My adventure in Blending a Gueuze

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NTexBrewer

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December 2016 I started brewing traditional Lambic Recipes and putting the wort in disposable aluminum pans on my table in the back yard to capture yeast and bacteria over night. I would brew one or two batches in the winter and spring. Mostly, these beers were ignored. I had them sitting in various closets throughout the house. This weekend, I figured it was time to pull them all out, do a tasting, gravity and pH reading for each one and come up with a blend.

I created a table to list Volume, Pellicle Present, Fermenter Type Glass or Plastic, SG, FG, ABV, Starting pH, Current pH and then Aroma and Tasting Notes. I figured the table would help me come up with any correlation to Brett, Lactic etc. but It seems to be random. I've been using aged hops and varied the amount of hops to see if that affected Lactic Acid production. My youngest beer is really the only beer that I would say has any real acidity and I used 0.5 oz of hops for a 4.5 gallon batch boiled for 3 hours. This beer I also used a 6 gallon SS pot instead of Aluminum pans. I figured the SS pot would hold temperature longer which may benefit Lactic.

I used the Blending Calculator found here Blending Calculator - pH, ABV and Carbonation

I used my notes as a guide but I also treated the 8 samples like a mini BOS competition and quickly eliminated ones that I did not like and then narrowed it down. I determined that 4 were usable. I was not wowed with the blend but it had nice tartness and some brett funk. I figure, I need to follow through with the project to learn and hopefully produce something drinkable. The big unknown was the youngest beer still had a lot of residual sugar so based on the calculator I did not add any priming sugar or additional yeast. My plan was to let the bottles condition a minimum of 4 months anyway. I did fill one plastic bottle so I can give it the squeeze test to see if carbonation is happening. The red sharpie marker is the volume of the samples I used. I used a scale to measure the blend going into the bottling bucket.

My total volume of the blend was 4.25 gallons. I got 6 - 750ml Bottles, 12 375ml Vinny Bottles, 12 375ml Gueuze Bottles and 6 500ml Heavy Bottles. All of the bottles should be able to handle high carbonation if that happens. If the blend if worth entering into competitions I can enter the Vinny Bottles.

I racked the excess beer from the youngest beer into a smaller container as I'm hoping it will continue to develop and be part of the next blend. My plan for the future will be to brew one lightly hopped beer and one moderately hopped beer each winter, spring so hopefully, I have a nice blend of Brett and Lactic.

Tools that I used that were very helpful and will make sampling and testing beers easier in the future.
1. Volume Pipette Pump. Makes it easy to pull 25ml sample. https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B00191HNKY/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1
2. Pipettes - Already Sterile so just open the package and pull the sample https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B01E16K7FG/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1
3. Short Hydrometer - Only need 75ml sample and total displacement is 100ml so I cut a plastic hydrometer tube shorter to make inserting the hydrometer easier https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B014EZOLJC/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

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NTexBrewer

NTexBrewer

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looking back at my notes and recipes most were 60% Pilsner, 30% unmalted wheat, 10% Rolled Spelt.

looks Like one time I used 6row instead of Pilsner and a few I did not use spelt.

i have a few bags of aged hops and that is what I changed up the most.
 
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My hops have been aging up near the ceiling of the garage for about 2 years, so I am thinking they are ready to use in my next round of sours. I have not begun blending at this time, as SWMBO likes them the way they are, but I would like to get batches rolling that age over more than 8 months-1 year before I bottle them and we start drinking them. Then I can play with blending!

This thread answered so many questions I was about to ask after reading the Lambic book.

Thank you!
 
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NTexBrewer

NTexBrewer

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My hops have been aging up near the ceiling of the garage for about 2 years, so I am thinking they are ready to use in my next round of sours. I have not begun blending at this time, as SWMBO likes them the way they are, but I would like to get batches rolling that age over more than 8 months-1 year before I bottle them and we start drinking them. Then I can play with blending!

This thread answered so many questions I was about to ask after reading the Lambic book.

Thank you!

This is a current thread that has lots of useful blending tips
 

mashpaddled

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I tried similar work when I lived in the north suburbs of Fort Worth. Like you, I never ended up with ph in the range I would consider sour and mostly in the cider and vegetal flavor profiles.

I don't subscribe to the idea these beers can only be well made in a magical geography. I harvested a culture from my parents' backyard garden in the suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth which was fantastically sour with that wonderful cherry pie funk flavor. I just couldn't ever get there in my own backyard. I think some of this has to do with the extremely local ecosystem. My parents' house was built in 1969 with decades of gardening and aging oak trees while my old house in Texas was built in the 2000s with ground that was turned over during construction with most of the older trees and other vegetation wiped out.
 
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NTexBrewer

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Update! 4 months since I bottled so I decided to chill a bottle. Remember, I did not add any sugar since the young lambic I blended had a lot of residual sugar. So, I would guess it is at 1.5 volumes. Definite hiss and a head but it is not fully carbonated. Definitely sweet. Aroma and flavor is promising so... so far so good. I guess, I will let it sit for another 4 months. With things warming up it may carbonate faster also.

