Apricot Gueuze-style Review

Apricot Gueuze

The leftovers from a broader Gueuze-like blending session, transformed with apricot.

Over the course of three years, I brewed three different three-gallon batches of sour lambic-like beer that were ultimately further split into single-gallon vessels and fermented individually with a total of nine different mixed cultures. The end goal of this process was to select the best five gallons of beer and blend out a classic version of Belgian Gueuze-style beer.

While I was pretty happy with how the base blend turned out, I was left with an additional four gallons of beer that was less than stellar. The primary fault in these beers was that I dramatically over-hopped the early batches with roughly 1 oz. / gallon of aged Cascade hops. Even though these hops were declared to have 0% alpha acid by the vendor whom I purchased them from, they still managed to impart a fair amount of bitterness and astringency. I have since read accounts from other brewers, including Jester King, who relayed similar stories about the dosing rates of aged hops in their early spontaneous beer experiments. According to Jester King’s blog, they currently use approximately 1lb. / barrel (0.5 oz. / gallon) of aged hops in their spontaneous beers.

Rather than toss the beer outright, I opted to rack the best three gallons into a new vessel and have it go through a secondary fermentation on three pounds of apricot puree. This was allowed to ferment for another four months before being packaged and bottle conditioned.

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 23F Fruit Lambic

Aroma (7/12):
Overripe, juicy apricot is the primary aroma component, although there are some low, funky Brett aromatics that are somewhat grassy and hay-like. For being such a complex aged beer, the nose is rather simple, but still inviting. Malt character is almost nonexistent though there is a touch of light crackery malt.

Appearance (2/3):
The beer pours a hazy gold with a bright white, tightly bubbled and persistent foam.

Flavor (8/20):
Juicy apricot flesh is supported and enhanced by a medium-plus lactic acidity and sourness. There is an unfortunate bitterness and slight astringency that comes off somewhat harsh against the acid. The finish has a touch of an odd, somewhat metallic flavor that is hard to put a descriptor on. Brett funk is pretty demure on the palate and only comes off as a bit of earthy grass with the slightest whisper of plastic. The malt manages to be a touch bready and soft.

Mouthfeel (1/5):
The beer has a medium body with fairly low levels of carbonation. More fizz would help lift the beer off the palate and, perhaps, allow a little more complexity to pop on the aroma. There is a tannic astringency that is not particularly pleasant.

Overall Impression (5/10):
Given that the origins of this beer was the rejected blending components from my gueuze blending session, I am happy that the beer retains a level of drinkability that wasn’t present in the individual blending components. The apricot has helped to soften the harsh bitterness and tannin from the original beers; although, not to the point where it isn’t a distraction on the palate. My hope is that as this beer continues to age, some of the harshness will mellow. Time will tell.

Good (23/50)

Bonus: See how judges scored this beer at the 2017 Homebrew Alley competition in NYC.

Gueuze Blending for the Homebrewer

Gueuze Blending

The nine individual blending components spanning a 3-year-period that will become my Gueuze style beer.

Update 4/2/2017 – This beer placed 2nd in the first round of the National Homebrew Competition and will be moving on to the final round at Homebrew Con in Minneapolis.

All the way back in 2013 I started what was both my first mixed-fermentation beer, as well as the first part of a three-year long project to produce a Belgian Gueuze style beer. When I started the project, three years was an almost impossibly long time for me to look into my brewing future. I had only recently begun brewing again after a nearly seven-month hiatus following a cross-country move from Seattle to NYC. Committing the space, time, and cooperage to an extended project like this was definitely a leap of faith. But the funny thing with time is that it makes a habit of flying by and here I am, three years later, writing about my Gueuze blending experience.

In many ways, Gueuze transcends the boundaries of what we typically consider beer to be. While the ingredients are basically the same as most beers we know, to those uninitiated to the world of sour, it is an entirely different beast. Acidic, fruity, funky, earthy, spicy, dry, spritzy—all of these commonplace Gueuze traits add to the synergistic complexity characteristic of these beers. It is a balance obtained through a rigorous blending process which ultimately produces a harmonious beer comprised of individual characters that on their own can be somewhat polarizing.

