March 12, 2013

Lambic Solera Update #14 -- Two months into year three

So far the separate pieces of the lambic process is moving along quite well. The solera itself went through a nice vigorous ferment and is now sporting a flat white pellicle. Sometime mid-January it started to develop some bubbles in the pellicle but it's smoothed out. The one year portion has developed a really thick pellicle. The color is almost amber. I'm interested whether it tastes different from the bottled one year lambic since it has had some extra oxygen exposure the bottles don't. The two year portion is starting to develop its own pellicle but otherwise looks the same. The blackberry portion had a very vigorous fermentation and I lost some lambic out of the airlock because I filled the fermentor too full. I guess I lost around 6-8 ounces, which makes me sad but it happens. No pellicle on it yet. Still looking at bottling early summer.

I also finally tasted the second year bottling. I had some corks pop out on a couple champagne bottles I didn't cork very well and the first bottle I opened was one of the ones I recorked. I didn't add any new sugar to recarbonate because I didn't think about it at the time. It was fine but lacked the benefit of carbonation. The second bottle I opened was during a side by side comparison against the one year lambic with a carbonated bottle. (I know straight lambic is typically bottled flat but it's my beer and I'll carbonate it if I want to -- and I do want to.) So here's the flavor profile of both year two, about 14 months old, against year one, now 26 months old.

Both beers are delicious but very different. The first year lambic still retains some excellent cherry pie flavor with plenty of funk and acidity. The cherry pie flavor and aroma is definitely the main player in this beer. It has maintained a bright acidity but the sharper acidity it started with has smoothed out into a nice aged feel. The second year lambic has very little of the cherry pie character with a lot of funky, leathery and wheaty character. The acidity is unmistakable but more mellow than the first year lambic. Everybody who has tried both beers prefer the first beer but like both. I think the combination of the character of both beers will produce an exceptional blend.

The major difference between year one and two, in my mind, is the absence of viable saccharomyces in the second year. In the first year there was a good saccharomyces fermentation but after a year of sitting in acidic beer they would have mostly died off. The second year's initial fermentation was more restrained, probably driven more by brett than saccharomyces. The absence of the yeast character from a solid saccharomyces fermentation seems to have restrained the development of that delicious cherry flavor brett often produces. I've only seen that same bold cherry pie flavor in brett beers fermented out with an estery Belgian saccharomyces strain. Instead the beer had more of a funky-earthy-leathery character. I don't have good scientific basis for that conclusion, it's just my hypothesis. I added fresh saccharomyces with the third year wort so I'll see if that beer comes out with more cherry pie flavor, confirming or disproving my hypothesis.

Right now my plan for year three is to bottle off a gallon straight and blend the other two gallons I will pull with the gallon of one year and gallon of two year to produce gueuze. Originally I planned on bottling all of year three as gueuze but I think I will regret not keeping some of year three separate to be able to taste each year as a separate bottle. I go back and forth about pulling a fourth gallon on year three and putting it on fruit or dry hopping it but right now I am against the idea because I'd rather let the solera continue to accrue an older average age by leaving more aged beer behind. Plus I think I am going to need to add another gallon of wort next brew to top up the headspace after removing all that trub from the first couple of years, so that will pull down the average age in the solera. I don't know, I will probably change my mind on each of these points a few times in between now and December.


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