Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 Reflection and 2016 goals

Brassier au Baron in northern France.
Another year is coming to a close, which gives me a chance to look back on what I wanted to accomplish with beer over 2015, what I actually did, and also organize some thoughts for what I'm looking to do in the coming year. I suppose I'm a bit of a list maker, but I find the process of setting these goals and reflecting on what I've done helps me focus for the coming year and get more out of my brewing. I'd suggest you try something similar (and feel free to put your goals/reflections in the comments).

This year has brought me temporarily to Europe again - for about 6 months this time - which means another break from brewing. But I've been able to take advantage of the time for maintaining friendships and building new ones in Belgium. These have been great for my beer education and have provided plenty of inspiration for when I return to brewing in spring 2016. Some of these Belgian travels make it into posts on here and there are more in the queue waiting, but if you'd like to follow along with the Belgian travels the best bet is the blog's facebook page.

2015 in Review

I'd say 2015, and especially the past few months, was a really big year for this blog. Some of the most viewed posts (and a couple of my favorite posts that didn't get quite as big of a response) of the blog's 2+ years came since September. Posts were shared by people I don't know to prominent beer groups and I got personal mentions from the facebook pages of a couple breweries/blenderies/brewers/blenders that I really admire. This is a great building of momentum that I hope to carry through 2016. More than at any other time with this blog, I have half written posts and post idea outlines waiting for me to make the time to sit down and write them out. Hopefully that comes shortly.

Setting up for blending in 2015.
1) Looking back at 2015's goals: I put together a list of goals for 2015 and reflection on 2014 in this blog post. Looking back over that, my two big goals for focus was working on blending and targeted brewing of styles. I had one major blending session and a couple of smaller blending projects, so I'd say I made a good start with this. I didn't do any blending of an 'acid' beer with fresher beer so that's something I may want to try to do this year. For the targeted style focus, I continued working with saison and saison yeast blends. I began some work on finding a brett blend by brett saison trials but this project has been put on hold by not being around. I didn't shift focus away from mixed fermentation beers or saisons so I didn't do any work with hoppy pale ale type beers. I will probably not do it this year as well, though as I'll get to below I still want to get more from my hop use.

2) Connecting with other bloggers/beer enthusiasts: This showed up in the 2014 year in review, and is something that has been a major part of 2015. As I've mentioned elsewhere, one of the coolest things about this blog is that it helps to connect me with others thinking about similar things. This opened up some cool opportunities such as a 20 single strain brett tasting in June. As the readership of the blog grows, I hope/expect that this will continue. In addition to this, being back around Belgium has helped me to make new connections and strengthen the ones I made back in 2013-2014.

3) Milk the Funk: I've been increasingly involved with Milk the Funk (facebook and wiki), which splits my beer writing energies away from this blog a bit. My contributions to the wiki come in chunks here and there with a bit of a long gap, but I'm still a pretty active member in the wiki building (probably one of the top three or so averaged over the year). Most of the wiki work (by a large margin) is done by Dan and I have to thank him for that work and for keeping me on track by gently reminding me of the things I said I'd do on the wiki and haven't done yet.

My friend Matt mixing the mash.
4) Commercial brewing: I brewed another commercial collaborative batch in 2015. It was an honor to be invited for a collab brew and the brew day was a lot of fun. It was cool to see another commercial system in use and to learn from the commercial process. Unfortunately for the beer (but fortunately for the health of my friend) not too long after the brew day, the friend with whom I brewed decided to leave commercial brewing. This means we lost control over what happened with the beer and it didn't go the way I would have liked. I haven't had the results yet and I imagine it turned out alright, but not up to its potential.

In addition to this collaboration brewday, I have some professional brewing-related collaborations/connections in the works on Vancouver Island that should be announced throughout the year. Don't get too many crazy grand ideas - no announcements of opening my own brewery coming soon. Just some cool projects in the works.

5) On the home brewing front 2015 was a pretty good year. I continued my barrel aging projects (one 30 gal/~112 L barrel and one ~60 gal/~225 L barrel). After blending away most of my long term aging beers, I brewed a bunch more and I have something like 15 carboys waiting for me in Victoria. I began to do some fruiting of aged beers to gain more understanding of fruiting levels and usage. On the clean side I brewed a bunch of saison-insired beers, mostly table-strength with an OG around 1.030. I've been quite happy with these and plan to continue brewing a lot of table strength beers.

Goals for 2016:

1) Develop a house mixed culture - So far much of my brewing has been focused on carefully controlling blended yeasts to optimize blends and get repeatability. After trying out a good number of blends/ratios I am reasonably settled on what I want to form the foundation of many of my beers. So now I'd like to build that up into a mixed culture of yeast and bacteria that I can use and re-pitch for a good range of saison-like beers. Something along the lines of what Jester King is doing, where they can use their yeast and get 'clean' tasting beers that are ready on a faster time scale but continue to develop in the bottle (like Petit Prince) as well as longer time scale beers that show the mixed-microbe character when they are released. In order to do that I'll need to find some bretts that I like and that don't go through a strange phase in the middle that would prevent their ability to produce a younger beer as well as some bacteria that I can control well by hopping and temperature. So that's in the goals for this year.

Open cooling a spontaneous beer.
2) Keep working toward a spontaneous beer - To me lambic is one of the best examples of the great potential of beer. If you aren't very familiar with lambic, it is spontaneously fermented (no yeast is added, traditionally it is exposed to ambient air during open cooling and then fermented in wooden barrels that, while cleaned well, likely allow some microbes to take residence). While I wouldn't call any of my beers lambic, I am interested in brewing some spontaneously fermented beers with my own local microbes. In 2014 I started some fully spontaneous beers (no pitched commercial cultures/dregs/isolates). I brewed more throughout 2015 and hope to bottle a fully spontaneous beer in 2016, or maybe early 2017, if the beers are ready. I may have to settle for blending some spontaneous and non-spontaneous turbid-mashed beer together if I think a fully spontaneous beer is better served by waiting and/or brewing some more blending components. Either way would be a step toward spontaneous beer.

3) Continue research into historic and modern Belgian beer and brewing - This has been one of the big new steps I've taken over the past year and I'm pretty excited with how its gone so far. I did a bit of research into Grisette (here) which is a project that is still ongoing. I also started some research into historic lambic (part 1 and part 2). This is a major project and will be something I am adding to for quite some time (as constrained by my lack of French competency and my slow progress toward learning it). But I am still acquiring resources that I plan to make slow progress through. I have some news here that will be announced throughout 2016 as well.

4) Master the use of hops - Obviously I don't mean this literally, as that would be a lifelong project, but I'd like to learn more about getting the most out of hops. In my 2015 goals I mentioned the possibility of working on hop use in pale ales. I didn't end up doing that and probably won't brew may pale ales this year either, but I would like to catch up on newer hop varieties and non-European hops in general.

