December 2, 2013

New lambic project - 100% spontaneous fermentation

Coolship at Jester King in Austin (picture from beerpulse.com)
It's that time of year for the lambic solera to go through this year's bottling and rebrew but this year I have decided to add a second lambic project to my homebrewing. This project will be independent from the lambic solera except the actual brew day will be similar to the solera's brew day. Instead of using lab-created blends or bottle dregs (or a combination of the two) I am going to give Mother Nature complete control over the fermentation. This sort of spontaneous fermentation is the traditional process for modern lambic although it was the way beer was made for thousands of years before brewers came to understand the role of yeast and bacteria in fermentation.

I know this project is not a novel idea, even among homebrewers, although few have attempted it and written about it in great detail. (Michael Tonsmiere's DCambic comes to mind, although he didn't just throw wort out into the wind and let nature make all of the decisions. This guy was on an episode of Basic Brewing Radio a couple years ago and actually did a full spontaneous fermentation.) There are whisperings around the intertubes of spontaneous fermentations by homebrewers but few have suggested their results were drinkable (which may be the result of not giving the beer enough time). Also, plenty of homebrewers have tried to capture wild yeast and isolate a fairly clean beer (which I tried with my own wild ale) with mixed results. For this project I plan on trying to capture all of the changes, good and bad, in a truly spontaneously fermented beer.

The obvious danger in any spontaneous fermented beer is that it tastes like shit. When you let nature dictate what ferments your beer you're getting whatever is out there and the beer will be a result of whatever gets into the beer and how the matrix of lifeforms work together to transform the wort into beer. If you've ever had infected beer you know that wild yeast and bacteria don't always create pleasant beers. Some wild yeast infections can be downright disgusting. There is always a risk that a spontaneously fermented beer won't turn into something magical and delicious, even after years. However, the risk is not extremely high. It can't be, otherwise lambic brewers would have a hard time making money. But the risk must be acknowledged.

As of right now I am very open-minded about this project. I am open to the idea of working this project into a solera, although I am leery of getting that one bad batch that spoils the whole solera and requires me to start over. I am also open to using multiple vessels to create gueuze out of multiple separate batches, similar to what I am doing with the lambic solera this month. I am also very open to letting this beer mature for as long as it needs to mature. If it takes three years for the beer to mature, I am open to waiting that long, although if it isn't at least going in a positive direction after a couple years I may change my mind. I've stayed fairly open minded about the lambic solera and that's worked out really well so I don't see any reason to react differently here, especially when I will have even less control over the spontaneous beer than I will the lambic solera, which used a mix of Wyeast's Lambic Blend and bottle dregs.

So there's the intro for this project. My expectation is to brew this beer later in the month since I want to get the solera beer bottled and rebrewed this week or next. That will give me time to put out some posts about that beer and go into some more discussion about my technique with this project.

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