Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Wilinski Gueuze

Ask any homebrewer and they’ll tell you, the most difficult part of the whole process is the waiting. That month or two gap between brew day and the moment you finally get to drink a glass of your finished beer can seem interminable. So imagine what it must be like to brew a beer such as the one Nick and Michelle Wilinski have set out to make. “This beer is going to take us four years before it’s completely finished,” Nick says. Yes, a four-year beer. There aren’t a lot of brewers around with that kind of patience. “I think it’s one of the things we do well,” Michelle says. “We can let things sit.”

Nick and Michelle are members of the Society of Oshkosh Brewers and they are in the process of making a Gueuze, a beer derived from the blending of straight Lambics of various ages. They’re into the second year of the project and at the beginning of October brewed their middle Lambic, which will age two years before it is blended with two other Lambics - one a year older; the other a year younger. The final blended beer will then age a year before it will be ready to drink. Their schedule for the beer has them brewing or blending around the time of their wedding anniversary each year, making it easy to keep track of where they are in the process. “We like to do that with a lot of things we brew,” Michelle says. “We’ll brew things specifically for a holiday or special day. It really makes you look forward to it.”

Committing yourself to a four-year beer may seem a bit much for most brewers, but Nick says it’s less complex than it first appears. “What’s so extreme about a Lambic?” he says as he goes through the process and ingredients they’re using to make these beers. The grain bill is simple - 60% Pale Malt and 40% Wheat Malt mashed at 150º for 90 minutes. It all seems quite familiar until you get 30 minutes into the 90 minute boil. That’s when the hops come in. These aren't the sort of hops you’re used to, though. The four ounces Nick tosses into the kettle are brown, brittle things that look like they’ve been sitting around in a paper bag for a good, long while. They don’t smell like much, either. Kind of musty, if anything at all. But they’re just what’s needed for this beer. The hops were grown in Oshkosh and purposely aged to remove their flavoring qualities. “The hops are used only to help preserve the beer,” Nick says. “You don’t want any of their flavor or aroma in this style.” From there the brew day proceeds like any other. The wort is cooled and drained into a carboy, the yeast (Wyeast 3278) is pitched and the beer goes to its resting place where it will be left undisturbed to ferment and develop for the next two years. “In a few years we’re going to have a glut of beer on hand!” Michelle says.

“People think of these beers as exotic, but actually they’re simple to brew,” Nick says. “This is a single-vessel beer. We won’t do anything with it for another two years.” That’s when the blending will begin. “That will be the hard part,” Nick says. Blending three, flat beers - each with varying degrees of acidic, sour and earthy flavors - into a final batch that will develop into something quite different from its distinct parts is a skill that can take years to acquire. Three years from now, Nick and Michelle will take their own, self-taught, one-day crash course in blending and hope for the best. "That's going to be interesting,” Nick says. “That’ll be fun." And though Nick and Michelle are obviously having a good time on their way to creating this beer, there’s also a practical aspect to the endeavor. “We like a lot of obscure beers that are hard to find,” Michelle says. “If you can make them yourself, it means you can have them more often.” Nick chimes in, “That’s what it is! A lot of the beers we like, you have to drive an hour to get. If we brew these beers at home we can always have them around and it’s considerably cheaper than buying a $20 bottle of Cantillon.”

So what if the beers they loved were easier to get and not so expensive. Would they stop going to the trouble of brewing them at home? They both laugh at the idea. “No, way!” Nick says. “We’d still make our own.”

1 comment:

  1. Nice action shot! That makes me want to start homebrewing...very convincing!