December 12, 2016

Lambic Solera Part Twenty-Two: Tasting Notes Year Four and Year Five

I didn't realize I had failed to draft tasting notes on the last two bottlings of the Lambic Solera until I started organizing my notes for the bottling of Year Six in the next couple weeks. I figured I need to get these out as a separate post because the Year Six bottling post will be long in its own right. So let's get right into these.

Lambic Solera Year Four Tasting Notes

Appearance: Pretty standard lambic color a touch darker than pilsner but not quite pale ale. Lambic beer is clear with a slight haze. Carbonation bubbles are visible but very little head forms early on, quickly dissipating into a slight filmy appearance on top. Bubbles continue to drift upwards at a lazy pace.

Aroma: Lemony lactic acid, hay, earthy, barnyard with an undercurrent of honey. Overall standard expectations for lambic but the lemon is more prominent in the aroma than any commercial lambic I have tried. 

Flavor: Lemon, hay, barnyard come right up front. A lot of subtle flavors add tremendous complexity to the beer. Honey, earthy, musty, pineapple, graininess, milky lactic acid, pie crust, old wheat bread, damp forest. Lemon is prominent but integrated. Acidity is present in the flavor but enhances rather than oppresses. 

Mouthfeel: Acidity is prickly but not sharp on the tongue. Beer has moderate body for a sour beer. The flavor adds to an impression of more fullness than actually exists. With higher carbonation might be too thin. 

Overall: Hands down this is the most complex year of the lambic solera. I'm not sure what exactly caused this jump from pretty good Year Three to incredible Year Four. There's so much complexity to the beer but it's so well integrated that you can keep drinking it and keep finding new things to appreciate. I'd feel comfortable putting this beer on a table with actual Belgian lambics and that's not something I say lightly. 

There must have been a perfect storm of turbid mash plus aged hops plus the balance of yeast and bacteria that created such great flavors. That lemon flavor must be a product of the aged hops (it appears again in Year Five--these are the only two bottlings with aged hops). I'm not sure if the yeast added at Year Three left behind nice flavor precursors that took a couple years to really develop or if the lack of extra saccharomyces at Year Four let brett work more magic. 

Lambic Solera Year Five Tasting Notes

Appearance: Very similar to Year Four, perhaps slightly hazier because it's a little younger.

Aroma: Lemon dominates the aroma backed up by pineapple, honey, barnyard, graininess and a little cherry pie. Definitely more honey and lemon than Year Four.

Flavor: Lemon, hay, barnyard, honey, wheat bread, earthiness. Like the aroma the lemon is far more dominate in the beer. Less complex than Year Four but similar. Tastes like a less impressive version of Year Four. Acidity is present and tangy with a touch more acetic sharpness than Year Four.

Mouthfeel: Very much the same as Year Four.

Overall: A very good beer but fails to impress as much as Year Four. The biggest let down is the absence of complexity Year Four showcases. It's a touch harsher, which may be an age issue or oxygen exposure after six years in the carboy is finally starting to be a detriment to the solera. The lemon and honey definitely drive the flavor profile. It tastes much like a lemony version of the first gueuze blending (Years One-Three) with its big honey and hay flavors.

The interesting thing here is the same turbid mash and aged hops were used in this batch but it didn't turn out the same. One major difference is Year Five received an addition of WY1214 when the wort went into the solera. (I've added fresh sacc every other year.) I wonder if the combination of turbid mash plus a big glug of fresh sacc resulted in out-competing brett for simple sugar sources. That in turn may have diminished the "right" precursors for all that complexity in Year Four. This year feels a lot more along the vein of the first three years that are wonderful beers but not quite as complex. So the question I will seek to answer with Year Six is whether another year of turbid mash and aged hops without fresh sacc will recapture the magic of Year Four or produce another very good but not quite magical Year Five.