LAMBIC

LAMBIC BEER is the most idiosyncratic, most artisanal style of beer existent in the world today. It is the only style of beer that ferments spontaneously (Fermentation spontanée), it is the only style of beer to age hops up to 3 years to age out the bitterness from the hops, but to keep its preservative properties. Traditional Lambic takes as long as 1 year to “mature” in the barrel (young Lambic) and will go up to 2-3 years (mature Lambic). So when you are enjoying a world class Lambic beer, you can appreciate that it was not made in 3 – 8 weeks time!

The flavor profile of Lambic beer is not for the faint of heart; the flavor descriptives (especially straight Lambic or Gueuze) that describe the beer are words like: “Horse Blanket”, “Barnyard”, “Musty”, “Vinous”, and “Cidery”. What??? Why would I want to drink a beer that could taste like that? Well, much educating was needed for us Americans.

Two of the original Belgian beer importers to the United States (Merchant Du Vin and Vanberg & DeWulf) had challenges selling Lambic beers back in the early 80’s to an unsuspecting American public.  However, they chose to stay true to the course, and not give up. It’s because of the efforts of those two pioneers that exposed and educated us here in the USA about Lambic beer, that we get to freely enjoy Lambic today. Other importers soon followed, and now we have a wide variety of Lambics to choose from! We salute the efforts of those original pioneers!

In the early days (late 1980’s), we exposed many peers to various Lambic beers. We were surprised (and a little disappointed at the same time) that wine enthusiasts embraced this style of beer over beer drinkers. The argument in those days was that wine drinkers had a more sophisticated palate than beer drinkers did. (Perhaps that’s why many wine drinkers are still very snobbish towards the very idea of even putting one drop of beer into their mouths… we’re just sayin’!) The case that beer drinkers palates are not refined is now a moot point. As we mention at our “About Us” page, more and more sophisticated beer dinner events are being held (especially in the United States), and Lambic beers are widely served and used as a cooking ingredient in the dishes.

What now follows, is somewhat of a small novel to describe Lambic beer and all of its sub-styles. Anything remotely less is incomplete. Mind you, we are not offering the most comprehensive look at Lambic; just a complete one… barely.

**Lambic is a wheat beer brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium (southwest of Brussels) by spontaneous fermentation. Most modern beers are fermented by carefully cultivated strains of brewer’s yeasts; Lambic’s fermentation, however, is produced by exposure to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Senne valley, in which Brussels lies. The beer then undergoes a long aging period ranging from three to six months (considered “young”) to two or three years for mature. It is this unusual process which gives the beer its distinctive flavor: dry, vinous, and cidery, with a slightly sour aftertaste.

The beer is generally brewed from a grist containing approximately 70% barley malt and 30% unmalted wheat. When the wort has cooled, it is left exposed to the open air so that fermentation may occur spontaneously. While this exposure is a critical feature of the style, many of the key yeasts and bacteria are now understood to reside within the brewery and its (usually timber) fermenting vessels in numbers far greater than any delivered by the breeze. Over eighty microorganisms have been identified in Lambic beer, the most significant being Brettanomyces bruxellensis. The process is generally only possible between October and May as in the summer months there are too many unfavorable organisms in the air that could spoil the beer.

Since at least the 11th century and probably earlier, hops have been used in beer for their natural preservative qualities as well as for the pleasant bitterness, flavor, and aroma they impart. Today it is the latter that is the reason for their inclusion in almost all beer styles other than Lambic. Since the method of inoculation and long fermentation time of Lambic beers increases the risk of spoilage, lambic brewers still use large numbers of hops for their antibacterial properties. To avoid making the beer extremely bitter, however, aged, dry hops (which have lost much of their bitterness) are used. Consequently, Lambics often have a strong, cheese-like, “old hop” aroma, in contrast to the resiny, herbal, earthy hop bitterness found in other styles.

After the fermentation process starts, the Lambic is siphoned into old port or sherry barrels (of chestnut or oak) from Portugal or Spain (some of the brewers prefer used wine barrels.) The Lambic is left to ferment and mature for one to two or even three years. It forms a “velo de flor” of yeast that gives some protection from oxidation, in a similar way to vin jaune and sherry; the barrels are not topped up.

Another important feature of Lambic is that it is usually a blend of at least two different beers; many “producers” are in fact blenders who buy beers from other brewers, and blend two or more together to create the desired result. A good Gueuze, for example, may have occupied space in several different cellars over 6 years or more. The locals are justifiably proud of their unique beer, and recent years have seen an explosion of interest around the world for this unusual beverage despite — or perhaps because of — its complex process of production. While those outside of the area are most likely to find the bottled Gueuze and fruit versions, there are a wide variety of styles available to the local drinker, and they are often blended again or sweetened with sugar or flavored syrups before drinking, as some examples can be extremely tart.

Lambic beer is widely consumed in Brussels and environs, and frequently featured as an ingredient in Belgian cuisine.