Also, I've been gravitating increasingly toward hoppier Belgian beers. Mainly those with noble-type hops, though there are certainly some excellent Belgian/French beers with new world hops (such as some from De La Senne and Thiriez). I feel like I am able to consistently get a good hop character from noble-type hops, but when I compare my beers to some of my favorite commercial examples sometimes they aren't quite there. I think some of this is just in hop levels (and I am moving toward using more and getting more bitterness) but some also is from use (including dry hopping, which is something I don't often do). So the goal for the year is two-fold: I'd like to feel like I am getting more out of the hops I'm using and, for the main goal, also expand the range of hops from which I feel like I know how to get what I want.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Brasserie a Vapeur Visits

If you are spending any reasonable amount of time in Belgium and you have an interest in saison or old brewing methods, a visit to Brasserie a Vapeur should be high on your list. They hold a public brewing day (there's a bit more info here) on the last Saturday of every month. They only brew once per month for now, so the public brew day is also the only time they brew and that is when you should go.

Arriving at the first mash rest, an especially thick and low temperature rest.

I don't really feel that by visiting saison breweries I've learned any big secrets about saison making. Its not like each brewery has some super secret process/technique/ingredient/etc. Rather, what I've observed are some generally common practices and mentalities that aren't as common in breweries of other types of beers. To me the same sort of thing is generally true about lambic production. There is some great practical info to take away, but you're unlikely to learn one big easily employable secret process/ingredient that makes these beers different because I don't think such an singular entity exists. I've written a bit more about saison brewery visits in previous posts such as this one.

So perhaps a visit to a Vapeur is not the most informative experience in terms of direct secrets to take away about saison brewing, but I think the same could be said for many breweries. The experience is hard to beat if you have even a mild interest in historic saison and there is definitely insight to be gained from how they brew. And if saisons or Belgian beer history are something you're passionate about, this is a rare view into a working historical artifact.

I've talked to people who have had mixed experiences with their beers, and I can agree with this. I've had some bottles that are really phenomenal (generally with expression of mixed yeast and bacteria), some that are good, and some that I might not have been so excited about (again, at times with expression of mixed yeast and bacteria). This mixed-microbe expression may not always be desired and there are other notable producers out there whose beer can fall into a similar category. Anyway, regardless of how you feel about their beers a visit to the brewery is a great experience all around and there is still plenty one can learn from their process and recipes.

A sign for the old Biset-Cuvelier brewery
The steam engine.

The Brewery:
Jean-Louis Dits took over Brasserie Biset-Cuvelier and changed the name to Brasserie a Vapeur in 1984. If you speak to other saison brewers (and even certain other European brewers), many will speak highly of Jean-Louis. Starting in 1984, Jean-Louis was one of the first new brewers in the area and so for many following along the same sort of path he did in Belgium, France or elsewhere in Europe, Jean-Louis was a great resource. There weren't the sort of resources then as there are now for new brewers and many will credit Jean-Louis for the help/advice he's provided for them. So even though he's kept his own brewery rather small, his influence has spread pretty wide.

The mash tun and steam engine
A brewery has been at the a Vapeur/Biset-Cuvelier site in Pipaix since as early as 1785. Under different names, the brewery here has been in operation, though it seems not always continuously. They have quite a bit of old equipment around which is (mostly) still in use, though the brewery is not without some more modern stuff. Brasserie a Vapeur is best known for its steam engine, which dates from 1895. The steam engine is used to power a central belt-driven system that operates the mash rakes, the auger for mashing in, and a wort pump.

They have an open-topped iron mash tun (capacity - ~58 HL) which is imperfectly round and the mash screens, showing signs of their use for many years of brewing, fit in a specific orientation. The tun is insulated on the sides by wood and, in some places, this wood is also showing its age. Large internal rakes are controlled by a central belt-driven system which is powered by the steam engine. Due to the open top, the mash tun can lose a lot of heat (~2° C / 3.6° F per 30 min). I haven't seen the mash tun used anywhere close to its capacity when I've been there, and I suspect in modern times it rarely if ever is. A belt-driven pump is used for the vorlauf and an electrical pump in used to transfer wort to the boil kettle.

The two boil kettles.
Boil kettles are iron as well, and are composed of sections bolted together. They are heated by steam, though not in the typical modern steam jacketed sense. The primary boil kettle has a capacity of about 130 HL and currently this is the only kettle used (perhaps except for some rare occasions, though I'm not aware of any recent use of the second kettle). The second kettle is smaller, with a capacity of about 40 HL. This was used historically for making an additional low strength beer from the mash. As with the mash tun, I haven't seen the boil kettles used close to their capacity for modern brews.

There is a large iron coolship at the brewery which is formed from panels welded together. It is not in use anymore, and hasn't been for quite some time. But Jean-Louis said he used it for his first 10 years there. Now a more modern plate heat exchange is used. For fermentation, there are two cyclindroconicals available for primary, though I've been told that generally one of them is used. And there are two horizontal tanks for cold storage. Bottling occurs about 2 months after the brewday and bottles are stored warm for about 3 weeks for bottle conditioning before they are released. That gives a total time on the order of 3 months grain to glass.

The old coolship.
I should note that there a number of people are involved in the brewing. Jean-Louis is often pulled away during the mash to make sure everything is in order for the excellent meal (with unlimited beer) that is served on brewdays. Another brewer Bernard helps Jean-Louis and takes charge for much of the brewing throughout the day. Jean-Louis's daughter also brews there (though when I was last there she was not around) and his wife helps out as well. And a pair of other local brewers looking to open up their own brewery are often around to enjoy the day, lend a hand, and learn.

The Brew Day:
There are a couple breweries I've been to where simply stepping inside on a brew day is something I'll never forget. One of those is Cantillon when they are cleaning barrels, and the smell of steamy lambic dregs permeates the building. The second is Brasserie a Vapeur. Walking inside the large brick building into the almost completely windowless brewhouse room on a crisp Belgian morning, you are met with an unexpected sticky heat of steam (even before the brewing begins). And the smell of grease is everywhere. It gets even better once the steam engine starts up. From then until the mash runnings are headed to the boil kettles the brewhouse room will also be filled with the many sounds of the steam engine - varying from a prolonged dooooooo-wheeeeep of slow mash mixing (you can hear it in this video of the first mash step) to faster and sharper whistles, to running so fast that the whistling is gone, leaving clicking triplets from the engine. And whenever the rakes are moving the dull clunking of heavy iron gears is added on top of the whistling or clicking steam engine.

The brewday starts at 9. Be sure you get there on time - mashing in is possibly my favorite part of the whole brew day (see this video). As is typical of Belgian saison brewers they carry out a multiple step infusion mash. They start with a super thick mash and Jean-Louis adjusts the ratio of rater to grain by feel, balancing water flow and grain flow for temperature and consistency by sight and the back of his hand. The thickness of this initial step may be rather surprising for people who normally carry out/see simpler mashes, but it will be familiar to anyone who has observed or conducted a turbid mash. The first step is more like a pile of wet grain than grain sitting in water.

