Materials for Making Lambic

No endorsement is implied for any particular company.

Culturing supplies

This section covers obtaining yeast from commercial suppliers as well as finding suppliers of culturing equipment. For information on culturing and obtaining yeast from beer, see the culturing page.

Because lambic-style beers are not widely brewed the brettanomyces yeast and pediococcus bacteria are not always available on the shelf at your neighborhood homebrew shop. The other reason for limited available is that these cultures do not maintain viability for as long a period of time as more traditional brewing yeast. Both the brettanomyces and pediococcus are acid-producing organisms and this causes them to literally kill themselves off when stored for extended periods. Also the organisms are extremely fastidious meaning they have complex nutritional and environmental requirements and can not be maintained in static storage for long periods.

Difco Laboratories
P.O. Box 331058
Detroit, Michigan 48232
(800) 521-0851
They do not sell direct, only through distributors. When you call request a catalog and the name of your local distributor. They are an excellent source of media and chemicals needed for the growth and isolation of both yeast and bacteria of all types. Be prepared for sticker shock when you see the catalog.

Brewer's Resource
409 Calle San Pablo #104
Camarillo, CA 93012
(800) 827-3983
They carry both brettanomyces and pediococcus and a line of culturing equipment and other supplies for the homebrewer wanting to do their own culturing.

Advanced Brewers Scientific
3034 SE. 20th
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 234-7503
2233 Sand Rd.
Port Clinton, OH
(419) 732-2200
They carry the Wyeast strain of Brettanomyces bruxellensis (see below) and also a complete line of laboratory supplies, culturing equipment and growth media.

Yeast Culture Kit Company
1308 W. Madison
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
800-742-2110 Voice & FAX
Hours: Evenings
Alternate payment: Check/Money Order;Visa;MasterCard;Discover
Owner: Daniel McConnell
Other: Mail order, Free Catalog, Brewery QA & Archival Services

They carry both brettanomyces and pediococcus and all the necessary culturing supplies need to grow these organisms and can also supply specialized growth media upon request.

HeadStart Brewing Cultures
256 Cherokee Rdg.
Athens, GA 30606
(706) 548-7051

This company has brettanomyces strains of various origins as well as pediococcus and other brewing yeast and bacteria for brewing non-traditional beers. They also have various culturing supplies and media.

Wyeast Labs
G.W. Kent (Yeast Labs)

These companies only sell wholesale but you can obtain their products through your local homebrew supplier. Wyeast sells a culture for plambic brewing, Wyeast number 3278. You should read the letter Wyeast sent to retailers about this. G.W. Kent sells both a strain of brettanomyces and a strain of pediococcus

The Brewing-Science Institute
This seems to be a company affiliated with University of Colorado Biotechnology Center, offering yeast and lab supplies to commercial brewers. Prepared plates and other forms of media are available.

Fungi Perfecti
P.O. Box 7634
Olympia, WA USA 98507
HOURS: M-F 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. PST
PHONE (ORDERS ONLY) (800) 780-9126 FUNGI-FAX (360) 426-9377

This is oriented towards mushroom culturing but they have some interesting culturing equipment.

Cynmar Corporation
131 North Broad Street
P.O. Box 530
Carlinville, IL 62626
Order Toll Free: 1-800-223-3517
Fax Toll Free: 1-800-754-5154

An inexpensive source for laboratory supplies.

Fermentation vessels

General considerations

One has a number of options regarding what to ferment their wort in when making lambic style beer. You have the option of using containers made of glass, plastic, stainless steel or even wood.

Glass carboys have traditionally been used by homebrewers due to their inertness, ability to be easily cleaned and sanitized and gas impermeability. Also the clarity of glass allows one to view how the fermentation is proceeding.

Plastic vessels made of high density polyethylene (HDPE) or polycarbonate (PC) are also widely used by brewers though they are perceived as being harder to clean and less easily sanitized than glass. A plastic fermenter can be used for making lambic style beer and has the advantage over other non-wood vessels in that most types of plastic display a certain degree of oxygen permeability as compared to glass and stainless steel. The slow diffusion of oxygen may help in the growth of the various microorganisms in a manner similar to wood. Also the oxygen may contribute to flavor development through various oxidative processes. Of course this is merely conjecture and has not been proven experimentally.

