99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall..

bottling homebrew beer lambic sour gueze wild fermentation gueuzeActually 168, and they’re on the floor, not the wall. This is what $1,804.19 worth of homebrew looks like. At least, that’s how much it would have cost me to buy the same number of commercial equivalent bottles – except the entire city of Columbus usually only gets a few (6 bottle) cases of it per year, so in order to buy this many in one go, I’d have to fly to Belgium and then freight ship it back to myself. 

This was a lot of the appeal for me to start homebrewing. I’m all in at around $200 for this project (half of that was the bottles themselves), and I ended up with just shy of 16 gallons of this type of beer. There are a lot of beer styles I love, but it’s really hard to justify casually spending $10-$20 on a bottle anymore. At this point in my life I’d rather work on more aggressively paying off debt. If I can make a close approximation for a fraction of the cost, great.

This is a “geuze” (or “gueuze” depending on which region of Belgium you’re in, since they have multiple official language) style beer. It’s kind of like champagne, where it’s not REALLY champagne unless it’s from Champagne. Only Belgium makes lambic and geuze, everyone else makes lambic-style or geuze-style beer. Geuze is a blend of multiple ages of lambic (generally 1 year old, 2 year old & 3 year old) that are then bottle conditioned (left to carbonate) for another year (so it’s 2/3/4 year old by the time it hits a shelf). Lambic is made from a recipe of 60% barley & 40% wheat, and aged with wild fermentation vs standard yeast, which then incorporates brettanomyces, pediococcus, and lactobacillus (usually shortened to brett, pedio & lacto), in addition to the usual saccharomyces. In general terms, it’s a sour beer. There’s intentional bacteria in it, in addition to normal yeast, which provide their own qualities to the beer. It’s kind of the sourdough bread of the beer world.

I love this style of beer. It’s basically all I have left in my “cellar” (it’s down to one box at this point, since I haven’t really bought beer for a few years). Common descriptors are lemon, grass, hay, citrus, earth, oak, must, green apple, vinegar, and wine. It doesn’t taste like “beer.” Beer people tend to think that sours are closer to wine than beer.

I didn’t technically “wild” ferment this, because I don’t have an open air vessel capable of it, but I combined a sour mix yeast with dregs (small amounts that settle in the bottom of a bottle) from beers that were made this way. I’ve also kept my sour yeast through over half a dozen batches, and have added more dregs over time. I’ve been surprised at how varied the final products have ended up from using what is essentially the same yeast. I also only made one batch for each year, instead of having many barrels to choose from and then making a blend for each year. I also just used lower alpha acid hops instead of using the traditional aged dried whole cones. I had what I had. I’m not a master lambic blender, I just wanted to attempt the style, or a close approximation to it for my own curiosity.

So, the work is done now, but there’s more waiting. I brewed the first batch of this on January 1, 2015 (we’d had Kaylee for 2 days), the second on January 1, 2016 (Chris was a few weeks away from having James), and the third on January 1, 2017 (James was about to turn 1). I had intended on bottling on January 1 this year, but things were still a little crazy from the move, so I waited til things calmed down a bit before I even brought the beer over from my aunt’s after it lived in her basement for a few months. It took about 5 hours to bottle the 7 cases, including cleaning the bottles & the final cleanup (it centered around nap time). This was one of the smoothest bottling experiences I’ve ever had. There’s usually at least one thing that goes wrong. I had a couple of minor hiccups this time, but nothing major. I’m not going to wait a full year before trying this. I’ll probably open one in a month and see where it’s at. I’m just hoping I don’t end up over-carbonating. I’ve only had one or two bottle bombs so far, with over 200 gallons brewed (30 batches of beer, 9 batches of cider and 2 batches of mead), but it’s a mess I’d rather avoid.

I’ve definitely brewed less since having a kid. For as much waiting as there is, brew-day itself can be really time intensive, as can bottling day. Only the oldest batch was made with an all-grain recipe, the other 2 were extract, since I didn’t have enough time to do the entire all-grin process. The short version is all-grain is about half the price and gives you a lot more control over the recipe but can easily take up to 8 hours, extract costs more to buy but brew-day usually only takes a few hours (the final product also ends up darker, so it’s hard to make a pale golden colored beverage, if you care about appearance). Most of what I’ve brewed in the past couple years have been sours, because age is part of the deal. It’s also convenient that I can make an entire 5 gallon batch for roughly the same price as one higher end bottle. I can’t commit to an IPA that may be done fermenting after just a few days, requiring both a brew day and a bottling day in a small window of time, but if I can squeeze in a brew day for a sour, a few extra months doesn’t really hurt it, and I can bottle whenever we end up with a free weekend.

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