Lambic Beer FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

by Larry Lynch-Freshner (
This FAQ contains information culled from the (defunct) Lambic mailing list archives, the Lambic Digest archives, and discussions with some of the more frequent contributors.

Please keep in mind that this style, more then any other, is more Art then Science. That means that no matter how authoritative anyone sounds, they only really know what has worked for them so far. Several PhD theses have been written on aspects of this process, and more are certainly to come. Even commercial Lambic brewers only really know that it works, not how it works. We, as homebrewers, can only try to achieve an approximation of a Lambic.

In summary: This FAQ, and the Lambic Digest in general is just a discussion of ideas that have (or have not) worked for others. It is merely a starting point, and guide, for your own experiments. This is no One True Way, or gospel of Lambic production. Good Luck to you! and if you succeed, please let us know how you did it. Oh -- and please don't take Judges Comments about your beer too seriously, unless you know the judges know what they're talking about. This is such a different style that most judges don't know what they are tasting.

  1. What good books exist on these beers?

    For Brewing:
    Lambic by Jean-Xavier Guinard, Brewers Publications. This is a very good book on brewing lambic beers, though expect longer maturation times then he presents.

    Belgian Ale by Pierre Rajotte, Brewers Publications. This book is a bit sketchy, but still a good buy. Reactions vary, but general consensus seems to be mild disappointment. Coverage of strong ale and specials is better than things like Wit's and 'oud Bruin's.

    Just Brew It: Beer and Brewing V.12, 1992 AHA conference notes, edited by Tracy Loysen, Brewers Publications. This book has a good article on Lambics & Browns by Michael Matucheski, and an even better one on Lambics by Mike Sharp and Martin Lodahl.

    Lambic Digest & Lambic Mailing List archives. While I tried to distill these into this FAQ, they remain a good source of information. Do go through them all though, as opinions change over time.

    For tasting: Michael Jackson (surprise!) World Guide to Beer. Pocket Guide to Beer. Great Beers of Belgium.

  2. How are all these funny words pronounced?

    First thing, remember that Belgium has two major languages spoken within its borders. This means that the are often two pronunciations, if not two spellings for a lot of words.

  3. What makes a Lambic so different?

    Several things. 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.

  4. Where do I find aged hops?

    Sometimes a homebrew supply will have some old hops sitting around. Health food stores are known for having sometimes very old hops. You can age them yourself (2.5-3 years is good). A few brewers have had good success with artificially aging the hops by baking them at 200-300 degrees (F) for 1/2 to 1 hour, then leaving them in the open for a few days.

  5. How can I get sour beer?

    There are several methods that have been used to achieve sourness in beer:

  6. Won't fermenting Lambics infect my other beers?

    If proper care is taken to clean and sterilize equipment, then this has not proven a problem. Recommendations: Once the special cultures are in the lambic, it should only be held in glass. If cooperage is used, it should be in a separate area. More problems might be expected in a larger brewery then a home brewery, as there are more places for the bugs to hide.

  7. I want to show respect for Belgian Lambic brewers and their products.

    Since a true Lambic can only be produced in Payottenland, by spontaneous fermentation, what should I call my humble attempts? Technically, we should not use the word 'Lambic' at all, but because not doing so is to difficult, many use 'pseudo-Lambic', `pureculture Lambic' or pLambic for short. The phrase 'Lambic-style' is also used.

  8. What cultures do I need?

    For Lambic, you should have at least Pediococcus damnosus(sometimes given as P. cerevisiae) and one of either Brettanomyces lambicus or Brettanomyces bruxellensis (using both adds more complexity). Some cultures of B. bruxellensis seem to have more `horsey' character. There are others, mentioned in 'Lambic', that can also be used.

    For Berliner Weiss (not Belgian, not a lambic, but because it is sour, it is associated) uses just 'Lactobacillus delbruckii'.

    For a Flander's Brown or Belgian Red, unknown. How about some more research here?

  9. Where can I get the beasts?

    Cultures for pLambics can be had from a couple of different sources. Remember that there is as much variation in `Brettanomyces Lambicus' (or Brux., or Pedio...) as there is in `Saccharomyces Cerevisiae' (unless you think Whitbread is the same as, say, that used in Bavarian wheat beer) - only almost no work has been done in isolating and identifying these strain variations. Try cultures from different sources, experiment!

  10. How do I culture these bacteria/wild yeasts?

    For basic information on yeast culturing, see the yeast issue of Zymurgy, the Yeast FAQ in rec.crafts.brewing, or any of the other good articles on culturing that have been published. In general, develop skill at culturing regular yeasts before even attempting these.

    For culturing Pedio., it has been found that it does better in a liquid culture then on agar. Also, use MRS broth (from Diffco) or add a little (about 10%) tomato or apple juice to the wort. The media should me autoclaved (pressure cooked) at 15psi for 20min. Simply boiling will not work, as it doesn't kill off things like mold spores. Also, a Pedio. culture should _not_ be aerated, as it is an anaerobic bacteria. For both Pedio. and Brett., the medium should have a little (.5%) Calcium Carbonate as a buffer. Cheap agar can be had from a health food store or Chinese market.

    Both Pedio. and Brett. take quite a bit longer to grow then common beer yeasts, so give them time. They also will look differently. They will not get bubbly, or develop a kraeusen on top. Pedio. will sometimes develop a wrinkly pellicle on top that has been described as 'stringy' or like a 'brain cross section'. Brett. will sometimes develop a waxy looking pellicle, sometimes with large bubbles in it. These pellicles are normal, but not always present. Don't expect a pellicle sooner then a few months, even if one is going to develop.