The different styles of Lambic

LAMBIC (PURE, UNBLENDED)
Unblended lambic is a cloudy, uncarbonated, bracingly sour beverage available on tap in only a few locations. Generally three years old. Bottled offerings from Cantillon and De Cam can be found outside of Belgium. (NOTE: Vanberg & DeWulf normally offers a (WOOD AGED VINTAGE ALE) Three-year-OUDE LAMBIEK, but it is sold out for 2013!)

GUEUZE
A mixture of young (one-year-old) and old (two- and three-year-old) Lambics that have been bottled. It undergoes secondary fermentation, producing carbon dioxide, because the young lambics are not yet fully fermented. It keeps in the bottle; a good Gueuze will be given a year to referment in the bottle, but can be kept for 10–20 years. Gose, a German top-fermenting style, is not to be confused with Gueuze.

MARS
Mars traditionally referred to a weaker beer made from the second runnings of a Lambic brewing. It is no longer commercially produced. In the 1990s, the Boon brewery made a modern Mars beer called Lembeek’s 2% (the 2% referring to the alcohol content), but its production has since been discontinued.

FARO
Historically, a low-alcohol, sweetened beer made from a blend of Lambic and a much lighter, freshly brewed beer (called meertsbier, not necessarily a Lambic) to which brown sugar (or sometimes caramel or molasses) was added.[3] Sometimes herbs were added as well. The use of the lighter beer (or even water) and of substandard Lambic in the blend made this a cheap, light, sweet beer for everyday use. The 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire commented on Faro’s (to him) disagreeable aftertaste, “It’s beer that you drink twice”, believing that the Faro in Brussels was brewed from the waters of a river (the Senne or Zenne) that was also used as a sewer.

The sugar was originally added shortly before serving, and therefore did not add carbonation or alcohol to the beverage (because the sugar did not have the time to ferment). Modern faro beer is still characterized by the use of brown sugar and Lambic, but is not necessarily a light beer. The use of meertsbier has disappeared, and modern faro is not viewed as cheap or light. Modern faro is bottled, sweetened and pasteurized to prevent refermentation in the bottle. Examples are produced by Cantillon, Boon, Lindemans or Mort Subite.

KRIEK
Lambic refermented in the presence of sour cherries (morello cherry) and with secondary fermentation in the bottle results in Kriek. Traditional versions of Kriek are dry and sour, just as traditional Gueuze.

OTHER FRUIT
Lambic with the addition of raspberry (Framboise), peach (pêche), blackcurrant (cassis), grape (druif), or strawberry (aardbei), as either whole fruit or syrup. Other, rarer fruit Lambic flavorings include apple (pomme), banana (banane), pineapple (ananas), apricot (abricotier), plum (prunier), cloudberry (plaquebière), lemon (citron), and blueberry (bleuet). Fruit lambics are usually bottled with secondary fermentation. Although fruit Lambics are among the most famous Belgian fruit beers, the use of names such as kriek, framboise or frambozen, cassis, etc. does not necessarily imply that the beer is made from Lambic. The fruit beers produced by the Liefmans brewery, for example, actually use a brown ale (Oud Bruin), rather than a Lambic as a base. Many of the non-traditional fruit beers derived from Lambic that were commercialized in the last decades are considered to be low quality products by many beer enthusiasts. These products are typically artificially sweetened and based on syrups instead of fresh fruit, resulting in a taste experience that is quite remote from the traditional products.** (** Article from Wikipedia- “Lambic”)

Beer Characteristics- Lambic

STRAIGHT (UNBLENDED) LAMBIC

AROMA / BOUQUET:
A decidedly sour/acidic aroma is often dominant in young examples, but may be more subdued with age as it blends with aromas described as barnyard, earthy, goaty, hay, horsey, and horse blanket. A mild oak and/or citrus aroma is considered favorable. An enteric, smoky, cigar-like, or cheesy aroma is unfavorable. Older versions are commonly fruity with aromas of apples or even honey. No hop aroma. No diacetyl.

APPEARANCE:
Pale yellow to deep golden in color. Age tends to darken the beer. Clarity is hazy to good. Younger versions are often cloudy, while older ones are generally clear. Head retention is generally poor. Head color is white.

FLAVOR / TASTE:
 Young examples are often noticeably sour and/or lactic, but aging can bring this character more in balance with the malt, wheat and barnyard characteristics. Fruity flavors are simpler in young Lambics and more complex in the older examples, where they are reminiscent of apples or other light fruits, rhubarb, or honey. Some oak or citrus flavor (often grapefruit) is occasionally noticeable. An enteric, smoky or cigar-like character is undesirable. Hop bitterness is low to none. No hop flavor. No diacetyl.

MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
Light to medium-light body. In spite of the low finishing gravity, the many mouth-filling flavors prevent the beer from tasting like water. As a rule of thumb lambic dries with age, which makes dryness a reasonable indicator of age. Has a medium to high tart, puckering quality without being sharply astringent. Virtually to completely uncarbonated.

OVERALL IMPRESSION:
Complex, sour/acidic, pale, wheat-based ale fermented by a variety of Belgian microbiota.