A series of infusions are conducted using hot water at first, and then by steam infusion as the mash volume/water:grist ratio reaches the level they want. Temperatures are checked manually with an analog thermometer by scooping up a bit of the mash (and frequently this occurs while dodging the spinning rakes). The typical pattern for each new rest is to turn off the rakes when the temperature is reached and to rest for ~5-10 minutes (this might only be done to provide enough quiet for Jean-Louis to explain what is happening). Then the rakes are used at a slow speed for the duration of the rest.

Boil lasts about 90 minutes, with sugar added to many if not all of the beers partway through the boil. The 'late' addition for hops comes with around 30 minutes left in the boil. And I've been told that spices are added with about 20 minutes left in the boil. This is different from many other places, who reserve late hops and spices until the whirlpool or very near the end of the boil. I don't feel that the a Vapeur beers are especially hoppy so this makes sense with addition timings. And generally the spices, while present and at times identifiable, are usually in balance with the beer and not overpowering.

Lasting impressions:
Probably the biggest thing that I am left with from visiting Brasserie a Vapeur is their more flexible mentality when it comes to the process. There is plenty of room for variation around a theme or a general set of guidelines. Both mash temperatures and times are targets rather than absolutes. These times can be changed based on convenience/whatever other tasks the brewer is doing/the day's circumstances. The brewing was loose and in general scope-driven rather than absolute and technically driven. And, following with this, the feel/intuition of the brewer played an important role.

In many ways this mirrors saison beers as a whole, which are not a discrete entity and are more a collection of beers in the same spirit/family. Of course not all saison brewers take a looser approach to their brewing. A more precise approach can and does result in excellent saisons. And it is not necessarily an inferior approach to the feel/loose guidelines of Brasserie a Vapeur (and vice-versa). But as I've mentioned in previous posts, I feel that thinking of these beers as different from a specific set of ingredients and processes is beneficial. And if there is a secret to saison, it is probably the brewing attitudes shared by many producers of classic examples such as: simplicity, patience, flexibility and knowledge of their process/ingredients which allows for successful brewing modifications based on feel.

With that said, here is a generalized rundown of their recipe and process:

Sample Generalized Recipe:
The are using Castle malts and sugar at levels on the order of 10-15% of the fermentables. I think going with a fully pils or nearly fully pils grist can work well for making paler beers inspired by a Vapeur. For darker beers (including their saison, which is more in the amber range than many other common saisons), I think malts like Vienna, Munich and/or a bit of Melanoiden could probably be good additions. And maybe a touch of roasted malts like amber, biscuit or brown. I perceive their beers to be more from sweeter malts, or at least without the drying toasty qualities that higher levels of roasted malts can give, so I'd go light on these roasted malts if you include them.

  • Mash in at 45° C / 113° F (~10 minute mash in, 5 min. rest)
  • Raise to 55° C / 131° F by infusion (15 min. rise, 15 min. rest)
  • Raise to 63° C / 145.4° F by infusion and steam (10-15 min. rise, 15 min. rest)
  • Raise to 68° C /  154.4° F (15 min. rise, 15 min. rest)
  • Raise to 74° C / 165° F (10 min. rise, 10 min. rest)
  • Vorlauf 10 min. then collect runnings
For homebrewers trying to pursue a mashing schedule like this, I think the rise times could be significantly different. To try to get around this you could slowly add near-boiling water (similar to the relative rate that infusion water would be added at commercial scales), do it in smaller steps, or increase rest times after the temperature raising is done. Also, the later infusions are accomplished by steam rather than water, so the volume doesn't change much. A homebrewer could do this by recirculating with heat (if they have that option), something like a decoction, or just continuing to infuse hot water.

They do a 90 minute boil, with late hops coming with 30 minutes left in the boil (not a huge dose) and spices coming with 20 minutes left. I wasn't watching to see what is done for a hop addition at the start of boil, but I presume that there is one and I also presume, given the beers, that the IBU contribution is relatively low (I'd guess on the order of 10 IBU).

If this was the part you were waiting for, I'm afraid you are in for a disappointment. I'm not sure what they use for their saison. There is a liquid yeast which is seasonally available that may work well for making beers similar to the Vapeur beers (see this post by fellow blog Browne and Bitter). For non-saison beers at Brasserie A Vapeur I've seen another yeast around. This other yeast was more in line with what you might think of with Belgian Wits or something similar to that. When considering their yeast, keep in mind that they only brew once per month which makes keeping a yeast around to repitch tricky. And on top of that they only brew saison once per year. So along with these considerations, Phil Markowski reports in Farmhouse Ales that the saison yeast may be variable year to year. If you're out to clone a Brasserie a Vapeur beer, I'd choose a more mellow strain associated with either saisons, ale-fermentation bieres de garde, or witbiers. I'd lean away from something that is strongly spicy/phenolic given the large spice additions. And often I find that a lot of yeast-derived phenols can disagree with darker malts, but this is just my personal taste.

Possibly as important as the specific yeast chosen would be allowing the time that Brasserie a Vapeur does in their beers. 3 months grain to glass (including 4 weeks warm and 4 weeks cold storage before packaging) is much more than typical for other beers styles of comparable original gravity/composition.

As a caveat, this is all accurate to the best of my knowledge but things may change after I write it and/or there may be a misunderstanding/miscommunication or two. I'll update anything that comes to my attention and, again, I believe it to all be correct at this point.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Lambic and Biere de Mars in the 1800s part 2 - Brewing

This post is part 2 of 2 discussing the brewing of lambic and other spontaneously fermented beers (like Biere de Mars). These two posts are based off of the Traité Complet de la Fabrication des Bières written by Georges Lacambre in 1851. In part 1 I gave an introduction into biere de mars and faro production at the time and discussed some general aspects of these beers and their production. Those aspects included the use of wheat husks, the use of high doses of young hops, and criticisms that Lacambre had for brewers, blenders and merchants. In this part 2 I'll discuss the brewing more and will also include some brief modern considerations.

Brewing Biere de Mars and Lambic in the mid 1800s:

Lacambre describes the grist as being roughly equal parts unmalted wheat and malted barley. This is a bit different than the typical modern lambic grist of roughly 30-40% unmalted wheat. This may not seem like a huge difference, but I think anyone who has conducted a turbid mash will tell you that it is not necessarily a simple thing to do. It's certainly doable, and possibly enjoyable, but when compared to single infusion or simple step mashing, turbid mashing is another beast. And adding more unmalted material won't make it any easier. Some modern brewers feel that using 40% unmalted wheat makes a difference in their lambics compared to others using 35% or 30%, and if that is the case then stepping the unmlated wheat up toward 50% would also make a difference.

