Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lactic Fermentation vs. Lambic Fermentation

Warning! This is pretty beer nerdy!

Not sure if this chart is readable on this blog, but a better version can be seen here.

Typical Lambic Fermentation chart.

Key to the diagram: 1 : Ethanol, 2: Lactic acid, 3: Ethyl Acetate, 4: pH, 5: Extract content, 6: Acetic acid

I've been having an interesting discussion within the "Mother's Milk?" post about Lactic Fermentation and what flavor profiles that process brings to a beer.

Here's part of that discussion.

In Regard to Sour Mashing vs. Spontanious Fermnetation:

DW: If we had Lembeek's or some other Belgian Flora and Fawna, that process may produce a proper Lambic or other Belgian Sour profile. Of course, the Belgian's Spontanious ferment the finished wort, not the mash.

Souring the Mash with malts and natural bugs could produce a lactobacillus infection, a spoilage type of yeast/spore/etc. Eventually turning the mash rancid and sour too? The end product could be nasty or tasty. I understand that boiling will kill most bugs, but boiling doesn't kill spores. You need higher heat/temperature to kill spores. If you acquire spores during a Sour Mash, you can't boil them out. Then you better hope you have good spores vs. rancid producing spores.

In regard to using strictly a Lactic Fermentation:

If we are talking Lactobacillus, it appears we are talking bacteria according to my readings and wikipedia states:

Lactobacillus is a genus of Gram-positive facultative anaerobic or microaerophilic bacteria.

Lactobacillus is the genus and there are many other Lactobaciluss sub-bacteria types. The end process is Lactic acid and possible spoilage depending on which bacteria come into play.

Lactic acid is singular flavor component or profile. If the goal is to just produce JUST a lactic acid profile, this process will work fine. If your goal is to produce complex acidity, sourness and the funk of a Belgian lambic beer, this process will not get you there. Lactic acidity is just part of the Belgian lambic profile.

The production of Lactic fermentation is limited to alcohol presence. This means the more the alcohol, the less the lactic acid production. Probably why Belgian brewers blend a low gravity acidic beer with a higher gravity beer to balance or increase acidity. ;-}

Lactic acid is the quickest product according to the chart, while Brett and Pedio takes much more time.

Pediococcus is another Lactobaciluss bacteria, but it produces a butterscotch/diacytel flavor, but if we're JUST talking LACTIC Fermentation, we're talking about just producing Lactic acid.

See Chart on a typical Lambic fermentation, again.

According to a Wyeast article:

The following is a list of the cultures involved in true lambic fermentations and the sequence of activity:

* Enteric bacteria (3 to 7 days)
* Kloeckera apiculata (3 to 7 days)
* Saccharomyces species (2 weeks)
* Lactic acid bacteria (3 to 4 months)
* Brettanomyces yeast (8 months)
* Oxidative yeasts (8 months)

Lactic is just one stage and element of the beer. One piece of the BIG picture.

For other readers, here's a nice article by Wyeast about Wild Yeast/Bacteria fermentation.

If Lactic Acid is the end goal, brewers and home brewers can buy Lactic Acid and just pour it into the finished or fermenting beer. Sampling as additions are made.

According to our chart, Brett and Pedio have a huge role in the flavor profile of lambic and other Sour Belgian beers.

Per Wikipedia:

Brettanomyces is a non-spore forming genus of yeast in the family Saccharomycetaceae, and is often colloquially referred to as "Brett". The genus name Dekkera.

According to Russian Rivers Brewing Co. web site:

What is Brettanomyces?

Brettanomyces (also known as Brett) is feared by most brewers and winemakers alike. In fact, there are some local winemakers who will not set foot in our brewpub in Downtown Santa Rosa due to our use of Brettanomyces. Brettanomyces is actually yeast, it ferments and acts the same as every other "conventional" yeast, it just has the propensity to continue fermenting through almost any type of sugar, including those natural sugars found in the wood in an oak barrel. Brett is very invasive and if not handled properly can become out of control in a winery or brewery, but, if used properly with care, it can add rich aromas and flavors of earthiness, leather, smoke, barnyard, & our favorite descriptor-wet dog in a phone booth.

What is Lactobacillus & Pediococcus?

Both Lactobacillus (Lacto) and Pediococcus (Pedio) are bacteria; they are not yeast like Brettanomyces or Saccharomyces. When used properly these bacteria will add a pleasant sourness to the beer. However, a little goes a long way, and if over used a beer can become overly sour with to much tartness.

Pedio is anaerobic (meaning it lives without oxygen), and therefore a major potential spoiling bacteria in any beer. One of the major flavor developments of Pedio is the production of diacytel (butter flavor & butterscotch). This is a flavor that we are not fond of and do not want in any our beers! Whether we like it or not, the diacytel develops in every beer that goes through our barrel aging process. However, this flavor goes away and by the time the beer leaves the barrel it turns into a nice pleasant acidity. Pedio and Lacto, like all bacteria, are inhibited by the presence of alcohol. Because of this, some of our higher alcohol barrel beers do not have enough development of acidity by the bacteria. In these beers, we often blend a lower alcohol acidic barrel beer into the stronger, higher alcohol barrel beer to bring up the acidity.


Does Lactic Fermentation alone produce a typical lambic or Belgian Sour type beer? No.