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pursuit0fhoppiness

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Thanks for sharing! Didn't see the original post so just reading new, great blending project. Got my own little sour beer pipeline going too with hopes of a nice blend someday. What are those logos on your label, your homebrewery? Do you have an instagram for it?
 

goodolarchie

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Cool saga, thanks for sharing. Seeing a box of green glass just takes me back to Belgium and some very good smells of that Cantillon barrel room.

I'm surprised your FG is so inconsistent, how are you mashing these beers?
I've had mixed results just leaving beer in an open vessel (eg my kettle with cheesecloth), the beer ends up cidery if anything. But I've had great results with growing flowers and blossoming fruit, inoculating near those. Have a small Jardin Sauvage to harvest wild yeast and bacteria could be an option for suburban folks.
 

easttex

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This is fascinating. So you actually used native yeast captured during the cold parts of the year to ferment your wort? Wow.
 
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NTexBrewer

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Most of my mashes were starting around 120 and then a slow ramp through 140 to 145, 150, 155 and then mash out. I really think micro oxygen is needed for good attenuation. There were lots of time that I would take a sample and then a few days after taking the sample there would be some additional airlock activity. Capturing lots of yeast would also be good for attenuation too!

We have some property that is very rural so one day I'll brew there and see if I can capture anything different.
 

Orval

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The real Gueuze is made from 1/3 Lambic of the year 1/3 Lambic from the previous year and 1/3 Lambic from two years before, the young Lambic will generate such a pressure that it's necessary to use Champagne bottles. The natural wild yeast strain can (could?) only be found in the Senne valley in Brussels suburbs, but it seems that is has now been isolated. My first job in 1976 was partly to sell supply to breweries and one brew master tried desperately to produce Gueuze in Flanders, but was not very successful. Nowadays it's possible because the correct yeast strain is available...
 

skeezerpleezer

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The real Gueuze is made from 1/3 Lambic of the year 1/3 Lambic from the previous year and 1/3 Lambic from two years before, the young Lambic will generate such a pressure that it's necessary to use Champagne bottles. The natural wild yeast strain can (could?) only be found in the Senne valley in Brussels suburbs, but it seems that is has now been isolated. My first job in 1976 was partly to sell supply to breweries and one brew master tried desperately to produce Gueuze in Flanders, but was not very successful. Nowadays it's possible because the correct yeast strain is available...
this may have happened on some blends, but doing 1/3 of each 1yr/2yr/3yr is definitely not the standard Belgian process for blending gueuze (geuze). Each blend is likely different based on things like residual sugar/acidity/flavors/etc.
 

Orval

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this may have happened on some blends, but doing 1/3 of each 1yr/2yr/3yr is definitely not the standard Belgian process for blending gueuze (geuze). Each blend is likely different based on things like residual sugar/acidity/flavors/etc.
Funny, you are challenging someone
1-who lived in that area and got gueuze and kriek in it's cellar for years
2- who worked in that field and got many of those blenders and brewers as customers (who gave me that explanation by the way...)
That's the standard method but each blender has got his own approach which, indeed, makes the difference , I gave the overall method I do not remember how much in % but I think it's compulsory to have lambic aged at least three years...
And indeed young lambic from the year to enable carbonation in the bottle...
Now it was in the late seventies, things may have changed in the meantime.
 

pursuit0fhoppiness

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I think things did change in the meantime... If every geuze was just 1/3 of each year they wouldn't need these legendary blenders, anyone could do it. Just checked some bottles in my cellar with that much detail on the labels and none of them are 1/3 of each year.
 

monkeymath

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I think things did change in the meantime... If every geuze was just 1/3 of each year they wouldn't need these legendary blenders, anyone could do it. Just checked some bottles in my cellar with that much detail on the labels and none of them are 1/3 of each year.
While I also don't think the ratio is fixed, I'd like to throw in that even under such a constraint, the act of blending would still be highly non-trivial, as the beer within each barrel will develop its own unique character. There'd still be a myriad combinations for the final geuze.

As a side note: on various tours I took there in 2019, the people guiding the tour emphasised that the barrels were steam-sanitised after each batch and that the fermentation was "100% spontaneous", relying solely on the unique (!) ambient microflora.
I was surprised by this statement and approached the guide at Cantillon about this after the tour: he emphatically refuted my idea that the barrels held residual microbes that would take over after an initial phase of "wild" fermentation.

Then, at Timmermans, after the tour and tasting was done and the big crowd had shuffled out, an older gentleman who worked for the brewery (and various other lambic producers before that) came to our table and after talking for a bit I told him about the surprising information I had gotten. He chuckled and said something along the lines of the "spontaneous fermentation" being a unique trademark, which was why it was often overstated. Each of the breweries he knew relied on the microbes residing in their barrels.