Stainless steel is being used more and more by homebrewers because it is relatively inert, and easy to clean and sanitize as well as being relatively gas impermeable and nearly indestructible. It is expensive but at the same time should last a lifetime.

But traditionally lambic has always been fermented in wooden casks usually made of oak. These casks are usually old wine or sherry casks and are then used by the lambic brewer until they are no longer repairable. For the homebrewer an oak cask represents a major commitment in both money and maintenance. Many feel the benefits and traditions of wood far outweigh the costs. You should be aware that with an oak casks the first few batches of beer made it in it will have a pronounced oak quality in both flavor and aroma. If the cask or barrel is of American origin this oaky quality will be even more pronounced.

See also the information on brewery sanitation.

Oak Casks

The first issue to consider is what type of oak casks to use. Generally you will find that that you can get casks of American or European oak and made in America or Europe. You also have a choice of an untoasted or toasted barrel and if toasted the degree of toasting. In the wine world the French oak casks which are also made or coopered in France are considered the best. There are barrels made in France or other European countries made from oak from other parts of Europe. The European Oak tree is of a different species than the American Oak tree and the wood has different chemical and grain properties. Generally the French casks have less tannins and other "oak" compounds than American oak and a toasted barrel of either origin is going to be even less oaky. See table below for sources of oak barrels. Be aware that an oak cask is expensive and if you can find a used one of less than 50 gallons consider yourself lucky.

Oak casks of European origin are generally sold in metric sizes that are not of the 5 or 10 gallon size, but instead approximately 7 or 15 gallons. If you do buy an oak cask you should consult with the company you bought it from regarding care and treatment as well as any guarantee against leakage when you first receive it. To aid in removal of excess tannins you can follow the procedure outlined in Lambic or use repeated washing with hot water. You should still be prepared to end up with oak beer for the first few batches. Some have suggested that you make a few batches of light extract-based beer in the barrel over a few months and just dump them. This will accelerate the tannin extraction process.

The advantage of an oak cask over other vessels is that it provides a microenvironment where the various yeast and bacteria can grow. This is partially due to the porous nature of the wood which provides nooks and crannies for the microorganisms to inhabit. Also the permeability allows the slow diffusion of air into the fermenting wort and this further aids the growth of the microorganisms. After a cask has been used for a number of batches it will become, one hopes, infected with the right microflora further aiding in the production of a more authentic product.

It also seems that as a cask is used for many years the various flavors from previous batches of beer as well as those from the yeast and bacteria build up in the wood and further add to the complex flavor profile of each successive fermentation. It is also felt that even old oak adds a certain minor astringent note to the lambic from the tannins that are slowly leached from the wood.

Oak Chips

The contribution of the oak from a cask to the flavor of lambic is considered to be minimal based on discussions with those who import traditional lambic. This is due to the fact that the casks used are often decades old and were previously used for wine fermentation. Thus they have had the majority of tannins and phenolic compounds leached out of them. It is felt that the oak may add some astringent quality to the lambic, but this is only conjecture. If you feel that using oak may help contribute complexity to the flavor of your lambic but don't want to deal with a cask then you might want to consider using oak chips. They are usually available from homebrew shops or can be specially ordered. As with casks, toasted chips that are soaked in a couple of changes of boiling water prior to use will minimize tannin contribution. You don't want beer that tastes like oaky chardonay. Jim Liddil reports:
"1/2 cup in 5 gallons seemed to add very little flavor if any at all. The chips I used were toasted French oak chips and I added them after the beer had already fermented for a year. I then left the beer on the chips for 2 months prior to bottling. My main reason for using the chips is to get them "infected" with the lambic organisms so I can then use them in subsequent beers to provide and certain microenvironment to enhance their growth. I found that I could get viable organism to grow from the wood after it was wash in water and placed in fresh wort."
This is an area wide open for experimentation.

What kind of fermenter you use is up to you. But remember that whatever you use will be unavailable for other uses for a long time if you ferment the wort in the traditional manner.