The malt is described as being very pale for the time, and it is atypical under modern malting standards. Many thanks to my friend Mike of Doehnel Floor Malting (see Malt by John Mallett, p. 237) for countless discussions to help me to understand and contextualize modern and historical malting procedures, and all things grain and malt in general. Lacambre describes the barley as having a long slow germination until the roots are 1.5 cm long. Using root length as an indicator of modification is a bit strange. Acrospire length can give a simple, albeit not wholly accurate idea of degree of conversion, but root length is not as clear. From discussions with Mike, the maltster can exert great control on the roots by proper turning and managing parameters like moisture and CO2. And by proper management root growth will reach a point where it will not be clearly tied to degree of modification.

The degree of root growth Lacambre mentions for Lambic malt is longer than for other beers described in this same text. In addition, the malt drying and kilning was done slowly, which would allow conversion of the grain to continue through the kilning process. This is a major difference from modern procedures where pale malts can be dried and kilned quickly, preventing conversion throughout the drying process. So to summarize the lambic malt, they likely had a higher degree of modification from the long slow germination, longer root growth, and slow kilning. And this would improve enzymatic potential, but at the expense of extract. This is a likely culprit, in addition to grain varieties, in the low 'efficiency' mentioned in below.

There is a bit of duplicate information regarding brewing, sometimes slightly self-contradictory (not in important ways), in this text. So here I'll try to synthesize it and give ranges covering specifics given at different points of the text.
The mighty Senne river as it flows through Lot.
Lambic and Biere de Mars Recipe:

680 kg unmalted wheat
660 kg barley malt
760-860 g/HL young hops for lambic (these hops are noted as being 'good' hops from Aalst or Poperinge - the two main hop growing regions of Belgium), 400-500 g/HL hops for Biere de Mars (Still from Aalst or Poperinge, but no longer described as 'good' or 'young'). As discussed in part 1, the hopping rate for lambic is roughly double modern rates, and the use of 'young' hops is interesting.
3 bags of wheat husks - the use of these husks is discussed more in post 1.

This produces 15*230 L wine barrels (34.5 HL or 29.4 bbl) of lambic at an OG of ~1.053-1.054 (~13.2° P) and 15*230 L wine barrels of Biere de Mars at an OG ~1.020 (~5° P). As I mention in this post about visits to Gueuzerie Tilquin - I don't know the specifics of the Boon Meerts OG but based on the information I do have I am guessing it to be 6-7° plato (1.024-1.028). This puts the Boon version as slightly stronger than what Lacambre cites, but not too far off. Lacambre's lambic original gravities match well with modern day 12.5-13.5° P (1.050-1.055) values.

The 'efficiency' here is quite poor. I put efficiency in quotes because I really don't know what the efficiency is since I don't know the extract potential of the grains, and that is a pretty big uncertainty. I expect the actual efficiency to have been much higher, but based on modern standards for grain the extract from a lambic brew is quite low. This is likely mostly due to the extract of the grain (both because the grain at the time may had lower potential extract to begin with and because potential extract was used up in letting the malt germinate longer) and therefore would reflect extract differences rather than poor efficiency. Some of the difference may also come from overloading the mash tun and possibly not hitting mash temperatures especially well (Lacambre notes in the text that at the time thermometers were not used very frequently), though lots of sparging might help to counteract an overloaded mash tun a bit. But whatever the case, using modern extract expectations from the grain this is somewhere around 65% total efficiency. Again, the use of modern conditions is unrealistic so to really get a good idea of efficiency I'd have to know the mid-1800s extract of the grain. Also, I don't have a good idea what the efficiency is like at modern lambic breweries, so that's something I should follow up on to see how this compares.

Mashing for Lambic and Biere de Mars:
I won't get into too much detail here about the mashing for a couple reasons. First - as I said above Lacambre laments the insufficient use of thermometers in his text, and temperatures are not necessarily given for all the steps and instead the volume of boiling liquid are given. Second, I am insufficiently confident that I fully understand what is going on. This is probably mostly due to my poor knowledge of French, but is not aided by unexpected processes and specific terminology. Finally the mash schedule appears to be roughly in line with modern turbid mashing. If, as my understanding of French improves and I discuss the mashing more with others, I find that there are some bigger differences then I will make an update regarding that newly found info.

Boiling and cooling:
The lambic is boiled for 4-6 hours (hopped at 760-860 g/Hl) and the Biere de Mars for 12-15 hours (hopped at 400-500 g/Hl). This is pretty intriguing as it means Biere de Mars must start at a very low gravity to boil for 12-15 hours, open cool overnight, and still end at an original gravity of only ~1.020. I'm not sure what sort of evaporation (and, for that matter, boil vigor) they might have expected, but here are some general projections for pre-boil OGs to yield 34.5 Hl of wort at 1.020:

30% evaporative loss - 1.014
40% evaporative loss - 1.012
50% evaporative loss - 1.010 (you get the pattern)

There is no info on evaporative loss but something in this range (probably toward the upper side, if not above it) seems reasonable for a 12-15 hour boil. At Cantillon they boil off roughly 25% of the total volume with a roughly 4 hour boil in two kettles, so something like 10-15% per kettle per 4 hours, which extrapolating to 12-15 hours gives us a range of about 30% to 60% evaporative loss. If that carries to 1800s Biere de Mars, that means that the pre-boil OG was super low! Not much more than water, and even possibly below the FG of lambic of the time (as we'll see below).

The OG puts Biere de Mars at the strength range and general brewing parameters of something like a table beer. Pierre Tilquin is quoted in this ratebeer thread as saying that Biere de Mars could be consumed younger than other lambics, and that it would at times be consumed as a working person's beer in the fields (again a similarity with saison), fitting with the idea of a table beer.

Boil kettle #2 at Brasserie a Vapeur
Biere de Mars also received the spent hops from lambic when lambic was done boiling. After boiling, both were sent to the coolship for cooling. I don't see any mention of two coolships and this presents and interesting challenge. Making the assumption of only one coolship, then the lambic must be removed from the coolship before the Biere de Mars is sent in. In this case the Biere de Mars boil might be on the longer end to give sufficient time for the lambic to cool and be transferred out. But there might be two coolships. Either way, with the Biere de Mars boil length, it would be sent to the coolship in the morning rather than the evening. This means that it would almost certainly cool more slowly than lambic, which could influence inoculation and the growth of inoculating organisms (longer time spent at warmer temps would favor microbes preferring warmer temps).

It seems that the idea of a dual kettle brewery was more common historically. This could be due to the desire to make table beers simultaneously with other brews. Use of two kettles is reported as normal in French breweries around 1900 (in an Evans text from 1905) and this can still be seen at some Belgian breweries (such as Brasserie a Vapeur, though the second kettle is rarely, if ever, used now).

