Food: Plum Rush

Story by Janina A. Larenas

Get out your granny cart and head to the farmers market for 10 pounds of plums (ask for discounted “seconds”), because this is the summer you’ll make sour fruit beer.

A lambic is a wild fermented beer from Belgium, marked by a bright, funky and intensely sour flavor, with a wonderfully clean finish. Think of it as a grown-up lemonade, or the sourdough version of beer. Brewers of this wild style allow ambient yeasts and micro-organisms to settle into their open fermenters before aging in oak barrels. Later, whole fruit may be added. The process for making a true lambic is long and complicated, sometimes taking three years for a batch to progress from fermentation to bottling. These full-flavored, traditional beers serve as the inspiration for our much-simpler homebrew perked with local plums.

Driving the funky flavor profile of sours is the yeast Brettanomyces, which occurs naturally on the skin of fruits. Virtually uncontrollable once it gets going, Brett will contaminate anything porous, especially non-glass brewing equipment like wood or plastic, and is nearly impossible to eliminate—qualities that made it the scourge of brewers and winemakers in the days before enzymatic cleaning methods.
In lieu of opening windows and welcoming whatever  microbes may be hanging about into your brew, use Roeselare Ale yeast, a beautifully balanced blend of Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus strains. The most important aspects of brewing a sour beer are patience, isolation and sterilization, and none of these are hard to achieve. Designate tubing and a plastic fermenter specifically for sour beers, let it age for six months away from other brews, and you may soon count yourself among Philadelphia’s many fierce lambic fiends.


Lambic Plum Beer
5 lbs. Gambrinus Munich Malt
5 lbs. Gambrinus Pilsner Malt
2 lbs. Weyermann Carahell Malt
2 oz. Aged German Hops (2005)
         Wyeast 3763-PC Roeselare Ale Blend
9 lbs. of plums, frozen and thawed
(for second rack)

  • Mash the grain between 150F and 155F for about 2 hours.
  • Sparge to collect 6-7 gallons of malted water so that after the boil you have 5 gallons of liquid.
  • Add the aged hops and bring to a boil for 1 hour.
  • Let cool using your preferred method (bathtub of cool water, wort chiller, etc.)
  • Transfer to a carboy, pitch the yeast and allow to ferment for 3 weeks.
  • Rack onto the plums in a plastic fermenter (bucket) for 3 months.
  • Check periodically for plums that might float to the top and mold; remove them as needed.
  • Bottle age for at least 6 weeks; the beer will continue to age for as many as 3 years.

Visit Home Sweet Homebrew, 2008 Sansom St., 215-569-9469, homesweethomebrew.com for equipment and good advice.

For more from Janina, visit littleisobel.com/bramblings