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Friday, 4 November 2011

Sick Lambic

My rhubarb lambic is acting up.

If you missed the first two posts, here’s a catch up. With some surplus homebrew, some sour beer dregs, a homemade lactic starter and a couple of sticks of rhubarb, I fashioned something close to a sour beer. Maybe. Things were going well, the first bottle tasted great, samples from the fermenter grew tarter and I thought I had a bit of a winner on my hands.

Five months later, I have this:

Now wait, don’t panic yet. In his book 'Wild Brews', Jeff Sparrow tells us that “the fermentation of lambic occurs in a specific sequence, each microbial species growing at different rates before reading a high enough cell count to act, in turn, on the wort”. The fermentation of sour beer is far from straight forward, could this just be the next stage in a normal wild fermentation? The pellicle that formed after I pitched the lactic starter started to break up and drop away, then in came the monster you see above, slowly but steadily it grew over the top of the beer. Could this new pellicle be the work of a microbe that had sat dormant, waiting for its chance to take control?

Frank Boon, head man at lambic brewery Brouwerij Boon, tells us that “after four or five months, it [lambic beer] can be very unpleasant. The bitterness disappears, the first taste of acidity appears, and it has less esters than the end. At certain moments it is very pleasant, and others it is not”." A condition that Jean Van Roy of Brouwerij Cantillon attributes to fermentation cycle in combination with ambient temperature and season: “Before September, the beer will be sick”. Sparrow explains “During the first warm day, certain strains of pediococcus cerevisiae – sometimes known as Bacillus viscosus bruxellensis – give the beer viscosity. This condition is described in some texts as 'ropiness' for the long strands of slime produced on the top of the wort. All lambic goes through this sickness and comes out the other side ready to blend of serve”.

So what’s the diagnosis for my beer? Is it sick? Will it get better? Will it come back stronger, smelling of roses and ethyl lactacte? Or is this a terminal case of mould that’ll slowly spell the end?

Cross your fingers.

Quotes taken from Jeff Sparrow's excellent book Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewer's Yeast.


Ed said...

I would guess that's bacteria from the look of the pellicle.

Mark said...

Hope so. It looks totally different to the first pellicle and I can't make out if the dark parts are the start of mold or the wort through the pellicle.

Zak Avery said...

No idea, but great photos.

Mark said...

Looks delicious! Can't wait to drink it...

Mark said...

Cheers Zak.

Mark: brave man! Its reward for a full recovery will be a new home in some nice clean bottles. :P

Anonymous said...

This looks very cool...I need to work towards this kind of homebrewing, nice job having a crack at something that isn't a given that it will turn out ok.

Mark said...

Cheers BB! For me, that's the fun of homebrewing. I can go out and buy Timmy Taylor Landlord, so why would I attempt to clone it? Much more fun doing the crazy stuff! :P

Anonymous said...

Quite right, I don't go in for brewing clones, although my first brew monkey day was watching someone brew a TT clone ;)

Mark said...

It can be a good way to test out kit and pick up the basics, but beyond that I don't personally see the point.

Mark said...

It can be a good way to test out kit and pick up the basics, but beyond that I don't personally see the point.

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