Boil kettles 1 (L) & 2 (R, also the 'slym-ketel') at Cantillon
Modern breweries almost never have the necessary equipment to conduct two simultaneous boils, but lambic production seems especially well suited to making 'small beers' or beers from later runnings because a second kettle is needed for heating the turbid portion during the mashing. Once the mashing is done then this turbid kettle (which Lacambre says is referred to by the Dutch name slym-ketel, (slime-kettle) due to the nature of the turbid runnings) is no longer needed. And there is an empty kettle around to receive additional mash runnings. Cantillon follows this sort of dual boil procedure partially in that they conduct two boils of unequal gravity; however both wort streams boil for roughly the same length of time and the kettles are blended into the coolship, or when the coolship is full, in a mixing tank before barrels.

I think this historic use of two kettles to produce a small and normal beer (which seems to have been pretty widespread and is definitely not unique to lambic or Belgium) is something that would be interesting to pursue with long aged sour beers. In general this idea is not new to me and I've been drawn away from making second/final runnings beers because I've felt that the malt character wasn't as good as earlier runnings. And with low gravity beers it is already tricky to get good malt character. But I was thinking this from the point of view of cleaner beers, and some beers work fine with more graininess and tannin. This may be more true in longer aged beers like lambics or other mixed-fermentation beers that have an especially expressive fermentation side. This sort of procedure might also be worth trying on small/table strength saisons. So this is something I'd like to try a bit more of to actually compare if I find the final runnings beers inferior to single brews of low OG beers (as I had assumed they would be based on the runnings). And it doesn't have to be as extreme as full separation of early and later runnings or such as low gravity as Biere de Mars here, but blending the runnings streams in proportions to get the general gravities I'm looking for (and possibly diluting with water in the kettle if it seems that water tastes better than the final runnings) is something that I'm feeling I should look into further.

Fermentation takes place in barrels and may start as early as days, or as late as more than one month after brew day (basically the same as modern production) and lasts generally ~8-10 months but maybe up to around a year and a half.  The bungs were kept open throughout the first summer. From the modern research as well as simple tasting we know that lambic development continues through the second year so I suspect that 'fermentation' here means the more visibly active fermentation. If this is the case, the longer end of the spectrum seems like an especially long time for an active fermentation, so perhaps I am wrong. I might need to look into other sources to find typical aging times for lambic. In discussions with others interested in lambic history I've heard that lambic aging was historically comparable to modern practices, with the possibility of some lambic aged longer than is typical now. So for now, I'm inclined to believe that what is termed 'fermentation' does not include additional aging and development before it is consumed (again, meaning that sometimes fermentation extended especially long).

The lambic final gravity is given at 1.013-1.020 (3.3-5.0° P) This seems like quite a high finishing gravity. Some producers today have lambic finishing gravities not too far from this range (Cantillon has been reported to come in at ~1.010 (see this Talk Beer thread)). In the case of Cantillon this makes sense given their OG of roughly 12.5 P/1.050 and their listing of 5% abv. Perhaps the FG listed by Lacambre is the gravity after the main active fermentation. But by the way the FG appears in the text it seems that this is the final gravity when the beer is done and not just an intermittent gravity between active fermentation and prolonged development/slow fermentation. This gets into the uncertainty above for what 'fermentation' means here, and how long the beers were aged. I'll look into this more.

Closing thoughts/modern brewing:
I'll plan to do a trial brew or two inspired by 1800s lambic and Biere de Mars when I return to brewing from work in Germany. I'll definitely be making some changes though. I'll shorten the boil to something probably at 6 hours or less (this would also mean increasing the pre-boil OG, which is OK by me as I am already worried about too much final runnings character). As I mentioned in post 1, I think the use of wheat husks, or similar dried plant material, could be a cool addition to a beer like this. And I am probably going to try that out either in conjunction with brewing 2 different OGs from one mash, or more likely at first as a separate trial.

I'll probably change a few other things like lowering hopping rate a bit from those quoted here for both lambic-inspired beer and biere de mars-inspired beer. And also I probably won't use the spent hops from the higher OG wort in the lower OG wort. Though I am interested in seeing how higher hopping rates influence the development of spontaneous and mixed-fermentation inoculated beers. I talked a bit more about hops in post 1, but the use of hops specifically noted as 'young' in lambic is intriguing. I think trying out fresher low alpha hops could yield some really interesting results, and modern brews using fresher hops show that there is good potential in this sort of brewing.

I'll probably also keep the Biere de Mars-inspired wort as a non-spontaneous brew for now until I have a good idea how my spontaneous trials in progress are doing. I'd rather test out just how the lower OG later runnings wort is without the complicating factor of my local microbial population.

Ok, that's it for now, but hopefully in the future I can continue to look into other sources for historical info into lambic, bière de mars, and other interesting Belgian beers. See the History label to follow along with those posts as they come.
Barrels at Oud Beersel, some of which date back to the 1800s.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Biere de Mars (the lambic version) and Lambic in the mid 1800s (part 1)

This post serves as part one of two looking into the information contained in G. Lacambre's 1851 treaty on brewing and distilling. This text discussed brewing in Belgium, England, Germany, France and the Netherlands. I have to give credit to my friend Niels for pointing this text out to me (you can check out his home lambic blending projects at his Facebook page - Huisstekerij Le Chat Rebelle). This Lacambre text receives high praise in Stan Hieronymus's Brewing with Wheat and it provides some of the information used in the historic Belgian Wit section. Yvan de Baets makes a very good point about this text (and historical texts in general) in that, while it is an excellent document and possibly the best of the time, it can't be the sole source of information to those interested in the history of Belgian beers (see Brewing with Wheat p.37). As this post is based solely on this text, it should be taken as a look into lambic production but not the absolute truth. Hopefully there will be more posts to follow on these topics where I can look into what information is provided in other texts.

For this post I'm going to focus in on the section to do with Brussels beer in the Lacambre text. This section is dedicated to Lambic, Faro, and Biere de Mars. Some out there may already be familiar with a beer named Biere de Mars that falls into the lambic family. I've seen small bits of information about it pop up here and there, possibly helped out by Tilquin bringing a modern version into more light. But this Lacambre text is the most information I've seen about it in one place so far. I know biere de mars comes up in other historical texts and hopefully I'll be able to discuss what those texts add to the biere de mars story in the future.

I split this post up into two sections with the first dealing primarily with background and some general brewing info. The second part looks into recipes and more specific brewing practices, with some considerations for modern/home production. I initially tried to make this all into one post but it was getting far too long and I kept adding more. So two parts it is.