For me, Gueuze stands out not only for its delicious character, but also for the almost mythic process in which three annual vintages of Lambic beer are blended together to create the Gueuze blend. There is a romantic notion associated with the idea of blending different vintages of wild beers to create a happy harmony that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is pure liquid alchemy.

Blending Gueuze is not unlike the blending methods used by winemakers. As a vintner takes varying percentages of different grape varietals to produce a composite product, Gueuze production is approached in a similar manner. For my blend, I was able to choose between nine different 1-gallon batches—the result of splitting the original three batches three ways with secondary fermentation incorporating varying mixed cultures propagated from a host of commercial batches of beer.

Base Culture: Wyeast 3278 Belgian Lambic Blend

Secondary Cultures:
– Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus
– Tilquin Gueuze
– Russian River Beatification

Base Culture: Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Ale Blend
Secondary Cultures:
– Russian River Framboise for the Cure
– Jolly Pumpkin La Roja
– Blended House Culture of Various Origins

Base Culture: Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Ale Blend
Secondary Cultures:
– Sante Adairius Cellarman
– de Garde The Duo
– Allagash Cuvee d’Industrial

Tasting and Blending

Gueuze Blending

From left to right: the three-, two-, and one-year-olds.

Tasting nine individual batches of beer can be somewhat complicated. Simply keeping track of each beer is a chore, as is understanding the traits of each specific component. I found it necessary to simplify the process and hone in on specific traits and characters that I wanted to balance out in the final blend. I focused on trying to think about each beer in terms of broad categories: fruitiness, alcohol heat, sweetness, dryness, bitterness, astringency, acidity, and funkiness. Knowing that I would only be blending out five gallons from my 9-gallon stock allowed me to be picky and only choose the best of the class for my blend.

On my first pass, I found that specific samples stood out as delicious examples that could stand on their own while others exhibited specific off-flavors or traits that would be a problem in the final blend. The 3-year-old batches all exhibited a rather bitter/harsh/astringent character—something that I’ve since chalked up to the somewhat high levels of hopping these beers incorporated (using hops that were labeled as debittered, but which I suspect maintained a fair amount of their bittering capabilities). This trait made me confident that the final blend would likely only include these batches in a somewhat minimal fashion where the astringency would act to produce mouthfeel, balance, and complexity without being overbearing.

Four out of the nine batches stood out from their peers as being pretty exceptional on their own. All of the 2-year-old batches and one of the 1-year-old batches had a great balance with moderate to high levels of fruitiness, acid, and complex funk. These would act as the base for my blend.

Once all of the batches were methodically accessed, I began the process of producing a handful of test blends. Using a graduated pipette I created varying blends for trial. Having a second palate throughout the entire blending process was indispensable. Luckily, The Homebrew Wife was around to lend her taster and expertise to the process. We all have varying tastes and sensibilities when it comes to beer. Having two or more tasters at your disposal helps to ensure you’re not blending something that is flawed due to a blind spot in your own taste buds.

Ultimately, the final 5-gallon blend utilized seven different blending components:

10% – 2013 w/ Tilquin Gueuze
20% – 2014 w/ Russian River Framboise for the Cure
20% – 2014 w/ Jolly Pumpkin La Roja
20% – 2014 w/ Blended House Culture of Various Origins
10% – 2015 w/ Sante Adairius Cellarman

2.75 gallons of the leftover beer was racked over to a clean carboy with 3 lbs of apricot puree for additional aging.


After such a commitment of time, it was with a lot of anxiety that I packaged this beer. My main concern was achieving a high level of carbonation in the beer. This presents a challenge in terms of choosing the proper bottles as well as ensuring that the yeast in the beer can ferment out the priming sugar in such a harsh, acidic environment.

To achieve a high level of carbonation, I primed the beer with dextrose to a calculated 3.1 volumes of CO2 with the anticipation that I may receive a slightly higher level due to a low amount of additional attenuation in the 1-year-old portion of beer. When priming a beer to this level of carbonation, it is extremely important to use heavy glass bottles specifically designed to accommodate high carbonation. Using standard beer bottles to carbonate to this level will cause dangerous bottle bombs!

