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.