Introduction to Lambic
Lambic brewing is the oldest brewing method still in use in the Western world. (Guinard) Its preparation involves the use of raw wheat; old, stale hops; and spontaneous fermentation. True lambic is only made in the Senne valley outside of Brussels in Belgium. Only here has the microflora been found appropriate for the production of spontaneously-fermented beer.
While the materials mentioned are unusual in brewing, the most unusual feature of Lambic is its use of spontaneous fermentation. This term refers to the fact that no yeast culture is deliberately added to cause fermentation. Instead, microorganisms from the air and fermentation vessels ferment the beer.
Generally, the first thing that a taster notices is that
the beer is sour. In the case of a good, traditional Lambic, like those
made by Cantillon or Frank Boon, the beer can be extremely sour. Lambics
usually have a very complex aroma and flavor that is caused by the
assortment of wild yeasts and bacteria present. Lambics also have no hop
character at all--only aged hops are used. Beyond that, the best thing is
to taste a few. See the tasting page for more information.
Relatively little information is available to brewers regarding the making of lambic-style beers. To date only one text has been written which provides a relatively complete description of the history and processes involved in this artisanal form of brewing (Lambic,Guinard). Glimpses into the lambic brewing process and nature of the beer itself have also been provided through the writings and TV series of Michael Jackson. These authors have provided much of the available information. Others have found yet more information on the art and science of making lambic-style beers. It is strongly recommended that you get a copy of Lambic if you have any interest in this style of beer.
The majority of lambic-style ale brewers prefer to use pure cultures to inoculate their wort and ferment it. This gives them a bit of control over the process which is still poorly understood. Spontaneous fermentation by the homebrewer can lead to largely unpredictable and irreproducible results.
Pure-culture lambic-style ale brewing is still in its infancy and a great deal of experimentation has yet to be done. These pages are only meant as a basic guide and introduction and are by no means a definitive work on the subject. Please do not view what is presented here as anything more than a basic outline. This information is merely a synthesis of information that we have gathered over the last few years.
Source of Information
The information here is based on information from various sources. These include the writings of Michael Jackson, Lambic, by J.X. Guinard, dissertations from the KUL in Belgium, and the internet Lambic Digest. Personal experience and conversations with various other homebrewers attempting to make this style of beer have also contributed to what you will find here.