To hedge my bets in terms of achieving carbonation at all, I packaged the beers with a fresh slurry of Safale US-05 yeast that had been fermenting in a wort starter that was pre-acidified to a pH of 4.0 using lactic acid. This strategy was employed based on research completed by Matthew Bochman from Indiana University in regard to terminal acid shock for bottling conditioning yeast in sour beers. The IU study concludes that using an acidic growth medium to pre-adapt yeast prior to bottling conditioning in acidic environments can lead to better consistency in successfully bottle conditioning sour beers.

Tasting Notes

Judged as 2015 BJCP Category 23E Gueuze

Gueuze Blending

The Final Blend

Aroma (12/12):
The beer emits a beautiful nose that is both incredibly complex, but also very refined and well composed. The aroma starts with a prominent lactic component intermingled and energized by intriguing fruity aromatics reminiscent of both pie cherries and some bright tropical fruit. The bright fruit is kept in check by a substantial amount of barnyard funk with aromas of leather, earth, and hay. No alcohol, nail polish, or other common flaws found in sour beers. Fantastic.

Appearance (1/3):
The beer is a medium gold with just a whisper of haze. The head is bright white with medium to low persistence.

Flavor (20/20):
Amazing. The beer is highly acidic, yet remains soft and supple with a balanced and quenching disposition. Somehow underneath the cacophony of complex yeast and bacteria-derived compounds, a beautiful touch of slightly sweet pilsner malt character remains. There is a light touch of tannin, likely from the aged hops, that brings another balancing agent to the table. The flavors fall along the entire spectrum of sour beer, from fruit to funk with beguiling flavors that elude flavor description. One of the best beers I’ve tasted.

Mouthfeel (5/5):
The beer leaves an overall impression of dryness and effervescence. The beer is quite light bodied, but the acidity provides a soft roundness.

Overall Impression (10/10):
It is not hard to love a beer when you are acutely aware of the dedication and sustained effort required to produce said beer. But falling in love with a beer is a whole different matter. And I am definitely in love with this beer. I can unequivocally say that this is the best beer I’ve ever created and believe it would hold its own if consumed alongside some of the best sour beers in the world. The beer manages to be wonderfully complex, but also incredibly approachable and highly quenching. Having learned a great deal about long-term aging, mixed-culture fermentation, and blending in the process of creating this beer, it is profoundly rewarding to have also arrived at such a satisfactory end product.

Outstanding (48/50)

Gueuze Blending

Looks like I’m not the only one that loves this beer.


2014 Gueuze Brewday

Gueuze is a wonderfully complex sour beer that is typically a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old spontaneously fermented Lambic batches. While, technically not a Lambic (Lambic is a protected term for a specific type of beer brewed within a specific geographic region of Belgium), this beer is made in the spirit of Lambic. It eschews the typical spontaneous cultures used in traditional Lambic fermentation for a commercial microbe blend (Wyeast Roeselare) combined with grown up bottle cultures.This batch of homebrew marks the my second annual batch of Lambic-style beer that will ultimately become part of a 3-component Gueuze blend that includes 3-year, 2-year, and 1-year old Lambic-style brews.

 To further provide variation (and flexibility) in what will ultimately build the blend, I brewed a 3-gallon batch the was split three-ways and inoculated with distinct culture grown up from various bottle dregs: Jolly Pumpkin La Roja, Russian River Framboise for a Cure, and my house bug culture.

To further provide variation (and flexibility) in what will ultimately build the blend, I brewed a 3-gallon batch that was split 3-ways and inoculated with distinct cultures grown up from various bottle dregs: Jolly Pumpkin La Roja, Russian River Framboise for a Cure, and my house bug culture.

2014 Lambic-Style Homebrew Recipe

Size: 4.25 gal
Efficiency: 75%
Attenuation: 90% (anticipated)

Original Gravity: 1.045 SG
Terminal Gravity: 1.005 SG (anticipated)
Color: 3.1 SRM
Alcohol: 5.3% ABV
Bitterness: 0.0 IBU

Malt Bill:
5 lb (66.7%) Belgian Pils (Dingemans)
2.25 lb (30.0%) Flaked Wheat (Briess)
4 oz (3.3%) Acidulated Malt (Weyermann)

Mash Regiment:
A turbid mash regiment (basically a thin decoction) was completed through the steps below. A Ferulic acid rest was completed to encourage the formation of 4-vinyl guaicol which Brettanomyces can theoretically convert into 4 ethyl-guiacol which produces some of the ‘funky’ aromas and flavors that Brettanomyces is known for. A short Beta rest was followed by a very high Alpha rest to encourage a dextrinous wort and protracted secondary Brettanomyces fermentation.

