A Silk Purse from a Sow's Ear
or How to Make pLambics for Fun and Profit
by Jeremy Bergsman
Making a p(seudo)lambic is just like making any other beer
except that it is completely different.
This talk and these note are based solely on my own research
and do not reflect any practical experience on my part, which is to
say, I haven't yet tried to do this.
The grist consists of 60% pale malt, preferably pilsener malt,
and 40% unmalted wheat, with some people claiming that soft white
wheat is better than hard red wheat. The important reason for the use
of unmalted wheat will be explained below, under mashing and again
under fermentation. Enough to achieve an OG of 1.045-55 should be
The hops used need to be devoid of any aroma or flavor. They
are chiefly used for their antibacterial properties which apparently
survive oxidation. Large amounts of hops are used, typically 3-6
ounces per 5 gallon batch. I think it is safest to stick with noble
types (Hallertauer, Saaz, Tettenang, etc.). Anyone wishing to try this
should ask me, I have a good collection of (formerly) good hops aging
in paper bags in my kitchen. The hops are boiled the entire time,
ensuring that no flavor is passed on.
Use fairly soft water. The Hetch-hetchy water most people have
around here is good.
Here is where things get wacky. Real lambic makers innoculate
their wort by allowing it to cool overnight in shallow, open vessels
in front of open windows in dirty breweries. This can only be done (as
far as anyone knows) in one part of the world. Elsewhere people make
plambics. The p can stand for pseudo or pure strain since this is the
approach that must be taken when your air does not carry the right
stuff. For example, here is a list of microorganisms that Mike Sharp
put into one batch of pLambic that he made last year:
As you can see, he has obtained his bugs from bottles of lambic
(Cantillon), national culture collections (NRRL and ATCC), and
- Kloeckera apiculata
- Cantillon Pediococcus isolate
- Cantillon Brettanomyces isolate
- Pediococcus cerevisiae (ATCC 25248)
- Brettanomyces sp. (NRRL Y-1411)
- Brettanomyces sp. (NRRL Y-1412)
- Brettanomyces sp. (NRRL Y-1441)
- lactic acid generating bacilli #1 (untyped)
- lactic acid generating bacilli #2 (untyped)
- Saccharomyces globosus
- Pilsner Urquel 'D'
- Larkin (top fermenting ale yeast)
- Pasteur Champagne
- Lambic Girardin ala kilo (from keg of 6week old lambic)
The bugs used generally fall into four genera: Saccharomyces,
Kloeckera, Brettanomyces, and Pediococcus. Other types are also found
in real Lambics but these are not considered to be as
important. Saccaromyces is the genus that includes bread and beer
yeast, S. cerevisiae, which is the major species of Sacc. found in
Lambics. The genus Kloeckera (a yeast) has one major species involved
in Lambic fermentation, K. apiculata. Brettanomyces (I will abbreviate
this Brett.) is represented by three species, B. lambicus,
B. bruxellensis, and B. clausenii (hard to obtain but Frank Boon
thinks it is more important than the others). The Brettanomyces yeasts
contribute a lot of the uniquely lambic flavors to these beers, the
so-called "horsey" or "mousy" flavors. Pediococcus (Pedio.) is a
genus containing a few lactic acid generating species of bacteria,
most importantly P. cerevisiae.
The fermentation is where the lambic characteristics are
generated. In order to have a successful fermentation where several
different types of microorganisms are going to do their things over a
two year period, the wort composition is very important. There are
three unusual features of the wort compared to other beer worts: 1)
high starch content, 2) high amino acid content, and 3) high levels of
hop antibacterial agents. The first two are important to provide the
proper growing conditions for the Brett. Why this is will be explained
below. The high antibacterial levels control the growth of both wanted
and unwanted bacteria.
The high starch content is provided by the use of unmalted
wheat, which contains a lot of undigested starch, and by the use of an
unusual mashing technique. Sometimes called the turbid mash, this can
be thought of as a badly done decoction mash. In the mash there is a
solid portion (the grain) and a liquid portion. There are also two key
types of players, the biological polymers (starches and proteins) and
the enzymes. The enzymes are associated with the liquid portion of the
mash and the starches and proteins are associated with the solid
portion. In a decoction mash the solid portion is removed, heated
(aiding solubilization of its components), and added back, sparing the
heat-sensitive enzymes from damage. In the turbid mash essentially the
opposite pattern is followed: the liquid portion is drawn off, heated,
and returned to the mash. This severely limits the degradation of the
starches. Extra hot sparge water may be used to extract extra starch
When the mash is complete, the sweet wort produced is boiled a
very long time (3-6 hours). This breaks down the proteins, releasing
amino acids into the wort. During this long boil the hops are
releasing their antibacterial agents into the wort.