When I think of beers labeled with March-oriented names, two beers come up first: Maerzen/Oktoberfest and something a bit intangible in the saison/biere de garde family (also) called Biere de Mars. But this type of naming (specifically Biere de Mars) was applied to many different beers. Yvan de Baets addresses this in his saison history chapter in Farmhouse Ales, referencing this same Lacambre text which states that because March was viewed as an especially advantageous time for brewing, especially beers that were going to be aged, many different beers would receive March-associated labels. And being produced in March was not a prerequisite for a name invoking March. I want to focus in a bit on this lambic version of March beer, which seems to have been an integral component of spontaneous fermentation in mid 1800s Belgium. I'll use the following names somewhat interchangeably - Biere de Mars, March beer/lambic and Meerts (though I'll use Meerts only when speaking of the modern version of the lambic Biere de Mars that can still be found).
A barrel at Gueuzerie Tilquin containing a blend of Meerts (top symbol) and Boon lambic (the curly L).
March Lambic

As an overview, March lambic was brewed in a similar way to Lambic - turbid mashing, long boil, open cooling, spontaneous fermentation, etc. But there is an important difference: Biere de Mars was produced with later mash runnings and therefore was much lower gravity. There were some other small differences regarding hopping, boil, etc., but overall the big production difference is that Biere de Mars was a final runnings beer. Although it isn't very common today, something similar (which the brewery calls Meerts) is in production from one lambic brewer - Boon. The Boon Meerts may differ from the historical Biere de Mars in that I've been told it is an individual brew and not composed only of later runnings (though I've seen it written that this beer may follow tradition and is later runnings - looks like I need to go to the source and ask at Boon). But in the overall characteristics it is similar - brewed like lambic but lower strength. I'm not sure how Boon is using it (some of it is in the 'Kriek Boon', and some may make it into the faro but I don't know what proportions) but I know Pierre Tilquin receives 'Meerts' lambic brewed by Boon and this is used in the production of both his draft gueuze and his faro. In the draft gueuze this is used to differentiate it from the bottled product (see also this previous blog post about Tilquin and this page for Tilquin's use of Meerts and this page for Boon). It also explains the lower strength of Tilquin's draft gueuze versus the bottled product. And the inclusion of March lambic in the faro is a cool connection with history.

The main product mentioned to come from Biere de Mars in Lacambre's text was faro. In modern times faro is generally normal lambic which is sweetened, but the 1800s version was typically made of a 50/50 blend of lambic and biere de mars, which would have sugar added. This blending of lambic and biere de mars could be done with the worts, but was more typically done with the finished beer. This seems pretty interesting and differentiates faro from the modern entity of simply a sweetened lambic. I am not aware of any producers besides Tilquin using s biere de mars-type brew prominently in their faro (though again, Boon is reported to use some, I just don't know if it is 50/50). But Tilquin is following the tradition here and is using a 50/50 blend of lambic and Meerts, after aging separately, as the base for his faro. A note regarding the photo above showing a blended barrel of Meerts and Boon lambic - Tilquin blends different worts when needed to avoid leaving half full barrels. So this is not a sign that he typically blends these two worts before fermentation and instead is more of a chance occurrence that fits with the other historical production method.

Some general brewing thoughts

As I said above I'll leave most of the brewing discussion for a later post, but there are some general parts that I'll mention here. Some of these might make more sense in the context of a recipe, but I think they should do alright as stand alone entities until that recipe is up.

Hops: The hopping rates mentioned in this text are much higher than modern lambic (roughly twice modern levels). There is a possibility that hop quality was sufficiently different then compared to now such that these give roughly the same result, but I think that probably matters less for something like lambic than it might for other beers where more hop character is desired in the finished beer and there is more focus on hop freshness. On the freshness thought, the hops for this 1800s lambic are specifically noted as young in this text. This is a considerable difference from modern lambic production, which we always think about as using aged hops. Yvan de Baets mentions in the Farmhouse Ales saison history chapter that typical Belgian-grown hop alpha acid percentages were historically 2-4%. This sort of low alpha acid level would probably work better with lambic when using fresher hops. The hopping rates of saison quoted by Yvan de Baets are fully in line with lambic production, which draws another similarity between historic saison and lambic.

There are some sources of fresh hops used in modern lambic or lambic-like spontaneous fermentation: Oud Beersel used to use hops that were not as aged (see the quote from Frank Boon on this page - 'nearly fresh hops'). I've gotten mixed answers about whether this fresher hop use continues now and I will update if I get a conclusive answer. Oud Beersel also uses higher hopping than modern lambic. The other obvious example of fresher hops in spontaneous beer is Cantillon's Iris, which though not lambic, uses half fresh hops. And Cantillon is starting to experiment with fresh low alpha acid hops in lambic, though it will be a bit before the crop is sufficiently large to hop a whole brew this way (and longer still before we might know the results).
A row of Meerts (brewed at Boon) at Tilquin on top of Girardin-brewed lambic

Wheat husks: The recipes given in this text include a reasonable portion of wheat husks. Lacambre felt that the inclusion of wheat husks was important to the character of the finished beer.He mentions that the brewers say the husks are only there for filtration, but Lacambre mentions that he has looked into what this contributes to water and he doesn't feel that the use of husks could be removed from the brewing without causing a noticeable change in the final product.

I couldn't find any information about the size of these sacks of wheat husks (the recipe quotes the amount of husks in numbers of sacks), so I don't really have a good idea what sort of g/L their usage would equate to. It could be about enough to offset the difference between historic and modern barley:wheat ratios, and therefore supply the 'missing' husk from the use of a greater percentage of wheat, or it could be much more. This probably warrants further exploration by brewers interested in these sorts of beers. I am not aware of any current lambic producers doing this, but I know Jester King has incorporated hay into their beer Repose. This is a bit different than using wheat husks, but in terms of adding additional dried plant material which is not a big source of extract to a mash, I think they are sufficiently similar to count Jester King's beer as a modern example of using such an ingredient in a long-aged mixed fermentation beer.

Criticisms - Lacambre's record was not without some criticisms directed toward lambic producers and sellers. While he had kind words for the characteristics of good lambic, he was not so kind with his thoughts on production processes. He felt that lambic producers were moving backward in their manufacturing process. He felt that the overloading of the mash tun, which was common in production, wasn't helping the beers. And he mentions that some brewers also felt this way. He also thought that spontaneous fermentation was pretty stupid, and suggested that the brewers should better ensure a quality product by adding some yeast to their beers. He felt that the beer was going bad too easily and this could clearly be prevented by prompting fermentation of the wort with a non-spontaneous inoculation. He mentions that the Brussels brewers protested against this saying that this would change the character of the beer but Lacambre isn't convinced.

Lacambre reserves his harshest criticisms for the beer blenders and merchants. He does spare some blenders form this, noting that some blenders/merchants are doing very good work. But mainly he asserts by his own writing and quoting others, that the blenders and merchants are dishonest, making poor blends, and are profiting greatly off of the work of others while leaving little for those from whom they profit. I think this represents both an important difference from today and an important similarity. The difference is that the modern blenders are few and are doing great work. Though from the way I am reading the use of 'blenders' in Lacambre's text he is referring to people blending finished beer to serve at cafes, or something like that, rather than what we think of now as a lambic blender taking wort, aging it and then blending it. Still I believe there are some cafe owners in Belgium who do or have made their own house blends and who are doing good work. So today we are not subject the the sort of lambic adulteration from cafe owners that Lacambre cites as common at the time. Some may point out that there is lambic adulteration today, although this seems to be more in the hands of certain producers than the sellers/blenders.