113 °F – Ferulic Acid Rest – 10min
136 °F – Protein Rest – 5min
150 °F – Beta Rest – 20min
162 °F – Alpha Rest – 30min
168 °F – Mashout Rest – 5min

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
4g Gypsum (to mash)
4g Calcium Chloride (to mash)

1.75 oz AGED Cascade (0% AA) – 90 m

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) –  15 m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – 10 m

WYeast 3763 Roeselare Ale Blend – No Starter
Ferment at room temp until activity ceases. Rack into individual 1-gallon fermentation vessels. Inoculate each with separate secondary cultures.

Culturing Bottle Dregs

Primary fermentation for my Lambic-like beer was completed using Wyeast 3278, a Lambic-inspired blend consisting of a Belgian Saccharomyces strain, a Sherry strain, two Brettanomyces strains, a Lactobacillus strain, and a Pediococcus strain. The ratio of each microorganism is meant to emulate the exponentially more diverse cultures found in spontaneously fermented beers. Many brewers report that this particular blend tends to produce beers of much less complexity and acidity than what is found in traditional Lambics. In an attempt to add a bit of diversity to the microorganisms in my beer, I cultured and grew three different commercially available beers. Each of these were subsequently pitched into individual 1-gallon secondary fermenters containing the beer fermented previously with Wyeast 3278.

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Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, Tilquin Gueuze, Russian River Beatification

Growing up Your Cultures

Culturing yeast and bacteria from commercial bottles of beer is a fairly straightforward process. The main requirement is that the beer must not be filtered or pasteurized and is as fresh as possible. Luckily, this applies to many different craft beers. A little Googling will typically help you figure out if the commercial beer you’re wanting to grow yeast from can be successfully cultured.

Step 1 – Drink the Beer
It would be criminal to not consume the beer you’re culturing dregs from. Upon opening the bottle, I carefully flame the opening with a lighter. The intent is to grow what is living inside the bottle not whatever might be hanging out on the outside. I then carefully pour the beer into a glass, leaving as much sediment as possible in the bottle.

Step 2 – 200ml of 1.020 Wort
Before opening the bottle, I have 200ml of 1.020 sanitary wort made, chilled, and ready to go. To create this, I combine 12 grams of dry malt extract, a pinch of yeast nutrient, and 200ml of water in a 500ml Erlenmeyer flask and boil it for 5 minutes on the stove top to sanitize before chilling in a water bath. I pour this chilled wort directly into the bottle containing dregs, swirl it up, and cap it with a stopper and airlock. When culturing the low cell counts found in bottles of beer, I like to use an airlock to hopefully limit the amount of oxygen in the bottle and decrease the likelihood of something like acetobacter growing within. I leave this at room temperature for at least a week.

Step 3 – 200ml of 1.060 Wort
For the next step, I prepare 200ml of 1.060 wort in a 500ml Erlenmeyer flask (34 grams DME). I then swirl and pour the entire contents of the bottle I’m culturing into the concentrated 1.060 wort. This dilutes the wort back down to a reasonable growing concentration (1.040 or so) and has worked well for me as a second step. Again, I use a stopper and airlock to limit O2 availability. I let this ferment out for at least a week.

Step 4 – Chill, Decant, & Pitch
At this point in the process, I am able to see some fermentation activity in the flask. Once activity slows, I chill the culture for a few days to let it settle out, and then carefully decant and pitch the slurry. The amount of viable microorganisms in solution at this point works well to give additional character to beers, which have already been partly or completely fermented. If I wanted to use what I’ve grown as a primary fermenter, it would require an additional starter and step-up in order to produce enough viable yeast for primary fermentation.

So, how do they taste?

Before pitching my grown dregs, I tasted each sample and took notes for future comparison with the finished beer. I also wanted to ensure that none of the samples contained hints of acetic acid; which could be indicative of the presence of acetobacter which could spoil the beer.

Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus Culture
Fairly dry, some light residual sweetness left behind. Moderate plastic / burnt rubber Brett phenolic with a very light horse blanket earthiness. Sourness is low, but lactic in character. Pretty mild at this point.

