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Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Rhubarb Lambic

What do you do with ten bottles of homebrew that you aren’t keen on? A beer that isn’t bad, but isn’t great either. Cook with it? Give it away? Stash it in a cupboard and drink it slowly over time? Maybe. I thought I’d try something a bit different.

Early spring means rhubarb; the most eager of the harvest, tart and acidic, yet to be tempered by the full warmth of the sun. It’s a classic, English ingredient that most of us are guilty of overlooking; something about it just feels old fashioned and, even if we did buy it, what would we do with it?

There’s a wildness about the acidic flavour of rhubarb that reminds me of lambic beer. Sure, we might cultivate it and force it to grow all year round, but it’s one of those foods that always feels slightly out of control. With its super-resilient rhizomes and poisonous leaves, it’s like a favourite son that Mother Nature keeps a bit more snugly under her wing. And lambic is a similar affair, the brewer kids himself that he’s the boss, but spontaneous fermentation does what it wants, when it wants. No amount of seasonal brewing or blending batches will give him ultimate control.

So why not bring these two things together? The sharp sourness of a lambic beer, bolstered by the acidic, fruity tang of fresh rhubarb. Makes sense to me.

Being careful to avoid as much oxygenation as possible, I siphoned the beer a bottle at a time back into a demijohn. In went two sticks of rhubarb that I roughly cut into inch long pieces, followed by the sediment and dregs from a bottle of 2005 Boon Mariage Parfait Gueuze.

Airlock on. See you in 4 months.

Yep, I do realise that the dregs from a single bottle is probably nowhere near enough. And yes, six year old yeast sediment is probably not the best way to go. The presence of all the oxygen I knocked into solution will probably result in a load of harsh acetic acid and the base beer had way too many IBU’s for any lactic bacteria to stand a chance. All very good points. But you gotta give these things a go though, right? What’s the point in being a homebrewer if you can’t mess around from time to time!?


Anonymous said...

go for it Mark,a fellow Melbourne Brewer has done one and it was great,cheers

BeerReviewsAndy said...

sounds like fun!!!

I always end up with way too much rhubarb from the garden and this has got me thinking....

Peter Brissenden said...

You can always buy food grade lactic acid and add it to lower pH and give it a more lambic character?

It will take aaaages to get going, but you should notice a flor develop after a month or so.

Séan Billings said...

Very interesting. I have to say I would just have left it with the rhubarb and not bothered with any extra cultures. You may get some extra acidity in the beer from the oxalic acid in the rhubarb anyway.

Mark said...

Andy: Rhubarb is one of those things that I just can't eat THAT much of.

Pete: Good shout about the lactic acid. I had thought of that, but it feels a bit like cheating! :P My plan is to cover it (to keep the light out) and just forget about it. My guess is that the IBUs in there will mean lactic can't take hold. I'll probably throw dregs in from the sour beers I drink between now and four months time too.

Séan: I think you're right about the acidity from the rhubarb. I like sour beer to be SOUR, so I'm cool with that happening. My guess was that the Rhubarb might have wild yeast on its skin but not lacto or pedio - that's why I added the dregs. What do you think?

Ian said...

Love the idea!

Mark Dredge said...

Nice! Could you keep on dosing it with more wild yeast dregs to keep poking it along?!

Looking forward to trying it, however it turns out!

Neil said...

I promised myself I wouldn't do things like this. At the moment I have got three fermenting bins in the kitchen with various beers going.

Last year I had 4 or 5 demijohns on the go at one point. I don't think I have the space for any beer to sit around for too long:)

Mark said...

Homebrewing is all about doing things like this isn't it!! :P

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