Have we brewed a lambic?

Our extensive lambic beer maturing cellar. Or, rather, the one at Cantillon in Brussells.
Our extensive lambic beer maturing cellar. Or, rather, the one at Cantillon in Brussells.

Further disaster on the homebrewing front. Our first ale of the autumn, brewed the weeks ago, is infected in some way.

This is a weird one though, as it tastes and smells really different to the last infected batch. It smells like a malty lambic, or maybe like scrumpy cider. It tastes quite interesting – as well as the sour notes, which dominate the initial taste, there’s a bit of butterscotch, blackcurrant and apple. The malt flavour is still there and in the finish, it’s definitely more beer than vinegar. And there are hints of a slightly medicinal, phenolic flavour that could indicate the presence of Brettonomyces, as far as we can tell from a bit of reading around the subject.

In a weird way, it’s actually rather nice. It’s obviously not what we intended to brew, but I’m quite tempted to bottle it, leave it for a few months and see what we end up with.

Perhaps we have a unique wild yeast strain in the marshes around East London which will one day bring beer geeks on pilgrimage from around the world, and make our fortune… or am I being hopelessly optimistic, and we should just use it to make chutney in lieu of cider vinegar?


We actually used two yeasts for this, neither of which seemed to be working at the time, which might explain how something else snuck in. We wanted to use Fullers’ yeast, so we tried to harvest some from a couple of bottles of 1845. As a back up, we also got liquid Wyeast 1028 going. Neither of these showed any signs of life on brew day, so we pitched them both and hoped for the best. Of course, doing all of this would have greatly increased the chance of infection.

5 replies on “Have we brewed a lambic?”

I feel your pain. From bitter experience I’d say don’t bother going through all the hassle of bottling it, ‘cos chances are you’ll end up pouring it down the sink anyway – only it’ll be 500 ml at a time instead of all at once. Unless you’re planning on making lots of chutney.

On the other hand, if you like it now then it might just work out OK. Earlier this year I brewed a wheat beer that was so riddled with esters and diacetyl that I christened it ‘Banoffeeweizen’ – not what I’d aimed for, but surprisingly pleasant… So maybe you should hedge your bets and bottle some of it just in case :-S

I say if you like it then bottle it. I would only caution to let it dry out before bottling (roughly <1.010 SG). Whatever bugs you have in there will continue to ferment and will create bottle bombs given enough sugars and time.

As for culturing from bottles, I’ve found the yeast takes about 4-5 days to show any signs of life after dumping 3 or 4 bottles into a small starter. Thats using Belgian that have endured shipment to the US; fresh Fuller’s should not be a problem. Just a bit o patience.

I suspect it will be the harvesting of yeast from the bottle that was your downfall. Its a pretty dicey exercise. I don’t know how long your beer has been in the fermenter but its unlikely to be brett this early in the piece. I would dump it , all your going to do is infect your bottling kit, your bottles and ultimately end up having to deal with gushing infected beer.

It sounds like you’ve got more Lacto Bacillus in the beer than wild yeast otherwise the lambic flavour wouldn’t be so strong. Phenol would be the predominant flavour otherwise. I find that bottling beer like this is a waste of effort because it generally isn’t drinkable after a period of storage. Also, spreading contaminated beer around your equipment isn’t such a good idea.

I’m having a flavour problem in the Black Cat Brewery too, but I don’t think it stems from microbial action.

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