March 20, 2017

Lambic Solera Part Twenty-Three: Bottling Year Six, Blending Gueuze 2

It took me two months to sit down and write this post because writing it meant accepting a seven year old brewing process had officially ended. I brewed the first batch of this solera in December 2010 after taking my last law school final for the semester. It was older than my marriage, older than my law license and older than most of my friends' kids. I don't know if it's the longest continuous solera on the homebrewing level but it was probably one of the oldest. (Undoubtedly surpassed at some point in the future with the growing number of excellent sour homebrewers.) My lambic solera taught me a lot about brewing sour beer over its six years which produced six annual bottlings, two fruited bottlings and two blended gueuzes for a total of about twenty-two gallons of lambic (or lambic-inspired beer...whatever).

It was a difficult decision to end the solera. The lambic coming out of the solera had reached a great plateau and I chose to stop the solera by choice rather than because the quality had declined to a point where I had to. Ideally I would have kept the solera going for as long as it continued to produce great beer but as I've mentioned before my wife and I are moving to Denver next year and I need to wind down beer production. In Denver I will probably eschew starting a similar solera. Not because I didn't like it but because I want to make room for some other brewing projects. I still want to set up my sour blending project and I want to play with spontaneous fermentation. Those will take up a fair amount of space and produce a good amount of beer. I also have acquired a small barrel (posts on that coming soon) so that's more sour beer to brew.

For today's post I'm just going to discuss bottling Year Six and Gueuze 2 along with my initial impressions of the beer. I'll follow this up soon with a much longer post discussing all the important lessons I learned along the way with the lambic solera. The final post will be tasting notes on Year Six and Gueuze 2 later in the year which will be the final post on the lambic solera.

Bottling Year Six

The carboy of Year Six looks right in line with previous years, particularly those with the slightly darker red wheat rather than white wheat. In the picture below of all three vessels you can see the six gallon Better Bottle with Year Six next to Year Five (which had some white wheat) and Year Four. The vessels are dusty as hell--that's because they age next to cat litter. Much funk to be had. ZFG.


Like Year Five and Four, which were turbid mashed, I felt like the beer was somewhat unfinished after a year. The turbid mash really seems to stretch out smoothing out the flavors in young brett fermentations I really dislike (hot trash, muddiness). I expect, like it's two older siblings, it will break stride somewhere around August.

The flavor is a little unfinished due to the age but one thing that stuck out to me was that it seemed fruitier than previous beers. In the finish I thought it had a brandy-like flavor. Then I remembered I had added brandy along with the oak cubes on this batch. It's definitely the most aggressive addition of spirits or wine among the six years. It's wonderful but definitely adds a different dynamic.

Like each of its predecessors this lambic (or lambic-inspired beer, if that chills your heckles) was mostly bottled in 750ml champagne-style bottles with the remainder going into other thick walled bottles. I bottled it with one ounce per gallon of table sugar as I have in the past which seems to shoot a little low on carbonation but I felt like consistency prevailed over risking some overcarbonation. Approximately four gallons were bottled straight as Year Six.

As an aside, have you ever thought about how awful it would be to try to clean seven year old krausen out of a Better Bottle?

I cleaned out the trub every other year of the solera but never tried to clean out the trub because, well, I wasn't sure how and I wasn't sure if I could do so without risking causing an unwelcome infection or introducing unwelcome flavors from a cleaning agent. So I just left it and kept refilling wort. You can kinda see in the picture to the right I cleaned the Better Bottle pretty well and yet that krausen didn't budge.

Filling with moderately hot water and oxyclean for several days and repeated scrubbing with a bottle brush eventually got most of it out. Not sure I got enough out that I would ferment clean beers in it but enough that I feel safe fermenting sour beer without the remnants of the lambic solera krausen overtaking the culture added with new wort.

Blending Gueuze 2

Normally I am a solid proponent of blending to taste rather than blending everything you have because you don't want leftover beer. That's not what I did here. Like Gueuze 1, I decided to let the lambic solera and each of its vintages be what they were and blend the gueuze with all the beer it had to offer. That meant creating a blend of 50% Year Six, 25% Year Five and 25% Year Four. 

Year Four and Five from the solera taste well into their age with flavors similar to their bottles but a little more mellow, probably from slightly more oxygen exposure through the airlocks and silicone stoppers than the bottle caps. (In the picture, Year Five is on the left, Year Four on the right.) There is a noticeable color difference. Some of that is age but some of it is a difference in wheat. Year Five is mostly white wheat while Four, like Six, are more red wheat. I definitely feel the red wheat brings more wheat flavor, which I like. 

My initial impression of the blend is promising. The brandy flavor of Year Six definitely appears but far more subdued than Year Six on its own. It works in the mix. The flavor is deep with funk, lemon, hay, gentle phenolic spice, honey of well-aged beer but also prickly with young acidity. It is more complex than Gueuze 1 and I suspect the aged hops drive that complexity even more than the turbid mash. Like its components, I expect this beer will hit its stride in eight or so months. 

Finishing bottling the solera

Ended up with a lot of bottles. Year Six on the left, Gueuze 2 on the right.



So from here I expect to have tasting notes around August when the beers are in their prime. I cracked open one bottle of Year Six with the Super Bowl, as I do every year with each vintage, and it is promising but definitely still needs some time to smooth out its rough edges. The brandy was more subdued with some carbonation and I think it will be just fine in the end. 

Next post will be an assemblage of thoughts on the solera process, brewing lambic-style within a solera, what I thought about the changes I made each year and some other general thoughts I've been mulling for the past seven years. 

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