December 12, 2013

Lambic Solera Update #17 Part 2 -- Three Years (Finally!)

In Part 1 I discussed the recipe and brewday for what will become Year Four of the lambic solera. This post will discuss the bottling of Year Three and most importantly, the blending process for making gueuze out of a blend of the first three years of the solera.

In the below picture you can see the solera itself on your left, Year Two in the middle and Year One on the right. Year One is much darker and murky. Both the sediment and pellicle were very loose so in moving the jug downstairs the beer got a lot of stuff floating around in the beer. It settled down before I bottled.


Bottling Year Three

Out of the three gallons I am pulling out this year, I am going to bottle one gallon straight, as I have done each year. Initially I was going to blend all of Year Three into the gueuze but I decided to keep some of it straight to compare against the gueuze and to keep a complete vertical. I am running low on bottles of the other years and the fruited versions of the years so right now I only have two complete verticals. I'll get 4-5 750ml bottles out of a gallon, which will give me bottles to complete the verticals and a couple bottles to compare against the gueuze.

Bottling the straight lambic is simple. I'll bottle it the same as I did last year, with priming sugar in the bucket like any other beer and then sprinkle a few cells of dried champagne yeast into each bottle. Then wait three to four weeks for carbonation. Since I also need to blend the remaining Year Three, I racked the three gallons I was removing from the solera into the bucket with priming sugar for the full three gallons and bottled a gallon. Then I drained the bottling wand and tubing back into the bottling bucket before continuing with the blending.

Year Three has a sharp acidity and strong hit of funk. It's got some of the cherry notes that Year Two lacked. It tastes kind of like a mix of Year One and Two. It will be a good beer in the gueuze. Below is the partially emptied solera. You can see the thick pellicle broke in the middle where I pierced it with the autosiphon and the pellicle clung to the sides of the fermentor as the beer drained out.



Blending Gueuze

Gueuze has sort of a magical allure to both homebrewers and beer drinkers for many reasons. Among them is the mystique that surrounds blending. It's a very different skill from other brewing skills, more akin to the blending done in the process of making wine and liquor. However, in many ways it is similar to creating recipes: you start out with a concept of what the final beer should taste like and combine ingredients to reach your goal. The difference, of course, is that the ingredients in a gueuze is finished beer, not grains and hops.

Normally when blending beers you want to start off with samples of each beer and blend them in your glass to find the ideal blend that matches your concept or at least comes as close as possible. What you do not want to do is assume blending everything you have in whatever amounts you have is the correct approach. You want to look for the blend to reach the right flavor profile as well as the right balance of acidity. With sour beers there is a lot to consider in the blend because there are so many subtle flavors going on. It's easy to lose important flavors or end up with a muddled mess of funk and acid.

In this particular case, I am blending the full volumes of what I have on hand. It's not because I am being lazy about creating the blend. Instead, I have been thinking about the blend for the past three years and after tasting the first two years over and over I have thought a lot about how Year One and Year Two will blend and I think the even blend of the two creates the correct flavor profile. I tasted Year Three while bottling it straight and I was initially torn on what to do. I could see both a 25-25-50 blend and a 33-33-33 blend working well. The issue was whether I wanted more of the aged flavor coming through or some of the brighter, young acidity of the newest year enhancing Year One and Year Two's smoother, aged flavors. I decided the 25-25-50 blend was the right path, which ultimately meant I could just blend the two gallons of Year Three with the gallon each of Year One and Year Two.

The easiest way to blend is right in the bottling bucket. I racked Year Three into the bucket to bottle the straight portion and it already has priming sugar. I added priming sugar for the additional two gallons coming in. I then racked both Year One and Two into the bucket with the tube in the bottom of the bucket so the incoming beer would mix into the beer already in the bucket. Then I bottled as usual.

I'm most interested in tasting how the gueuze compares to the Year Three, since the solera process creates a blend by itself. Obviously the mix of the gueuze will be different from Year Three's mix of each year but I need to see how far off Year Three is from the complexity of gueuze. If Year Three is sufficiently complex on its own then I may not worry about blending this beer as gueuze in the future.

At bottling the gueuze was already tasting incredible. It has clear notes of all three beers. The big cherry pie flavor of Year One. The barnyard funk of Year Two. The bold acidity of Year Three. It's far more complex than any of the previous years on their own, for obvious reasons. I am so excited to try it after the flavors have had some time to meld and carbonation spruces up the flavors.

I have to say, the aroma off the Year One portion was so fantastic that I almost bottled it straight just to keep that fantastic quality to itself. It was like scotch and cherry pie served on leather. I know that sounds weird but for a lambic that's a really nice flavor description. I decided to go ahead and let the gueuze be gueuze and added it to the bottling bucket.

By the end of the day's bottling I ended up with:

1 375ml bottle of year three
4 750ml bottles of year three

2 12oz bottles of gueuze
12 500ml (16oz) bottles of gueuze
11 750ml bottles of gueuze

Almost exactly five gallons of lambic.

Not the worst way to spend an afternoon. 

2 comments:

ColoradoFlyFisherMan said...

wow congrats on seeing this to the end. love the layer of dust on year 2 and 3. just found your blog and looking forward to reading up. cheers -travis

Dan ABA said...

Very cool stuff. I've got a solera going where I racked 1 gallon of 2 year old lambic to a 5 gallon better bottle, and topped it up with 4 gallons of fresh wort and US-05. The result tastes like a 3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze on steroids, but your process of racking off a gallon to age and blend back is something I might try!

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