Caring for wooden casks

If you do choose to use an oak barrel or cask be aware that it will require a certain amount of care to make it last. But a properly cared-for cask can last for decades. The outside needs to be kept clean and free of mold and fungus. It is suggested that one apply raw linseed oil to the cask once a year to check fungal growth. If fungus does grow on the cask it can be killed using a 5-10% bleach solution, but it is better to prevent the growth to start with. The cask needs to be supported properly when it is full due to the stress on the wood from the barrel shape. When not in use the cask should be cleaned and treated by burning a sulfur candle in it or storing it filled with sulfite solution (2-3 grams/gallon). You do not want to store a cask filled with just plain water as you run the risk of mold developing in the cask and then having to try to kill it off. Also it is not a good idea to store a cask empty as it can dry out and shrink and you may not be able to get it to swell properly again and not leak. The best alternative is to always have the cask full of fermenting wort. This way the resident microflora can develop in the wood and not be killed off. It has been suggested that after racking beer from a cask that you simply rinse it well with water and then fill it with fresh wort. For further information on cask and cask maintenance you can consult any number of wine making texts as well as the cooperage you purchased the cask from or your local winery if there is one near you.

Supplier List

You will find that the cost of a barrel does not increase in a linear fashion with size (i.e. a 10 gallon barrel does not cost twice as much as a 5 gallon) So it pays to shop around and decide what your needs are really going to be.

Typically an European oak barel will cost twice as much as an American equivalent and the price you pay will also depend on the current exchange rate for foreign currency.

If you are considering making really large batches you can pick up used 200-225 L barrels from wineries for around $50. Smaller sizes are nearly impossible to find used because wineries use them to hold wine for topping up the big casks and use them until they are ready to be used as fire wood.

Barrel Supplier List Note: The first four suppliers on this list carry barrels in smaller sizes (i.e. 5-7 gallons or the metric equivalent) The other suppliers may or may not have barrels smaller than 200 liters. Additional details about some suppliers is provided where available. Please submit any additional information you might have. This information is believed to be correct at the time of this writing.

Napa Fermentations
(707) 255-6372
Both European and American oak

Demptos Napa Cooperage
(707) 257-2628
European oak only

Independent Stave Co.
(417) 588-4151
American Oak only

Seguin Moreau Cooperage
(707) 252-3408
European oak only

Tonnellerie Vicard
(707) 257-3582

Tonnellerie Radoux
(415) 457-3955

Tonnellerie Francaise
(707) 942-9301

Tonnellerie Mercier
(804) 493-9186

Les Tonnelleries de Bourgogne
(707) 257-3582

(415) 665-1885

(415) 331-7849

Pradel Barrels
(707) 944-8720

Mel Knox Barrel
(415) 751-6806

Custom Cooperage
(707) 996-8781

Cork Associates
(707) 224-6000

Boswell Co.
(415) 457-3955

Blue Grass Cooperage
(415) 331-5734

Barrel Builders
(707) 942-4291

Barrel Specialties
(707) 553-9707
Make 30 gallon barrels from used 50 gallon ones.

Micro Barrels/Jason Buttler
(707) 942-1521
Make custom-size small barrels from used large ones.


Type of fruit to use

People have had good luck in general with raspberries. Finding the right type of cherry in the US to use can be more difficult. The most prized cherry for true lambic-making in Belgium is the Schaarbeek cherry, not available elsewhere. Apparently even true lambics use a blend of these and other cherries due to availability problems. Here is a thread from the Lambic Digest with some information on what is available in the US and how it relates to the real thing.

