The Story of Ed Hitchcock's 22 Year Old Lambic

Foreword by Eric Cousineau:

The tale of Ed's 22 year old lambic-style beer is legendary among GTA Brews members that were present in the 2016-2017 era. I was recently talking to some newer members and realized that we needed to document this story in a format more lasting than word of mouth.

Some readers might be yelling at their screens right now that true Lambic can only be made in Senne Valley region of Belgium. Ed is right there with you and readily admits this was more of a lambic-style beer or methode traditionelle (MT) beer. However at the time when the beer was brewed, homebrewers were used to playing more fast and loose with these kinds of appellations.

I've had the pleasure of trying both versions of this beer several times over the years, and they were both wonderful!

After contacting Ed to ask his thoughts on how we could best document this, he recommended we use a version of the letter he wrote the the Sour Hour Podcast in 2017, which has been slightly modified for GTA Brews.

So without further ado, lets get into the story!

Ed's Letter to The Sour Hour (Updated for GTA Brews):

Read on air of The Sour Hour podcast, Episode 70, 11 mins in.

I am sure that anyone reading this will appreciate the symbiotic nature of homebrewing and a desire to learn more about as many beer styles as possible. One of the unique beer styles that is wholly intriguing for both complexity and mystique is Belgian Lambic, so of course I decided I would try to brew one. More or less following Guinard’s book (from the Classic Beer Styles series) I made a wort of pale malt, unmalted wheat and aged Hallertau hops, and – as was the recommendation at the time – did a primary ferment using Wyeast 1056 before doing a secondary ferment with the Wyeast Lambic blend. My understanding at the time was that wood was necessary for proper growth of the Brett and bacteria, so I chopped a log of birch into kindling, torching the exposed ends to sterilize them but leaving the fresh wood where it was split untouched, and tossed that in. It sat in a glass carboy for a while, but then I had to move, so I transferred the beer and the wood to a stainless corny keg and sealed it up.

And here is where it gets interesting, because life sometimes throws curveballs…

A year later I moved to Europe, and when I moved back I had young kids. It was a while before I got back into homebrewing, and when I did, I decided something had to be done with the keg that was sitting patiently under the stairs at my parent’s cottage. Until I cracked it, it was kind of like Schroedinger’s cat (Schroedinger’s vat?) in that it existed in a superposition of states, both bad and good, and there was no way to know which way it would resolve until I opened it. Fortunately, it was still good - quite good in fact -so I split the batch and bottled half straight and half after a refermentation with raspberries.

Now if you are following along, you will notice that some time has passed, but I have been somewhat cagey as to just how much time. I brewed the beer in February 1994. I bottled it in the summer of 2015, twenty one and a half years later. My son was born a month after I brewed it, and was legal to drink in the US by the time it was bottled.

Eight months later the straight Lambic won best of show at a local competition with about a hundred entries (Editor: It was Spring Showdown 2016), and six months after that the Framboise won a major award at a much larger competition (Editor: It was Brew Slam 2016). While it did not medal in the BOS, it moved on to a side award sponsored by one of the local breweries as one of the top 10 beers from the greater Toronto area (a smaller field of merely 400 entries, versus the full competition of 600), and in that challenge it won hands down. The award, called the Henderson Cup, was a cash prize and an opportunity to design and brew a beer on Henderson’s 20HL system for one of their monthly special releases.

Ed Hitchcock receiving the Henderson Cup at Brew Slam 2016 Awards

Note from Ed in November 2022:

Now in 2022, I only have two bottles left (one of each), now seven years in the bottle and almost twenty nine years old. The last time I had one it was thin and had lost a lot of complexity, and I’m just waiting for a special moment to finish the last two; but once they are gone, that’s it. I’m not likely to repeat this - unless I decide to brew something now for my 80th birthday - but if anyone reading this is looking for a challenge, by all means give it a go!