February 18, 2014

Lambic Solera Update #18 -- Two month into year four (or thirty-eight months into the solera)

I have fallen behind on updating the lambic solera after I brewed the fourth batch going into the fermentor in December 2013 but I am going to get some updates written on this ongoing project while the spontaneous lambic I brewed last month is being less interesting. This update will just review the early fermentation. I'll have to come back around in a week or two to post some tasting notes on the most recent bottling. Normally I try to taste the new lambic bottling around a month after bottling but with the crazy weather last month and this month I've been hit with what feels like a constant stream of bad allergies and a cold. That makes it hard to get really good flavor and aroma analysis out of the beer so I've held off on cracking open Year Three. I did break open a bottle of the gueuze back in December so I'll talk about that here.

First, let's talk about that gueuze. The gueuze was mildly carbonated, which wasn't too surprising. I find sours usually benefit from a few extra weeks of conditioning before the carbonation really sets well in the beer. The flavor and aroma was really surprising. It was very low in acidity and funk. It was almost identical in flavor and aroma to a dry mead. It had a strong honey flavor, which I think was driven by the older vintages but still, where the hell did Year Three go in the mix? Based on my very rough calculations, the blend should have included 40-45% one year old lambic (from Year Three) and from tasting Year Three at bottling there was plenty of acidity. However, none showed up in the gueuze. While it was a tasty beverage it just wasn't what I was expecting. I know gueuze often ages at the brewery for three to six months before shipping out so maybe this is merely part of the evolution of the blended beer that occurs during that aging. I'll probably wait a couple more months before cracking open another bottle.

Alright, so let's talk about this fermentation. If you recall, Year Four was the first time I attempted a turbid mash. This fermentation was definitely different from the prior fermentations. In the past the years with fresh saccharomyces additions (Year One and Three) saw the typical saccharomyces krausen rise within a day or two and after a couple weeks a pellicle would show up. Year Two, which did not have fresh saccharomyces, never showed a krausen. There was just a lot of bubbling from the bottom of the fermentor for several weeks and then a pellicle formed. Year Four did not get fresh yeast but unlike Year Two, there was something slightly krausen-like and plenty of gunk was added to the top of the fermentor. This krausen showed up after almost two weeks after I added the wort to the fermentor and stayed around for a few days. I was starting to get worried when nothing appeared to be going on with the beer but eventually it did kick off. A couple weeks after activity died down a thin, bubbly pellicle showed up.

The aroma changes in the beer during the past couple months was unusual and interesting. In prior years the mix of old lambic and fresh wort had an aroma of lactic acid, cherry and grainy, fresh wort aroma until fermentation knocked out all the fresh aroma and the funky, acidic aroma of sour beer took over. In Year Four it started out with the same aroma but after a few days it developed into a really unpleasant, trashy smell. I started to get concerned. Once fermentation became visible the foul aromas went away and it became very wheat and yeast in aroma. As the pellicle appeared it turned into a combination of the usual sour beer aromas but some of that weird, unpleasant smell remains.

Definitely the most unusual fermentation in the solera's history. I am going to carry on my expectations that this beer will turn out as tasty as the prior years. I will be very sad if the solera takes a turn for the worse and I have to start over. Not the worst thing to have to do but I'd hate to have to choose between drinking or dumping five gallons of crappy sour beer and then waiting another year to get another beer into the solera.

Below is a picture looking down the mouth of the better bottle. You can see the dense layer of junk all the way down and then the very filmy pellicle covering the beer.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like the beer has got 'sick' quite normal. It will pass. I have a souring baltic porter at the moment that has got sick, and gone ropey! It'll come good! Don't sling it!