Date: Mon, 3 Jun 1996 13:13:42 -0700
Subject: cherry, cheri'

     After a two week search since my original post regarding how to source
     fruit for krieks, we have seen a surge of posts with little substance,
     basically mirroring the paucity of product available to us Norte
     Americanos.  What I found:
     After numerous inquiries to commercial stone fruit tree nurseries for
     sour cherry varieties, I can only concur with Jim's assessment of
     Montmorency monoculture.  This is the only available sour cherry scion
     in the nurseries; all questions regarding Schaarbeek were replied with
     Sharwhut?  Now as it seems there are no particular cultivars going by
     this name, it remains to be seen what species/variety(ies) are
     actually being used in and around the river Senne.
     In Northern California, there are very limited sources of fresh
     Montmorecies, and the going rate I found appeared prohibitive ($1 per
     pound by the hundred).  Incidentally, the ones I sampled were not
     particularly sour.
     Jim Liddil reports on having used Oregon Fruit Products tar    erry
     puree, an aseptic, unsweetened product derrived from the eponymous
     Montmorency, available in 42 lb. minimum lots.  He used 15 pounds in 5
     gallons, and was left wanting more assertive flavors.  He will be
     using this beer in his AHA demonstration, so those partaking can post
     their impressions.  This stuff is available from OFP at 50 cents a
     pound (21 bucks per lot) plus postage, which was going to run about 10
     bucks per lot to here in NorCal.  They are at PO Box 5283, Salem,
     Oregon. 97304-0283.  Phone: (503)581-6211.
     3.  Jim also mentions that native wild cherries might be a good
     source.  Having done a fair amount of fieldwork in the Sierra on
     plants, I am familiar with three species of _Prunus_ that have
     (somewhat) edible fruit:
     _P. ilicifolia_: Hollyleaf Cherry; drupe 1/2 inch diam., pulp very
     thin, sweet when ripe.  Native to coast range foothills, Napa Co. to
     Baja.  Cultivated as a hedge shrub due to its desirable foliage.  I've
     had these and they are quite strong and moderately sweet when fully
     ripe.  The is almost *no* pulp on the damn things, though.
     _P. emarginata_: Bitter Cherry; drupe 1/3 to 1/2 inch diam.  Almost
     black when fully mature/ripe. Moist slopes in transition zone, coast
     range, So. Cal mountains and Sierra Nevada.  Pretty common in the 3-4
     K elevation belt of the Yellow pine zone. I've had these, after
     remarking how much the local fauna go for them.  Mistake!  These are
     so bitter and astringent as to be completely inedible (to me at
     least).  Probably perfect for lambics.  Dont know how long it would
     take to get a sufficient quantity though.
     _P. virginiata_: Western Choke Cherry; drupe 1/4 to 1/3 inch diam.
     Roughly the same distribution as bitter cherry.  Drupe is smaller, but
     less bitter, +- sour, flowers approx. 1 month later than the two
     previous species (early summer).  Edibility increases late in the
     season.  These are very small sour cherries, that would be a good
     candidate for kriek if they were available in quantity.  Again, I've
     had these, and despite being small and slim picking, are good if you
     like really tart things.
     The species from which the cultivated sweet cherry is derrived, _P.
     avium_  has been bred into innumerable varieties, a number ofd which
     are reffered to as bing.  There are also the mottled yelow/red cherry
     called Ranier, and the "tart" montmorency that was bred for pie fruit.
      Interestingly, a number of varieties have been bred for increased
     pollination success.  Some of these may lend themselves to our current
     desires.  A grower in the lower Santa Clara Valley uses a variety
     called "van" in this regard.  It is a moderately tart, somewhat
     smaller variety of P. avium.  This particular growing region is having
     a horrible cherry crop this year due to a particularly warm winter.
     Fruit production is very low.  However, being a kind sort, he has
     agreed to provide me and my fellow coop laambikers a hundred pounds of
     these at a most reasonable price (two or three quality cigars).  We
     plan to add these to a clean barrel, then rack up to fill it (yes,
     yes, I know, quite unconventional, but we have other reasons for
     racking out of the primary barrel).  We have made some rough and
     tumble calculations that estimate the volume of 100 lbs. of cherries
     to be about 16 gallons.  We will rack about 40 gallons on top of them.
     This will end up giving a rate of 290 g/L cherry to young lambic.
     We are going to recieve these cherries later this week, and I will
     post of my initial taste observations.  Sure hope it works out.
     Good luck to the rest of you, let us know what you find works.

