18 September, 2009

Can I Blend a Lambic in Luxembourg?

That is the question I have been asking myself for nearly 2 years! Luxembourg is a wonderful country in its own right and with the close proximity to Belgium and all the wonderful beer that country has to offer, I can't really complain. Not too much at least. Luxembourg does lack a bit in the beer department, especially when it comes to my favorite beer style...lambic.

Earlier this year I read online that you are able to visit certain lambic brewers in the Payottenland outside of Brussels and purchase jugs of lambic straight from the barrel..no bottles. A few months back Paula and I made a day trip up to the Girardin brewery outside of Brussels and purchased a 10 litre jug of their young (jonge) lambic straight from the barrel! We brought it to a party that evening and had it to drink in our apartment for several night and it was a hit! Fresh, tasteful, yet inexpensive.

This got me thinking...if I could purchase one jug of lambic from one brewery, could I purchase several jugs and "blend" my own gueuze or fruit lambic? Of course this experiment would be for fun and informational purposes only as what I would be don't is not brewing.

Fast forward to a recent weekend in September and Paula and I decided we needed to make another trip to Brussels and to spend the night. Aside from visiting some of our favorite bars and sites, we also stopped at 3 lambic brewers on our way into Brussels.

Our first stop was to Lindeman's, the lambic brewer that people are probably most familiar with due to the huge success they have selling their framboise, kriek and other lambics in the U.S. and around the world but those fruit lambics are usually sweetened with syrup and not real fruit like more traditional brewers do (see Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen). Lindeman's does however brew their lambic in the traditional method with spontaneous fermentation and they do sell this lambic directly from the brewery if you ask nicely. We showed up on this Saturday and it took about 20 minutes to find someone to help me. I wandered around the warehouse with crates and crates and kegs and kegs of their beer everywhere, destined for various parts of the world. I finally got the attention of a worker who was cleaning the brewhouse and he took my plastic jug and dissappeared behind some huge tanks and came out about 10 minutes later with my jug full of 10 litres of jonge lambic. After paying the equivalent of about $18 (what a steal for what amounts to about 13 wine sized bottles of lambic) we were off to our 2nd destination.....

...Girardin. We returned to this great little brewery to claim our second jug of lambic or to refill our first jug I should say. This time we got a 10 litre fill of their old (oude) lambic as I wanted something older to help with the blending of a gueuze. We were in and out in 10 minutes and on the road into Brussels and to our 3rd and final destination.....

...Cantillon! My favorite of all lambic brewers and probably my first or second favorite brewer of any kind. We had visited on several occasions before and have become friendly with the brewer Jean. I arranged ahead of time to pickup a 5 litre "bag in a box" of their lambic. It was a real treat for me knowing that I could get a box of Cantillon to take home. Before we left Cantillon we sat down for a complimentary glass of Rosé de Gambrinus! What a great way to start our day in Brussels.

After spending the rest of this fine day and night in Brussels, we were back in Luxembourg on Sunday before 5pm or so and then it was on to the task of trying to blend my beer purchases and how to blend these 3 different vessels of beer without having alot of extra containers to blend into. I took out a pen and pad of paper and a number of tasting glasses and I was off. First I was looking for a solid blend of all 3 beers for my "Luxembourg gueuze". I settled on a blend that included approximately 6 parts oude lambic from Girardin, 3 parts Cantillon lambic and 1 part Lindeman's. I next moved onto the idea of a 10 litre jug of a blend to be used as a fruit lambic. This blend was mainly Linedman's with a few litres of Girardin and a touch of Cantillon.

What did I do with the remaining 5 litres or so of beer that did not fit into the 2 jugs containing 10 litres each of my blends? Well I put some of it in a ceramic Cantillon pitcher we have and th rest in some plastic cereal containers to store in the fridge and to drink over the course of the next few nights.
On Monday I purchased 16 packages of fresh Belgian raspberries and blanched them and then added to the blend I made for this fruit lambic. What a sweet, sweet and messy process but boy did it smell amazing. Most of the fruit fit in but I had to drain some and drink it to make room for the full 16 packages. We tasted the beers we had to drain from the jug and it already had a slight pinkish color an taste of raspberries. I put both jugs in little coolers and put them down in our cave to age.

A few days later I went to check on them and noticed that the framboise blended was fermenting again due to the addition of over 1.5 kgs of raspberries! I was amazed. Over the next few weeks and months I will take samples of each blend to see how they are doing and when they are ready to be bottled. More updates on that to come in the future!

In the meantime, check out some pictures from our adventures....