Brew Day: Dawson’s Kriek (Fruit Lambic)

“I don’t want to wait… For our lives to be ooverrrr ….”

I’m sorry, every time I think about this beer that bit of 90s nostalgia pops into my head. The sad thing is, I never watched the show. My girlfriend, on the other hand, would drop me like a bad habit for Pacey if she could.

The beer is named after Michael Dawson who formulated the recipe. He used to work for Northern Brewer, and was one of the original co-hosts of the popular web video series, Brewing TV.

Having brewed as many different beers as I have I think I can design a recipe for almost any style. Belgian sours are uncharted waters for me. There are several strains of lactobacillus and pediocaccas that are available for purchase. I have no familiarity at all with any of them. For my first foray into sour beers a kit seemed like a good idea.

Like some of the bigger beers I am planning to brew, a lambic like this will need months to age. It probably won’t be ready to drink for over a year.

Authentic commercial versions are soured naturally by being open-fermented, which allows the naturally occurring organisms in the air of the Senne River valley to sour the beer. It’s not unlike making sourdough bread.

These microbes or “bugs” are what makes the beer. The kit comes with Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend. Per the kit’s instructions, “…Contains a selection of Saccharomyces cerevisiae which includes Belgian style wheat beer yeast, sherry yeast, two Brettanomyces strains and lactic acid bacteria. While this mixture does not include all possible cultures found in Belgian lambics, it is representative of the organisms which are most important for the desirable flavor components of these beer styles.” Basically pitch the smack pack and let it rip.

Michael Tonsmeire, who literally wrote the book on sour beers, suggests adding additional microbes, such as the dregs from other sour beers. Sounds easy enough to me. I added some of the dregs from a bottle of Shareholders Saison and a Boulevard Brewing Saison Brett (2013).

The grist in a lambic is usually pilsner malt and flaked wheat. The kit came with Pilsen and Wheat dry malt extract.There are no specialty grains to steep. The dry extract will help the beer finish lighter in color than it would with liquid extract.

Lambic has no hop flavor or aroma, just a small amount of hop bitterness. The kit came with Hersbrucker hops with a paltry 1.9% Alpha Acid content. To put that in perspective some modern American varieties have ten times the bittering power. Traditionally aged hops, hops that are two to three years old, are used to ensure no hop flavor is found in the beer. After rummaging through the freezer in my beer fridge I found some Nelson Sauvin hops that are around two years old. I calculated that 0.2 ounces of the aged Nelson hops will give the beer just enough bitterness.

Unlike the brewer’s yeast in the yeast blend, the assorted bugs work a lot more slowly. This beer can sit in the primary ferementer for up to a year. I think I will give it six to nine months. According to what I have read the beer should be kept at a fairly constant temperature of around 68F. Seasonal changes in temperature are okay, but wild swings aren’t advised. The landing leading up to my apartment is the coolest place in my apartment, and the temperature is pretty stead. It’s directly under the air conditioner during the summer, and isn’t near a baseboard in the winter. The first 70F day this spring, the air conditioner is going in just to be safe.

The kit came with two cans of cherry purée to add during secondary fermentation. The instructions suggested racking to a six gallon carboy for secondary fermentation to ensure there is enough room for the fruit and the beer. I may fill up a five gallon carboy as high as I can with the fruit and beer, and then just bottle the rest without blending it with the cherries. This will give me about a gallon of regular lambic, and four gallons of fruit lambic.

Dawson Crying - I have to wait over a year until I can drink my lambic

Unfiltered and unpasteurized beers are truly living organisms. It is especially true with a wild or sour beer like this. These are beers that will change and evolve in the bottle over a period of months and years. I expect the cherry flavor to fade as the beer ages, and the flavors the bugs produce to become more prominent.

Another Belgian sour ale style, gueuze, is made by blending different lambics together. Lambic will change as it ages, blending old and young lambics into a gueuze combines a variety of different flavors. To make a gueuze, you need to start with a lambic. This kit is a start for me. In six months or a year I can brew a sour beer of my own. In a couple of years I can try blending them and creating a gueuze of my own.

Click here for the kit.

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