Date: Wed, 5 Jun 1996 09:02:46 -0500
From: David Williams 
Subject: cherries

I will add what I can to the cherry story here. Montmorency is the most
widely grown tart cherry in the US and readily available from many
nurseries. I would give a little more credit for the value of any variety
that has been grown since the 1600's. Also widely available from US
nurseries are Meteor (Montmorency x (Russian cherry x Shattenmorelle)) and
Northstar (English Morello x (erstwhile)Yugoslavia seedling). Both are grown
commercially in Michigan. Meteor, like Montmorency, is an amorello type -
light juice, while Northstar is a morello type - dark juice. All three
varieties are available from St. Lawrence Nurseries
( as well as a variety they have named Bali of
unknown parentage. Surfire is a new tart cherry variety (Borchert x NY 6935)
released in 1995 from the NY State Agricultural Experiment Station. Mine
hasn't fruited yet so I can't report on quality. According to NYSAES
Shattenmorelle is the most extensively grown tart cherry in Europe and may
be a good variety to substitute for Shaarbeek. I made a cherry beer largely
from Shattenmorelle a few years ago and it certainly was tart and cherry. I
don't know a source off hand for Shattenmorelle since the Fruit Testing
Association closed in 1995 but sources can be located in the "Fruit, Berry
and Nut Inventory", 1989, second edition, Ken Wheatley, Seed Savers Exchange
which lists all varieties commercially available in the US. Another cherry
variety that maybe worth trying is English Morello which can be obtained
from Bear Creek Nurseries in Washington and South Meadow Fruit Gardens in
Baroda, Michigan, and others no doubt. If you want to check THE source for
cherries in the US check the Web site for the National Plant Germplasm
Repository at UC Davis. They have on inventory 192 varieties of Prunus avium
and can supply budwood to those interested.

David Williams

Date: Tue, 25 Jun 1996 11:34:59 -0500
From: (Daniel S. McConnell)
Subject: more on cherries

From: (Mike Sharp)

>On the subject of cherries, Belle Vue uses "Groechem" (sp?) cherries.  I had an
>excellent kriek made of these while I was sampling my way through
>their cellars last year.

Other varieties to look for are Oblacinska and Stevnsbar (available on a
very limited basis in the US).  These are old world varieties used to make
kirsch and have fruit chemistry similar to the Westerlesse Kriek.  (percent malic
acid = 1.77) and just slightly higher in soluble solids (16.5 [vs. Montmorency @
13]), very likely has similar color, and also has seeds in the pits.



OregoN Fruit Products

Health food stores.

Middle eastern markets may have dried sour cherries.


The grist for a traditional lambic beer is usually composed of 30-40% raw (unmalted) wheat with the rest consisting of pils-type barley malt, even 2-row and 6-row.

Raw wheat

There are many ways to buy raw wheat: whole (berries), cracked, flaked (rolled), and flour. Malted wheat is also an option. There are also at least two kinds of wheat: soft, white, winter and hard, red, summer wheat. Some people claim that soft white wheat is better than hard red wheat for lambic. Which form you choose to use is based on availability, the equipment you have, and how traditional you want to be in your recipe formulation.

A good source for many of these types of wheat is health food stores, who will often have a majority of the choices mentioned above.

See also the section on mashing to help inform your decision on what kind to use.

Whole or cracked

As stated above, this is the traditional approach to making this style. However, grinding the raw wheat can be a chore. Gelatinization is an issue.

A word about crushing raw wheat is in order. Because it has not been malted and kilned it is not friable like other malts. Raw wheat has a tendency to be squished rather than crushed. This makes it hard to mill even on a roller mill. One can run the wheat through the mill 3 times so that it is reduced to fairly small particles. If you have a corona this is one place where it may have an advantage over one of the various roller-type mills available. Wheat has no husk so grinding it up to find powder is not a problem.

If one chooses to use raw wheat there are a couple of different mashing techniques one can choose to follow. (also described below) The easiest method is to pregelatinize the wheat as described by Guinard. After this is done the whole mash is combined and either a single step or multiple step mash followed. Alternatively the wheat can be combined with the malt directly and then mashed using a single or multiple step mashing procedures. The final and most time consuming procedure involves what is called the turbid mash method. In this method the crushed wheat and malt are combined and a portion of the liquid is removed and boiled to raise the temperature of the mash to each mash point. In the mashing section various schedules will be described in more detail.

