Posted on February 4th, 2010
Even among serious beer drinkers, many don’t know much about lambics. They tend to be hard to find and expensive, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try them. Lambics are a delicious and often forgotten corner of the beer world. Here’s an introduction to this quirky and delicious type of beer.
One of the reasons for lambic’s relative obscurity is the limited number of brewers who can actually make it. Much like real champagne only comes from the Champagne region in France, real lambic is only brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium. The name lambic is thought to be derived from a village in the area, “Lembeek.”
The reason for limited area is the unique strains of yeast used in lambics only grow in this region. Instead of the carefully cultivated and preserved strains of yeast that are added to ales and lagers, lambics get their yeast through spontaneous fermentation of wild, natural yeast. The unfermented beer (known as wort) is laid out by the brewer in the open air and wild strains of yeast and bacteria are allowed to naturally find their way into it. Afterwards the lambic is sealed in huge wooden casks, 10 feet tall and over 6 feet wide that can hold almost 11,220 litters of beer each. There it is allowed to ferment and age, usually for over 2 years. Afterwards it will be released and blended in one of several styles.
Gueuze (pronounced GER-ser)
A blend of young, one-year-old lambic and older two or three-year old lambic which then undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle. These beers tend to be very sour and tart with light and dry mouthfeel, similar to champagne or hard cider. Many find the taste of gueuze to be too overpowering, but it’s really unlike any other beer in the world and has to be tasted to be believed.
This is gueuze which has been blended with fruit juice or brewed with raw fruit. The sweetness of the fruit is used to counterbalance the tart nature of the lambic on its own. Raspberry (framboise), peach (pêche), blackcurrant (cassis), and cherry (kriek) are popular flavors.
Although there are many great “wild ales” brewed in the US and elsewhere which employ some of the bacteria and yeast used in lambics, true lambic has to be from Belgium. When shopping for lambic avoid American attempts at the style like Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic and stick with the imported stuff. Lindemans is probably the biggest producer of lambic. All of their fruit and geuze varieties are worth a try, but their framboise is a personal favorite. Oude Gueuze from Hanssens is probably my favorite gueuze. Cantillon and Boon breweries make some terrific lambics as well.