Controlling Wild Fire: The Lambic Method for Homebrewers

BYOB by | Mar 2016 | Issue #110
Illustration by Ellen Crenshaw

It’s hard for homebrewers to find a project as out there on the edge of science versus art as the wide world of wild ales. You’re risking a large investment of time and money while hoping to produce the sublime, not the vinegary.

In issue #78 we talked about producing wildly inoculated starters to drive your experiments, but fellow Maltose Falcon brewer John Aitchison recently revisited a Lambic method we learned from yeast guru MB Raines. It’s not a speedy sour method, but her schedule to “recreate” Cantillon mimics the natural order of critters.

We start with the classic turbid mash, which takes a long time to produce cloudy wort in two kettles. During the mash, you’ll be pulling wort off and heating it to an enzyme-killing 176°F to preserve starch. John’s brew used five infusion steps!

Then it’s on to the magic and patience part: the critters. A single pitch shortcut is tempting, but MB advocates multiple pitches. It’s more expensive, but it produces beauty. Start with a neutral-ish strain, even Wyeast 1056 works. Add Lacto if you feel inclined—I don’t.

After a couple of months, pitch a Pediococcus culture. A few months later, pitch your favorite Brett and bottle dregs to clean up the Pedio mess. Every time you add a new culture, add food in the form of fruit, sugar, or wort. In a year or three, you’ll have an amazing beer that you’ll be both proud and jealously protective of.

Wild Fire “Lambic”
For 5.0 gallons at 1.051 OG | 2 IBU | 4.0 SRM | 5.3% ABV | 120–240 minute boil

Grain Bill
7.0 lbs Pilsner malt
2.0 lbs torrified wheat
1.25 lbs German wheat malt
1.25 lbs flaked wheat

Mash Schedule
Strike with 3 quarts of water at 140°F for 10 minutes. Add 5 quarts of boiling water to reach 136°F. Pull 1 quart of liquid to a second kettle, heat and maintain at 176°F. Add 6 quarts of boiling water to reach 150°F. Remove 5 quarts to the second kettle. Add 6 quarts of boiling water to reach 162°F. Rest for 15 minutes and drain to boil kettle. Add liquid from the second kettle to the mash until you’re back at 167°F and rest for another 15 minutes. Add remaining liquid to boil kettle. Recirculate the mash to clarify and sparge with 180°F water.

1.0 oz Debittered hops for 60 minutes.

Neutral ale yeast to start. Pediococcus at 2 months. Brett and bottle dregs at 4 months. Age 1–3 years.