Raw wheat is traditionally the form used in lambic breweries. In the most traditional method it is not pre-gelatinized before being added to the mash. Because of this a very time consuming form of mashing is carried out and will be discussed in more detail later. The easier route is to grind the raw wheat and then gelatinize it with a cereal mash before adding it to the mash. This is accomplished by adding water to the wheat at the rate of 1.5-2 quarts per lb. along with 10% of the malted barley. The mixture is heated to the 150°F range and allowed to stand for 15-30 minutes. This allows the enzymes in the malt to act on the wheat starch and aid in its hydration. After the temperature rest the whole mixture is heated to boiling with constant stirring. Also feel free to add water as it begins to thicken. Be sure to not heat it too fast or stop stirring otherwise you will have a big gummy burnt mess. After it is boiled for 15 minutes you can then add it to the main mash and continue with the mashing schedule. Add it slowly with stirring so as not to raise the temperature of the mash too quickly or unevenly. If, when using this method you have your mash at 100°F and then add the wheat and the temperature will settle in the 120-130°F range depending on the volume. Then begin to heat the entire mash slowly to the various step temperatures.


Flaked wheat is probably the easiest form to use as they are pregelatinized making for a less time-consuming mashing procedure. Both flaked and malted wheat are suggested as alternatives to raw wheat by Guinard. These days more and more homebrew shops are supplying flaked or rolled wheat.


A few individuals have reported replacing the wheat fraction of the grist with whole wheat flour. They reported no problems with a stuck mash or slow run off. Of course as they say, your mileage may vary. Whether or not this will work for you will depend on your mashing and lautering setup as well as your level of experience. If you are feeling adventurous give it a try.


Wheat malt is usually readily available through most homebrew stores and also simplifies the mashing step.

Aged Hops

In lambic production aged hops, which have lost all their bittering principals, are used. The rate of hopping is very high, on the order of 400-800 grams/hectoliter or 3-6 ounces/5 gallons of wort. Aged hops are used to avoid any bitterness or aroma that could affect the acidic, pungent character of the beer. Typical varieties used are of the low to medium alpha acid range such as Hallertauer, Tettnanger or Brewers Gold, though almost any hop variety will do. High alpha acid varieties such as Chinook are probably better avoided.

The homebrewer has a couple of options with respect to obtaining and using aged hops. The brewer can buy hops and leave them out at room temperature for a year or two to age and loose bitterness. This requires planning and is not convenient for the beginning lambic-style ale brewer. Alternatively you or a friend may have some old hops that you just could not part with but have never used. If these are old enough they may serve the purpose. New hops or old but "not old enough" hops can be "aged" by heating in the oven on a cookie sheet or screen. People have used low temperatures (<200 F) for 4-5 hours or higher temperatures (300 F) for 0.5-1 hour. Others have put the hops out in the sun or in a gas oven with only the pilot light on for a few weeks. Any of these procedures can also be used for any hops you may have around and want to use. Typically you want to heat the hops until all the aroma has been driven off from the hops. Be aware that the smell may not be one that others find pleasant. If you have a total aversion to "ruining" perfectly good hops you may be able to find hops at a reduced price at the end of the year from your local shop or one of the many mail order companies. Many times natural foods or cooperative stores have hops in the herb/spice/tea department. These are often well-aged and devoid of aroma with well-oxidized lupulin glands.

Whether you use whole or pellet hops does not seem to matter as long as they are well aged. Crushing the pellets into powder or putting whole hops through the blender should enhance the oxidation process. As the hops age they take on a very pale green to yellow color and lose all aroma and the lupulin in whole hops turns from yellow to orange-brown. During the aging process the hops go through a stage of smelling rancid and cheesy. This smell is unpleasant so it is best to leave them in a well-ventilated area. If you live in an area where insects may be a problem you may want to put the hops into a container with a fine mesh cover of some sort. And then every once in a while you may want to mix the hops to enhance oxidation.

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