The fermentation is the most complicated part of understanding
lambics, and is probably the most important variable in making good
plambics. The lambic wort is "pitched" with very small numbers of lots
of different bugs. The fermentation that follows is a result of the
mixture that inoculates the wort, the composition of the wort, and
symbioses between the various bugs.
Things begin with enteric bacteria and K. apiculata. These
consume all the glucose in the wort, produce ethanol, and lower the
pH, all tending to prevent further bacterial growth. The K. apiculata
also secrete enzymes that break down proteins, releasing amino
acids. The death and autolysis of the early-growing bacteria releases
important "vitamins" for the late-growing Brett. When the glucose has
run out Saccharomyces species begin to become dominant, as they can
utilize some of the more complex sugars (maltose especially) that
remain. Within 3-4 months the beer has now attenuated to the ~75%
level of a normal beer. The unusual length of this stage is the
result of the small inoculum, the lack of glucose to get the
Saccharomyces started, and factors secreted by various early players
that inhibit its growth.
The stage is now set for the real fun: Brett. and Pedio.
These will have the most notable impact on the flavor of a
lambic. Brett has not been seen yet in the fermentation because it is
a slow grower and requires a lot of vitamins and amino acids. Now that
autolysing organisms are offering up their bodies and they are given
time to work, they will start to grow and produce their unusual
flavors. Brett. derive their food from the starches mentioned
earlier. They secrete an enzyme that breaks down starch and releases
fermentable sugars. Brett. and other oxidative yeasts form a
"pellicle" or crust on top of the fermenting beer, which protects the
rest of it from oxygen. This important for Pedio. which will give a
smooth, complex sourness to the beer, because it prefers an anaerobic
environment. It is also important to prevent the growth of acetic
This comes from Mike Sharp. It seems to make 28 gallons.
11:15AM mashed in at 130F (160F strike water)
12:00-12:40 Raised temp to 158F
2:00 Started sparging with 180F water
Collected ~35 gallons total in two containers
2:25 Started heating; added 2 cans M&F wheat to up
gravity a bit
4:20 Started boil (yeah, takes a long time to heat
4:25 Added hops
5:25 Put on cover, removed from heat, cooled overnight
OG 12.7 degrees brix
- lots-o deionized water
- 32lbs pale malt (domestic stuff, nothing fancy)
- 21lbs red wheat flakes
- 9grams gypsum (CaSO4)
- 9grams epsom (MgSO4)
- 1.25lbs old hops (various varieties)
siphoned to 10 & 15 gallon casks and a 3 gallon carboy
Pitched with the bugs listed above.
- Fox or young lambic is a plain, ~1 year old lambic. Usually a rougher
tasting beer. Usually flat.
- Faro is a young lambic sweetened with sugar, sometimes diluted with a
weaker, more normally fermented beer.
- Gueuze is a blend of mostly (in the case of a good blender) old (2+
years old) and young lambic. The unfermented materials in the young
lambic allow for carbonation making this quite a lively beer.
- Fruit lambics are made by adding fruit to casks of young lambics and
fermenting for a few more months. Fruits used include raspberry,
cherry, peach, grapes, black currant, and banana!
Don't mistake fruit beers for lambics. There are a lot of
fruit beers that are not lambic (notable example: Sam Adams Cranberry
Lambic). Lambics must be "spontaneously fermented," and should
be from Payottenland. One set of beers that are easy to mistake for
lambics is the excellent line from the Belgian brewer Leifmans
(e.g. Goudenband). These are oud bruins and as such have sour and
unusual yeast flavors, and some have fruit.
- These lambics are by far the most easily found in the US. They
are also the least traditional. They are pasteurized and sweetened at
bottling, and the fruit versions seem to use some kind of fruit syrup
as the flavors are strong and strange. They are reportedly blended
with traditionally fermented beer to tone down the flavors that make a
lambic a lambic.
- Belle Vue, Mort Subite,Timmerman's:
Also fairly non-traditional makers, Timmermans has the
patent on the banana lambic.
A highly respected lambic brewer. Their beers tend more to the
acetic (vinegar) rather than lactic sourness. They make a beer they
call Rose de Gambrinus which has raspberry, cherry, and vanilla
flavors. Not distributed in California.
Another respected brewer, Frank Boon started off as a blender,
buying other maker's worts and doing the fermenting and blending
himself. Boon's beers are probably the most accessable of the quality
lambics. Distributed by California Vineyards in California
Considered by many to blend the finest lambics, these are not
imported to the US.
- There are many other small makers and blenders but these are
essentially never seen in the US.
Another Place to Buy Bugs
In addition to the suggestions in the Lambic FAQ, there is a
nice company called
Start Brewing Cultures. (615) 372-8511,