The beginnings of the lambic I brewed about six months ago is starting to get footy as hell.

At the urging of Michael Agnew at A Perfect Pint, I’ve done my very best to just forget about the damn thing, leaving the microbial mish mash in the dark corner of my basement to slowly distort and turn into a cheesy, funky, and sour concoction.

A definite pellicle has formed on the surface of the beer, with some “ropiness” beginning to take effect, thin strands of bacteria colonies streaking their way through the beer likely from the pediococcus. A layer of dust coats the neck of the carboy, and a spider has also decided to form a nearby web, making this even more authentic based on my understanding that the cellaring rooms of traditional Belgian lambic brewers look something like the opening scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

I’m planning to make this a fruit lambic, and will give it until at least summer before I rack and spur on secondary fermentation. The fruit I’m leaning toward using is thimbleberry, a relatively little known (and not widely commercially available) fruit indigenous to Minnesota and parts of the upper Midwest, commonly found along the North Shore. I did locate someone in Michigan who sells the stuff in bulk, and may buy five or six pounds from her, if I’m not up for traipsing through the woods near Lake Superior in hopes of finding my own.

Thimbleberries are very similar to raspberries in shape and flavor, so I’m hoping the finished fruit lambic will come out tasting something like a framboise with some nice sour raspberry notes combined with the traditional lambic funkyness.

Once the beer is aging on fruit, it’ll likely be at least another year, if not longer, before I even consider bottling. Lambics are not for the impatient.

The legendary lambic style made famous by artisan brewers in Belgium is about as labor-intensive as it gets when it comes to making beer.

  • Step 1 – develop a base wort using wheat, barley malt and cheesy hops
  • Step 2 – place said wort outside in the cool night air, preferably in the Pajottenland region of Belgium, exposing it to indigenous wild yeasts and other funky bacteria causing spontaneous fermentation
  • Step 3 – age in oak barrels for a couple years to let the nasty critters really set up shop and pucker the hell out of the beer
  • Step 4 – sample the beer, and possibly blend with other lambics of varying age to achieve desired flavor, also known as a gueuze
  • Step 5 – if the gueuze isn’t your thing, rack the beer onto a bed of sour cherry, raspberry, peach, or strawberry, causing a second spontaneous fermentation from the sugars in the fruit
  • Step 6 – continue to age in oak barrels for, oh, a year or two
  • Step 7 – bottle, wait another year, and serve chilled in a fluted glass

Reuters recently did a nice profile on the art of brewing lambics, which is fortunately seeing somewhat of a reprise thanks to growing global interest in finely crafted beer. So when you get a good one (and I’m not talking Lindemans), savor it.

New Glarus’ recently released Cran-bic, part of their Unplugged Series, is one of those fantastic examples, brewed in the great state of Wisconsin using locally grown cranberries and native wild yeasts to give the beer its harmoniously balanced aromas and flavors, really a masterpiece that only reinforces in my mind that these guys know their way around a fermentation vessel when it comes to brewing incredible fruit style ales.

Poured in a fluted glass with a beautiful light crimson tone, perfectly clear and jumping with large champagne-like bubbles. The aroma is breathtaking, a combination of tempered brettanomyces giving the beer some very mild musty, horse blanket notes, but coupled with a sweet acidity from the cranberry. Flavor is so balanced, with each complex component equally expressed from start to dry finish. Wonderful sourness hitting the sides of your tongue, but not overly dominating like some other lambics I’ve sampled, which makes this beer incredibly drinkable.

This is such a nice beer, a great example of the style if you’re able to get to Wisconsin and get your hands on some.   

Rating: A