tradition.
I'd heard before that Lambic and March beer came from the same mash. And I'm pretty sure that I'd also heard Faro was a blend of the two. Adding sugar when drinking seems to have been commonplace in the past. Modern sweetened Lambics - Belle Vue comes to mind - no doubt grew out of this practice.
That "taster" sounds remarkably like what we would call a blender. Though now I guess in Oude Geuze there's no sugar added.
That hopping rate of 8 to 12 pounds per barrel. Can that be right? I know they used old hops, but that's a huge quantity. Even Barclay's Russian Stout only had 10 pounds per barrel.