The reason I feel inclined to believe him rather than the others might largely be attributed to confirmation bias, but it was great chatting with him and listening to his stories about the industry. It was all the more surprising, as Timmermans seemed to me the most "commercial" of the breweries I had visited, with their assortment of back-sweetened products (sweet to the point of being unpalatable imho) etc. But this genuine conversation, disconnected from all marketing necessary to keep this niche of craftsmanship alive, remains a fond memory of my stay in Brussels.
 

pursuit0fhoppiness

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Yes I realized I shouldn't have said anyone could do it after I posted, as the barrels would all still vary quite a bit. Was just emphasizing that they're definitely not all 33% of each year anymore. If the ratios were fixed, each component would need to be consistent in gravity, pH etc to get a consistent carbonation, acidity, etc in each blend.
 

goodolarchie

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33.3% from each of 3 years is not accurate, this is not a standard and would likely produce a fairly low carb beer. The only thing that was defined by EU law the blend must be lambic (which has its own appellation and legal considerations) including that aged in oak for at least 3 years.

For example, Cantillon Gueuze is 15-20% 3 yr, 30-35% 2yr, and closer to 50% 1yr depending on the specific gravity needed to get good bottle conditioning and carbonation, and obviously for a balanced enjoyment. This is something that Jean Van Roy has discussed in interviews. I'm going to trust a firsthand source over anything else. Cantillon
 

Orval

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@goodolarchie

maybe you and some others should carefully read what I wrote, I wrote each blender has their own tradition and method which makes the difference amongst competitors... 33% is just the rough value!
Cantillon isn't my favourite, they are known because they opened a kind of a museum.
I don't know how many of them still exist nowadays... Gebroeders De Vits were three brothers aged about 70 at that time, I'm not sure someone took over. There was another De Vits in Lembeek where Frank Boon started, freshly graduated Brewer Engineer, learning from the old De Vits, you should have seen the premises, dark and old. He was one pioneer of the new craft beers market in Belgium. Van Honsebroeck (St Louis) was struggling at that time to have a wild fermentation, the brewery isn't in the right area (Izegem-West Flanders), I remember the brewer engineer asking me each time whether I had some information to share. I was selling those blenders and breweries cheap corks. Most of the bottles didn't have any label, just a white kaolin line for gueuze and a pink one for kriek. I liked to buy my gueuze from Oud Beersel, I remember one day I saw him coming back from Schaerbeek with a full load of cherries on his truck.
I found this: List of Closed Lambic Breweries and Blenders - Lambic.Info...
 

goodolarchie

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maybe you and some others should carefully read what I wrote, I wrote each blender has their own tradition and method which makes the difference amongst competitors... 33% is just the rough value!
Okay, if I missed this, I apologize. But understand that there are implications to coming into a thread hot with a take like "the real stuff is made by doing x,y,z". If an aspiring lambic-style blender is reading this wondering how am I going to carbonate my beer unless most of it is young... my SG is very low otherwise? then that's a bit of a problem. The arithmetic around planning this also doesn't even add up -- if you are putting 1/3rd fully matured beer in each gueuze blend you must be a) never dumping a barrel, and using all of it, and b) scaling down your production each year, as you are now limited by your aged stock. That's not a tradition thing, it's just some simple math. It makes sense to see your least available vintage as the smallest representation in a blend. With that in mind, I think 15/35/50 is a nice starting point from 3/2/1 year old.

Cantillon's gueuze isn't my favorite either, but since Jean Van Roy is younger and passionate he puts more information out there for consumption in English. Since we're doing anecdotes - I had the privilege of meeting Armand Debelder in 2013 and I got the sense through my slow broken translation that his oldest barrels and puncheons were used quite sparingly as we sampled them, and he was excited about some of the 2012 beer.

Indeed almost every brewing practice has changed since the 70's, even hardcore traditional ones, because certain companies and supply chains have dried up. They have had to adapt or innovate to stay afloat and relevant.
 

Orval

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@goodolarchie
Armand De Blender, that's Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen in Beersel, I lived in Linkebeek, another village next to Beersel. Indeed language could be a problem, they speak a Flemish dialect in that area called Pajottenland, but they can also speak French and this is what he says:" Le travail de coupage de gueuze était limité à quelques jours en hiver. Il s’agissait de laver les bouteilles et d’embouteiller. Une semaine avant, mon père mélangeait du lambic âgé d’un, deux et trois ans. Il achetait son moût auprès des brasseries Van Haelen, De Neve et Winderickx. »
“The gueuze blending job was limited to a few days in winter. It involved washing the bottles and bottling. A week before, my father was mixing one, two and three years old lambic. he bought his wort from the Van Haelen, De Neve and Winderickx breweries. "
I now live abroad since 2003 and won't have any chance to enjoy a gueuze any more...
 
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Northern_Brewer

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Folk here can ask questions directly to the brewers/blenders via the virtual Toer de Geuze event next weekend, see this thread :
 
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