However on the topic of merchants profiting off of the work of others, I think we might be in a similar place and we may be entering a bit of a modern reckoning. Belgian lambic producers are starting to enforce smaller bottle limits for sales. This is largely driven by third parties buying up huge stocks to sell them at a markup to foreign markets (mostly the US). These producers already have importers for the US, so the transfer of Belgian market product to the US is taking away from the Belgian market. And others are profiting off of it, sometimes at a huge markup. Meanwhile the brewers are left without seeing anything back from this huge markup except their product vanishing too quickly and leaving their locals, at times, unable to find many of their beers. In some ways the lambic culture is being bought away as availability decreases and third parties raise their prices, and as 'rare beer' takes the local staple to an export commodity. As a North American, I understand the interest in more lambic and that, at times it is hard to find. But after meeting many lambic producers I definitely feel that grey market marked-up product is not the way to go. While this is a slightly different set of circumstances than Lacambre laments, the end result is the same - third parties are not representing the interest of the brewers and making a profit off of this misrepresentation.

OK, so that serves as the intro to the lambic Biere de Mars.

March 2016 update
Thanks to Levi for pointing out to me that I had forgotten to post the link to part 2, which has been up for some months now. Anyway, here is part 2 with the recipe/process info.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Gueuzerie Tilquin Visits

This post (which is a bit of a long one) about Gueuzerie Tilquin is based on what I've learned from a couple visits there as well as general visits in the lambic region of Belgium. Gueuzerie Tilquin is Belgium's newest lambic blender. The Gueuzerie is run by Pierre Tilquin, who trained at both Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen before opening up his own blendery and releasing his first products in 2011. Pierre is not as outspoken as other lambic producers, but he's serious about quality products and I've found him to be very welcoming and willing to share information with those passionate about lambic who make the effort to get there (and you should definitely make that effort and visit if/when you are in Belgium).
In front of Gueuzerie Tilquin
Location - The Gueuzerie is located in the municipality of Rebecq in Wallonia (the French speaking part of Belgium) in the Walloon Brabant province. Tilquin is very near to the borders of both the Hainaut province (home of saison) and Flemish Brabant, the province where most of the lambic producers are found. The Pajottenland (the region traditionally thought of as the home of lambic) lies between Brussels and Gueuzerie Tilquin, and even though Tilquin is across the Belgian language border from the Pajottenland, they are seperated by less than one kilometer. Note that the exact extent of the Pajottenland depends on the source you chose to define it. And whether or not you can find certain other main lambic producers in the Pajottenland region (excluding Cantillon which is in the Brussels district) depends on whether you combine the Zennevallei (Senne valley) region in with the Pajottenland (Beersel is in the Senne valley region). See these couple wikipedia pages (in Dutch) if you're into the exact locations of these regions of Belgium (Pajottenland and Zennevallei). The point of all that was to say that while Tilquin is technically not within the borders of the Pajottenland, given their proximity to each other, the variable extent of these boundaries, and given that the boundary definition is not necessarily based on significant differentiating natural features, I don't think that distinction is important here.
Boon Meerts (top) and Girardin lambic (lower 2 rows)
Lambics at Tilquin - As a lambic blendery, Tilquin does not brew his own lambics and instead receives lambic that is brewed at other lambic breweries and is cooled overnight in their coolships. This means that he receives inoculated but unfermented wort the morning after the brew day, and he then ferments the wort in his barrels, ages it and blends it to create his products. Tilquin regularly uses 5 worts from 4 suppliers: Lindemans, Girardin, Boon (both a normal lambic wort and a lower strength wort called 'Meerts', more on this below and in a post to come), and Cantillon. He is currently the only blender using Cantillon wort and the Boon Meerts. And based on some logistical challenges he may also soon be the only blender using another one of those worts. He is also giving other suppliers a trial run (he received Timmerman's lambic in the 2014-2015 season), but first he needs to determine if their wort will work out for the final products he wants. So any full production with other suppliers in his blends awaits the results of the development of those lambics.

Cantillon Lambic at Tilquin (L = lambic, P = 2012-2013 season, 24th brew)
Pierre schedules his deliveries of wort from different suppliers to come in the same week. He feels it makes his job easier if he can do the same sort of work for one week, rather than switching tasks all the time. So the deliveries from his 4 suppliers will come on consecutive (or nearly consecutive) days. This means that he has, in his stock of aging lambics, lambics brewed at basically the same time by different suppliers for multiple different seasons. This is an amazing opportunity for research as well as tasting.

So far much of the lambic microbe development research has been focused on following a batch or two as they age in one brewery. This has given a great profile of the evolution of lambic, but this work is limited in its coverage of lambics from different producers. Cantillon has been the center of some of the work (see Spitaels et al., 2014), and based on their very urban location and high tourist traffic, they may be different in terms of microbe presence and balance than other locations, most of which are more rural and see fewer visitors (or maybe Cantillon is not different in regard to microbes, which would be interesting as well). This is not to pass any quality judgement as I quite like Cantillon and am happy whenever I get a chance to stop in, but just that Cantillon's fermentation may or may not be representative of all lambic breweries. And so far the lambic of other breweries has been under-represented in lambic research.

The Lindemans symbol on a barrel at Tilquin.
So a unique strength of the lambics at Gueuzerie Tilquin is their breadth of coverage from lambics of different producers being gathered all in one place. The weather conditions of the brews would be generally similar among the different lambics because they were brewed at the same time in the same general region. And they've all been stored in the same warehouse since the morning after the brew. So it would allow researchers to look into how more localized influences (a brewery's more immediate surroundings, different brewhouse-resident microbes, slightly different brewing procedures/recipes, possibly very localized weather conditions) might influence the characteristics of different lambics. Pierre expressed interest in having researchers come and study some of his lambics, so hopefully they take him up on that. Given the variability within the small number of lambic producers in terms of things like recipe, process, fermentation behavior, and house flavor, looking into the microbe and metabolite differences would be a great study! And this could provide good initial data to do a more thorough study following batches through time at other producers such as what has been done at Cantillon.

Tilquin is one of the few producers using a 'Meerts', or March lambic. This is a lower strength lambic that was traditionally brewed along with 'normal' lambic. A post on march lambic is in the works (-and it will be linked here when it is up-) so I don't want to spill all the beans about what this historically was. In the case of Tilquin the March lambic comes from Boon and it is used for the draft gueuze (which helps to differentiate it from the bottled version) as well as the faro. The March lambic finishes around the mid 3% abv range, so that would make the OG roughly 6-7° Plato or so, assuming a low FG.