Of course, if your goal is just create a Lactic acid beer, Lactic Fermnetation would be a useful and quicker process.

I'm into the more complex layered sour, acidic, cheesy and woody profiled Belgian beers. A nice FARO or Guerze is nice too, but they need to have something beyond lactic acidity for me. Your tastebuds may have different preferences.


Sour Puss said...

I could jump in to all kinds of geeky technical discussions on sour beer production: growth rate times at various temperatures, acids produced by various organisms, etc. I’ve been brewing sour beers for about 7 years and have done a fair amount of research regarding strains, temperatures, effects of aging, blending, etc. We could go through each other’s posts and try to point out the technical inaccuracies (don’t get me started on the whole enteric bacteria thing which is lifted from the old Lambic book by Jean Guinard and isn’t completely accurate) but there doesn’t seem to be much of a point because this isn’t about the facts of sour beer production.

“Lactic acid is singular flavor component or profile. If the goal is to just produce JUST a lactic acid profile, this process will work fine. If your goal is to produce complex acidity, sourness and the funk of a Belgian lambic beer, this process will not get you there.”

I disagree. The Cascade sour beers are incredibly complex. I don’t see how you can deny that. The acidity/sourness in his beers is just one component. There’s an awful lot going on in them. No one ever claimed he was trying to make lambic. He’s doing his own thing. Call them Oregon sours (which is what I call mine) if you really need to put a name or category on it. I think he should be applauded for trying something like that (as should Art Larrance who’s backed him completely).

If you don’t like them, fine, but you don’t need a lot of science to say that. There’s no mystery to his process, and nothing one dimensional about the results. Clearly his process, which seems to rely primarily on lactic bacteria for souring, produces exceptional beers of incredible complexity. The proof’s in the bottle.

As I said earlier, I’m a brett guy because I like what it contributes to my sour beers (although I use various lactic cultures and peddio as well), but I don’t find Ron’s beers less complex because he doesn’t add a brett culture. His beers are different but no less complex. They’re singular products and I love them for their uniqueness.

dr wort said...

Sour puss,

I want to thank you for your insightful and honest comments! Part of the fun of blogging is getting comments that create a discussion or debate. Our rally has been fun and informative to me and for others.

You'll note in my new Post, some people would rather question credentials rather than have a discussion or debate. This usually means they CAN'T discuss, but easy to question.

We could discuss beer appreciation with all it's likes and dislikes till we're blue in the face. That would be fruitless. Like sitting in an Irish pub watching two old Irish gents argue about why Beamish is better than Guinness... ;-}

Being that you are a Brett guy, I think that tells me were your palate preference. We don't need to agree on whether we like Ron's beer or not. It's kind of irrelevant to the original discussion.

I think my original rant started while reading numerous blogs calling Ron's beers Lambics, which we have established is not to be true.

I understand the concept and flavor complexities that can be brought out by just a lactic fermentation. Taste aside, I was wondering if that was the intention and was there a mystery behind the fermentation process. Personally, I hope he continues more into the Brett direction.

I did want to make the distinction that these are NOT Lambics.

I don't slight Ron's efforts, but mainly curious what he's up too. ;-}

I'm not a fan of the samplings I've had and personally find them rather singular in profile, rather thin and too acidic. That's just me, your taste buds may enjoy what mine don't... Such is life. Of course, there are still some of Ron's beers I haven't tried...

Oregon Sours? Sure why not! Maybe it's be it's own style some day?

I heard some brewery in Oregon or Washingtom is experimenting is spontaneous fermentation. I can't remember which brewery, but definitely interested the results.

Sour Puss said...

The only brewery I know of who's messing with spontaneous fermentation in the US is Allagash (Jeff Alworth had something on his Beervana blog about it).

By saying I'm a brett guy, I'm saying I'm lambic guy. That's the model for all of the sours I do. I like some of the fruit ones, but my real focus is geueze, which to me is the epitome of lambic. I have about 100+ gallons of "lambic" between 2 months and 4-5 years old in various carboys from differnet lots. Each carboy is different and everything we do is blended.

That being said I like Ron's beers very much and have had an opportuity to taste various cuvees and barrel samples and think he's up to some great things. The beers do have considerable acidity, but so does Cantillon, and the acidity levels don't bother me. My only complaint would be that some of the samples were a little heavy on the oak because of the relative youth of his barrels. With each new refilling the oak levels will diminish and get down the non-existent zone of most Belgian sours. So I guess you could say my main complaint is that he hasn't been doing this longer.

But again, I don't see the beers as lambic or Belgian. They're inspired by the sour beers of Belgium but he's clearly got his own thing going.

And by the way, Beamish is better than Guinness.

dr wort said...

Thank you!! Allagash!! I like some of their Belgian attempts and some of their experimental brews.

WE agree on two things...

Guerze is the epitome of the Lambics and Beamish is better than Giunness.

Here's a tough one (maybe) Cantillion or Boon Guerze??

Sour Puss said...

I love everything about Cantillon: their dedication to tradition, the diversity of their products, the intensisty of their beers. I'll never say anythign bad about Cantillon, but I prefer the slightly restrained elegance of Boon overall.

aleconner said...

And I'll never say anything bad about Frank Boon's excellent lambics, but personally give the nod to Cantillon's gueuze. :-)

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