GUEUZE

AROMA / BOUQUET:
A moderately sour/acidic aroma blends with aromas described as barnyard, earthy, goaty, hay, horsey, and horse blanket. While some may be more dominantly sour/acidic, balance is the key and denotes a better Gueuze. Commonly fruity with aromas of citrus fruits (often grapefruit), apples or other light fruits, rhubarb, or honey. A very mild oak aroma is considered favorable. An enteric, smoky, cigar-like, or cheesy aroma is unfavorable. No hop aroma. No diacetyl.

APPEARANCE:
Golden in color. Clarity is excellent (unless the bottle was shaken). A thick rocky, mousse-like, white head seems to last forever. Always effervescent.

FLAVOR / TASTE:
 A moderately sour/acidic character is classically in balance with the malt, wheat and barnyard characteristics. A low, complementary sweetness may be present but higher levels are uncharacteristic. While some may be more dominantly sour, balance is the key and denotes a better Gueuze. A varied fruit flavor is common, and can have a honey-like character. A mild vanilla and/or oak flavor is occasionally noticeable. An enteric, smoky or cigar-like character is undesirable. Hop bitterness is generally absent but a very low hop bitterness may occasionally be perceived. No hop flavor. No diacetyl.

MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
Light to medium-light body. In spite of the low finishing gravity, the many mouth-filling flavors prevent the beer from tasting like water. Has a low to high tart, puckering quality without being sharply astringent. Some versions have a low warming character. Highly carbonated.

OVERALL IMPRESSION:
Complex, pleasantly sour/acidic, balanced, pale, wheat-based ale fermented by a variety of Belgian microbiota.

FRUIT LAMBIC

AROMA / BOUQUET:
The fruit which has been added to the beer should be the dominant aroma. A low to moderately sour/acidic character blends with aromas described as barnyard, earthy, goaty, hay, horsey, and horse blanket (and thus should be recognizable as a lambic). The fruit aroma commonly blends with the other aromas. An enteric, smoky, cigar-like, or cheesy aroma is unfavorable. No hop aroma. No diacetyl.

APPEARANCE:
The variety of fruit generally determines the color though lighter-colored fruit may have little effect on the color. The color intensity may fade with age. Clarity is often good, although some fruit will not drop bright. A thick rocky, mousse-like head, sometimes a shade of fruit, is generally long-lasting. Always effervescent.

FLAVOR / TASTE:
The fruit added to the beer should be evident. A low to moderate sour and more commonly (sometimes high) acidic character is present. The classic barnyard characteristics may be low to high. When young, the beer will present its full fruity taste. As it ages, the lambic taste will become dominant at the expense of the fruit character—thus fruit lambics are not intended for long aging. A low, complementary sweetness may be present, but higher levels are uncharacteristic. A mild vanilla and/or oak flavor is occasionally noticeable. An enteric, smoky or cigar-like character is undesirable. Hop bitterness is generally absent. No hop flavor. No diacetyl.

MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
Light to medium-light body. In spite of the low finishing gravity, the many mouth-filling flavors prevent the beer from tasting like water. Has a low to high tart, puckering quality without being sharply astringent. Some versions have a low warming character. Highly carbonated.

OVERALL IMPRESSION:
Complex, fruity, pleasantly sour/acidic, balanced, pale, wheat-based ale fermented by a variety of Belgian microbiota. A lambic with fruit, not just a fruit beer.

RELATED LAMBIC BEER ARTICLES ON THIS SITE:
November 21, 2016: DE CAM NECTARINE LAMBIEK
May 1, 2016: VICARIS TRIPEL GUEUZE
March 31, 2016: HORAL OUDE GEUZE MEGABLEND 2015
March 24, 2016: CANTILLON GUEUZE 100% LAMBIC BIO
March 19, 2016: GEUZESTEKERIJ DE CAM OUDE KRIEK
March 8, 2016: 3 FONTEINEN OUDE GEUZE
February 25, 2016: LAMBICKX 2015 PRIVATE DOMAIN
February 9, 2016: LINDEMANS CUVÉE RENÉ
December 5, 2015: BIRRA DEL BORGO – DUCHESSIC
December 4, 2015: LAMBIC, SOUR, AND WILD ALE MONTH
February 24, 2015: OUD BEERSEL- OUDE GEUZE VIEILLE
October 21, 2013: LINDEMAN’S FRAMBOISE INSTEAD OF CHAMPAGNE AT OUR WEDDING RECEPTION

Lambic beer characteristic descriptives from 2008 BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) style guidelines. (http://www.bjcp.org

ABBEY

AMBER

BIÈRE DE GARDE

BLONDE

BROWN

CHRISTMAS / WINTER

FLEMISH RED

HOPPY

IPA

LAMBIC

MÈTHODE CHAMPENOISE

OUD BRUIN

OTHER

PALE ALE

PILS

SAISON

SCOTCH

SOUR

STOUT

STRONG ALE

TABLE

TRAPPIST

WITBIER

 

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