Tilquin Gueuze Culture
Nice big, tart lactic nose. Some nice funky Brett horse blanket character with a touch of plastic phenol. Some tropical fruit esters, which are pretty nice. This beer has the most Brett character and sourness of the three cultures. This beer is the driest of the group yet pours with an odd-looking viscosity — probably the ‘ropey’ character often attributed to Pediococcus.

Russian River Beatification Culture
The sweetest and least fermented of the group. Tamest beer in terms of traditional Brett funk and sourness. This sample had a great tropical nose that is probably a Brett-derived ester. Very pleasant. It’ll be interesting to see where this one goes.

How about the base beer?

At the time that I racked the base Lambic to secondary it had fermented from 1.047 to 1.014 over the course of two weeks. It appears that the turbid mash produced the low fermentability I was hoping for.  The beer has a big peppery saison-like character with only a hint of tartness or Brett funk. The biggest surprise was the substantial hop bitterness and tannin in the beer. I used de-bittered hops, purchased directly through Hops Direct, which appear to have contributed a considerable amount of bitterness. I’m hopeful that since this is a long-term project the bitterness will age out. My primary concern is that the hop alpha acids will inhibit the lactic acid bacteria I’m hoping takes hold and sours the beer over time.

This is Not a Lambic

This is not a pipe.  - Magritte

This is not a pipe. – Magritte

This is not a Lambic. Many folks would call this beer a ‘pseudo-Lambic’ (pLambic), but I’m not a fan of the term. What is clear, however, is that this is the beginning of a new tradition of wild fermentation for my homebrewery.

Traditionally, Belgian Gueuze is produced by blending portions of 3-, 2-, and 1-year old Lambic. My aim with this project is to create a similar beer, using a similar recipe and methodology, while using cultured microorganisms. With some luck, this beer will become the 3-year-old aged component of a Gueuze-like blend. Of course, there are differences. Foremost, my beer is not fermented spontaneously with microbes resident in my brewery; I live way too close to the Gowanus Canal to do that. Instead, I am relying on a blend of both yeast and lactic acid bacteria produced by Wyeast and then splitting the fermentation into secondary fermenters containing a variety of cultured commercial ‘bugs’.

Aged hops used in the boil.

Aged hops were acquired from Hops Direct and used in the boil. They were quite … cheesy.

Odd looking gray goop leftover in the mash tun.

Odd looking gray goop leftover in the mash tun, a result of the turbid mash.

For this beer, I am using a very traditional blend of raw unmalted wheat and pilsner malt. I undertook a traditional turbid mash which, in a nutshell, involves pulling liquid from the mash, boiling it, and then returning it to the mash in order to hit specific temperatures. By boiling the thin portion of the mash (as opposed to the thick portion in decoction brewing), you end up denaturing a large portion of enzymes and creating a starch-filled ‘turbid’ wort. All of this is done with the intent of creating a very dextrinous wort providing fuel for the extended fermentation that this beer will undergo.


Size: 4.25 gal
Efficiency: 74%
Attenuation: 90% (predicted)

Original Gravity: 1.047 SG
Terminal Gravity: 1.005 SG (predicted)
Color: 3.43 SRM
Alcohol: 5.58% SBV (predicted)
Bitterness: 0.0 IBU

5 lb (64.5%) Belgian Pils (Castle)
2.5 lb (32.3%) Wheat Raw (Rahr)
4 oz (3.2%) Acidulated Malt (Weyermann)

3.25 oz  AGED Cascade (0% AA) – added during boil, boiled 90 m
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15 m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – added during boil, boiled 10 m

1 ea WYeast 3278 Belgian Lambic Blend™

Turbid Mash:

113.0 °F – 10m
136.0 °F – 5m
150.0 °F – 30m
162.0 °F – 20m
167.0 °F – 20m
175 °F – 10m

1. Chill to 70°F and keep at 70°F until activity slows (1 week+).
2. Raise temp to 75°F 3 days

1. Rack to (3) 1-gallon glass jugs
2. Inoculate with (3) different cultures:

a. Cultured Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus
b. Cultured Russian River Beatification
c. Cultured Tilquin Gueuze

Three cultures are being stepped up and added into separate secondary fermenters.

Three cultures are being stepped up and added into separate secondary fermenters.