Lambic with blowoff tubes, from 2014.
Managing Fermentation and Aging
Pierre likes to see a healthy start to fermentation rather that a prolonged (weeks to 1+ months) delay in active visible fermentation. He was previously seeing this sort of delay at times when he received deliveries in colder stretches. So he is now warming his cellar when he receives deliveries at times when it is especially cold to help encourage a good fermentation. In the warmer months Pierre is cooling the cellar to keep temps around or below 21° C (70° F).

Barrels are topped up once, after the active fermentation and before the first summer. This usually occurs in May or June. At first Pierre was doing this topping up by using only barrels of the same origin and brew to top other barrels of that origin and brew as much as possible, but this is quite logistically challenging. So now he is topping up barrels without restricting it to only the same origin and brew by using the contents of a what I think of as a 'sacrificial barrel' to top up the other barrels. When there are barrels left that are half full (i.e. if a delivery of wort is not a full unit number of barrel fills), different origins or strengths of wort are blended in to fill them. When I last visited he had a barrel of 1 year old lambic which was a blend of three different origins from the same week that he gave me a taste of. While one source was the main component, and this was identifiable in the lambic, there were some differences brought in by the others which were cool to see.

Rows of lambic from different suppliers
Different lambic origins and blending -
In the blendery, each wort has its own character based mostly on the origin. In that way, for example, Girardin lambics of different ages are identifiably 'Girardin' and the same can be said for the other producers. Of course there will be some batch to batch differences and differences with ages, but the 'origin signature' remains a feature. This is found not only in the flavor of the lambics but also how they behave during fermentation. For example lambic from some producers starts sooner and/or ferments more vigorously (and may blow off more) while other producers may have a longer lag time and/or more sluggish fermentation.

The 'origin signature' of different lambics gives Tilquin and other blenders a pretty unique tool when it comes to producing a house character in their gueuze - they can establish a house character by incorporating different proportions of different origins. Pierre does exactly this, choosing proportions and ages for each constituent origin but keeping the general balance of different origins relatively stable in his blends from batch to batch, which in turn helps keep his house character relatively stable. Desired ages for use of different lambic sources are based on their fermentation behavior and flavor. Pierre chooses certain origin lambics to use when young, others to use when older, and some that he feels are good to use at anytime. The main blending tank at the Gueuzerie is 3800 L, so blends are generally composed of 10 x 400 L barrels.

Lambics and empty barrels, warehouse room 2.
Pierre's approach to blending is fairly straightforward, and he feels that blending is not some great mystery or some exceptionally complicated process. He doesn't go through and try all the possible combinations that he is considering. Instead, he goes down the line barrel by barrel to the lambics of appropriate age (based on origin and subsequently desired age for use) and measures the gravity to make sure that they are ready. If the gravity and taste are good then they are included in the blend until an appropriate number of lambics of a given origin and age are selected. He is certainly making consistently great lambic, so whether you prefer this approach or the approach of trials of many possible combinations, the Tilquin approach definitely works well.

The generally accepted driver of gueuze carbonation is that the younger lambic provides the sugars for bottle refermentation. In the case of Tilquin, it is actually the opposite. The lambic origin that he is preferentially using young may be at 0° P (1.000) as quickly as 6 months from brew day, while the 3 year old lambic that he is using may still be as high as 2-3° P (1.008-1.012) at 3 years old. So the carbonation is derived from the extra gravity in these older lambics, which based on their origin (and microbes and/or brew process) characteristically don't finish as low/as quickly. At one point Pierre was using a bit of sugar in addition to unfermented gravity points to achieve carbonation, but that is no longer the case.

Warehouse  room 1, with a heater for warmth in winter
While blenders get the unique opportunity to use different origin worts and can use this to their advantage, they also have the unique challenge of not having as good of an idea how their lambic blends are going to finish out in terms of final gravities. A producer always working with their own lambic, with their house microbe population, recipe, and brewing process, can be much more sure about final gravity in bottling and is therefore better able to dial in carbonation. For blenders, combining different microbe populations and FGs, there is the potential for the final blend FG to go lower or not as low as the blender suspects. Even when choosing lambics of the lowest possible gravity from a given producer and age to produce his blends, the carbonation is sometimes higher than desired. This is what led to the (Gueuze Tilquin)2which was a gueuze blend that overcarbonated considerably in bottles so it was emptied into barrels and re-bottled. This turned out quite well, and if a similar problem arises in the future I think Pierre is prepared to make another batch of Gueuze2 (though it certainly isn't his intention to have such a situation arise). And, as he currently has an overcarbonated batch from 2013-2014, a new Gueuze2 might be in our future. Pierre is careful to hold onto his blends to monitor carbonation and he packages a few bottles from each blend with crown caps for testing of the carbonation levels in the blend.

Barrel Care-
Barrels are thoroughly cleaned with multiple steps of spraying with increasingly hot water (top temperature = 80° C/176° F). This washes out anything in the barrel (including helping to strip stronger wine characteristics in new barrels). After this the barrels are left open for a few days to dry a bit and then sulfur is burned in them and they are bunged up and stored stacked on their heads until their next use. Before the next use, the barrels are swelled by putting a bit of water on the outside of one head and some water inside the barrel (and therefore inside the other head). The dry storage time is ideally minimal and gueuze blending occurs in the wintertime shortly before batches of wort are due to arrive. In the case of prolonged dry storage the barrels remained sealed and no additional sulfur is used.

The new second warehouse space. Stainless tanks for fruit, empty barrels on their heads and full barrels pyramid stacked.

New Stuff-
The cellar capacity at the Gueuzerie is expanding and now the barrels are split into two warehouse spaces side by side in the same building (in 2013-2014 the barrels were all in the original cellar space in one of the warehouse rooms). Pierre has recently acquired the whole building, which gives him more space to work with. This expansion will allow more production volume as well as more efficient processes. He is first expecting to expand production of the gueuze and draft gueuze, and then possibly fruited products. Of course, with something like lambic which takes multiple years in the making, expansion won't happen overnight...

On the facilities and equipment side, Pierre is looking into getting a new bottling line. It currently takes two days to bottle the 3800 L blending tank. He will be moving the warm conditioning room from the back of the warehouse next to the bottling line to one of the two barrel rooms. He's also planning on moving the office from its current location in the back of the warehouse to the front of the warehouse, and possibly opening up a tasting room toward the front of the warehouse. This will free up more storage room at the back, which in turn will free up even more room for barrels in the two barrel cellar rooms.

In addition to the new spaces and changes being brought with that, there are also some new projects/offerings in the works. I'll leave disclosing details of these to Pierre when he feels it is time. Keep an eye out on the Tilquin Facebook page if you want to know when those projects in the works come to fruition. Something that I think it is safe to say - future batches of Quetsche (both Alsace plums and Prunes de Namur) as well as future batches of Mure are in stainless tanks now.

This is all great news for lovers of Tilquin lambic!

Last updated 30-Oct-2015