    When making starters, allow at least a week for the starter to get going. Possibly two or three for Pedio. Remember, _do_not_ aerate the Pedio. starter!

  11. How do I make a Lambic? Again, the book Lambic by J-X Guinard is recommended reading before making a Lambic, though a brewer should use more aged hops, and expect longer maturation times then he gives.

    In general, the grist consists of:

    Hops - Should include 'a lot' of hops in the kettle. (Guinard says 2.5lbs per 100lbs grain, which is 4oz for 5 gal, 10lb batch.) Hops should be aged about three years! They should have _no_ bitterness or aroma. Typical varieties: Brewer's Gold, Northern Brewer, Fuggles, Styrian, Hallertauer, etc.

    Decoction Mash:

    Infusion Mash:

    Boil for 2-3.5 hours. Hops go in at the beginning.

    After wort has cooled, transfer it to (preferably) a oak cast that has either been used for wine for a couple of years, or has been treated to remove tannins. A regular fermenter is OK, but should be glass once before anything other then a normal beer yeast is added. Start primary fermentation with a regular, highly attenuating ale yeast, preferably without much flavor. Chico works well. Inoculate with Pedio. & Brett. cultures. Wait. Wait. Wait. After a few months you have a young Lambic. This can be aged further, mixed with fruit, bottled, etc.

    Not everyone follows those exact steps of course. Remember, this is an Art, not a science.

    Here are a few recipes:

    Martin Lodahl - Batch#1, All Grain

    Hops were fresh hops, treated by baking for 1 hour at 300f, then left for 3 days in open air.

    Mash in water: 14 quarts @ 130f w/1 tsp gypsum
    hold 5 min.
    Protein rest: 20 min @ 140f
    Conversion: 60 min @ 158-155
    mash out: 10 min @ 170
    Sparge: 5 gallons @ 170f rising to 190f, pH 5.7
    Boil: 2 hours, hops added near start.
    Fermented in glass.

    4/30/91 started
    5/10/91 Added Pedio.
    The primary yeast strain (Wyeast 1007) produced sulfury notes. Should probably not use again.
    5/20/91 Added Brett.
    Batch is ropey (Pedio. pellicle), starting to get a sour flavor.
    10/25/91 Ropey again.

    Mike Sharp - Batch#2, All Grain
    (No Recipe given for batch #1 - Many comments on oakiness though, due to the use of a new oak cask)

    Step infusion mash, all grains mashed with 3 gal @ 130
    130 for 15min,
    140 for 15 min,
    158 for 45 min,
    170 for 10 min,
    run off wort, recycle 1st gal. through bed
    sparge with 3 gal @ 170
    sparge with 2 gal @ 180

    Yield: 7 gal.

    Boil for 2 hours, hops added at start.
    Pitched Wyeast 1338.

    5/10/91 Started.
    5/24/91 Added Pedio.
    ? Added Brett.
    9/11/91 Going well.

    Mike Sharp - Batch #3, Extract

    Boil for 1 hour, hops in at start.

    7/15/91 Started
    ? Added Brett / Pedio
    9/11/91 Going well, very acid.
    9/26/91 Pellicle changing from 'ropy scum' to thin and whitish as the Brett takes over.
    12/16/91 Mixing with 15 lbs frozen raspberries.

    Al Korzonas - Batch #1, Extract
    For 15 gallons of base pLambiek

    Boil: 2hrs
    OG: oops!
    SG after 20 days: 1019
    SG after 3 months: 1012

    After 3 months in a white, 20 gallon HDPE Brute, the batch was split into four sub-batches:

    sub-batch A: 15 lbs dark, sweet cherries + 4.25 gallons of p-lambic,
    sub-batch B: 13.5 lbs dark, sweet, pitted cherries + 4.25 gallons of p-lambic
    sub-batch C: 12 lbs red raspberries + 1 gallon boiled/chilled water (result of the fruit sanitation) + 3.25 gallons of p-lambic, and sub-batch D: 3.25 gallons of p-lambic (destined to be pseudo-gueuze).

    Sub-batch A was bottled after six months on fruit, the other three are still in the secondaries (now 17 months since starting the batch). Sub-batch A was entered in the 1993 AHA Nationals and made it to the second round. Judge's comments primarily pointed out that the Brettanomyces character horsey, sweaty) were not strong enough. I plan to combat this problem by pitching both Brettanomyces lambicus and Brettanomyces bruxellensis along with the Pediococcus cerevisiae in my next batch. I am considering delaying the pitching of the Saccharomyces until the Brett and Pedio have had a head start, but this may be an invitation for molds, acetobacter and unwanted (phenolic) wild yeasts, so I'm still unsure if I will delay or not.

  12. What about the Brewferm Kits?

    Well - they work. Follow all the usual kit rules. I.E. Don't use sugar, throw away the yeast and use a better brand. With the Kriek kit you must be careful _not_ to boil the extract, as that will destroy what little flavor is there. You still need to pitch Pedio & Brett if you want `real' lambic flavors. In fact, if you are going to wait that long, and do all that culture work, why use a kit? Go for it! Better success can be achieved by using bulk extract as in recipe #3 above.

  13. Is a cask required.

    No, in fact, not using one makes area sanitation easier. However, results seem to indicate that using a cask produces more complexity and more 'real' lambic flavors. There is some evidence to indicate that Brettanomyces has some affinity with wood, and produces more flavor when in contact with it. If you use glass fermenters, add some French oak chips - they will help.

I hope this answers more questions then it creates...

Larry Lynch-Freshner, January 31, 1994