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The "American Lambic" Predicament


read 5406 times • 76 replies • posted 5/21/2012 1:43:50 PM

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levifunk 12:
(I was going to make this a blog post, but instead wanted to see a discussion on this)

Over the weekend I went to a large tasting in Chicago that focused on Cantillon, but more generally lambics. There was a ton of Cantillon, 3F, and other Belgian brewers, but also a good amount of American sours. Later in the evening some friends and I were discussing the difference between the Belgian lambics and some beers that I have previously called "American Lambic".

While the American Lambic (unofficial) category is extremely small and young, there are a couple examples that follow the natural progression of lambic brewing; the creation of a geuze. The three "American Geuzes" that the conversation focused on were Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze, Russian River Beatification, and Upland Sour Reserve. As compared to a general American sour, these beers not only take the extra effort and expense to emulate the Belgian lambic brewing style, but they are then a blend of different ages of said lambic.

Given the opportunity to have both of these and Cantillon Classic Gueuze, Drie Fontenien Oude Geuze, Oude Geuze Vintage, the Armandí4 series, and De Cam Oud Gueuze, we were able to compare the best of Belgian geuzes to these relatively new American interpretations of the style. What I found was that the American versions all contain a harsh acetic (vinegar) flavor, where the Belgian examples are still sour (acidic), but not harsh.

It makes sense, American interpretations of most beer styles are amped up on one flavor or characteristic, for example the American interpretation of an IPA. Its not a bad thing. These beers have their place, but can you imagine an American brewer making an IPA that isnít intensely hop forward? It would be seen as vastly inferior.

This got me thinking about the future of American geuzes. Its fun having a Beatification and getting that intense sour vinegar kick, but personally, I prefer the clean, balanced, and far more complex sours of Belgium. If I were to create an American geuze, that is what Iíd be trying to emulate. But, how would that be received? What would happen if Russian River started throwing out their acetic barrels and refined Beatification to be a clean and balanced geuze? Unfortunately, I believe most (American consumers) would find it to be inferior to their previous batches.

(For the record, I am not bashing on RR. Iím a big fan of RR and Beatification. This is a commentary on what seems to be the american consumerís demand for American sour production. Acetic vs Acidic. Belgian brewers weed out acetic barrels, where American brewers keep them around to amp up the sour level. )
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smith4498 3066:20
Originally posted by levifunk
What would happen if Russian River started throwing out their acetic barrels and refined Beatification to be a clean and balanced geuze? Unfortunately, I believe most (American consumers) would find it to be inferior to their previous batches.


I would probably get to try it since it would be "perceived" as inferior and the trade value would go down and nobody would want it anymore.

Or not, what the hell do I know....
5/21/2012 1:54:54 PM

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cquiroga 371:11
Your final sentence about weeding out acetic barrels is the key point here, and one that I think pretty much nails it.

But Iíve seen the "acetic vs. acidic" false dichotomy before, and I think the imprecise choice of language does you a disservice here. "Acetic" IS a type of acid. Something that is acetic is acidic. What youíre looking for, basically, is "Acetic vs. LACTIC."

Otherwise, I agree with a lot of what youíre saying. American sour beers are usually quite different from their Belgian counterparts. For instance, I seldom (never??) drink traditional Belgian lambics or other Belgian sours with any real residual cereal/grain character, or with those Sweettart or Smarties flavors that are somewhat common in American sour beers-- and yet I would say that I actually have come to *enjoy* those characteristics at times in the American beers. I know they are probably thought of as undesirable or unrefined traits, but I actually think they combine at times to work nicely with the fruit in some Lost Abbey beers (and some awesome homebrews) that I have had, or with the funk in some Cascade beers, for instance.

Not *necessarily* better or worse-- just different. Iím glad they all exist. But Iíd love to see more American brewers get a better handle on their sour beer production so that they can skew the beers closer to traditional geuzes, if thatís what they want to do. My feeling is that even most of the very best sour beer brewers in the US do not have the process or the tools in place yet to be able to make their beers turn out quite like the Cantillons and Drie Fonteinens and Hanssenís of the world, EVEN IF THEY WANTED TO.
5/21/2012 2:00:26 PM

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Pundarquartis 19:3
Originally posted by levifunk
(I was going to make this a blog post, but instead wanted to see a discussion on this)

Over the weekend I went to a large tasting in Chicago that focused on Cantillon, but more generally lambics. There was a ton of Cantillon, 3F, and other Belgian brewers, but also a good amount of American sours. Later in the evening some friends and I were discussing the difference between the Belgian lambics and some beers that I have previously called "American Lambic".

While the American Lambic (unofficial) category is extremely small and young, there are a couple examples that follow the natural progression of lambic brewing; the creation of a geuze. The three "American Geuzes" that the conversation focused on were Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze, Russian River Beatification, and Upland Sour Reserve. As compared to a general American sour, these beers not only take the extra effort and expense to emulate the Belgian lambic brewing style, but they are then a blend of different ages of said lambic.

Given the opportunity to have both of these and Cantillon Classic Gueuze, Drie Fontenien Oude Geuze, Oude Geuze Vintage, the Armandí4 series, and De Cam Oud Gueuze, we were able to compare the best of Belgian geuzes to these relatively new American interpretations of the style. What I found was that the American versions all contain a harsh acetic (vinegar) flavor, where the Belgian examples are still sour (acidic), but not harsh.

It makes sense, American interpretations of most beer styles are amped up on one flavor or characteristic, for example the American interpretation of an IPA. Its not a bad thing. These beers have their place, but can you imagine an American brewer making an IPA that isnít intensely hop forward? It would be seen as vastly inferior.

This got me thinking about the future of American geuzes. Its fun having a Beatification and getting that intense sour vinegar kick, but personally, I prefer the clean, balanced, and far more complex sours of Belgium. If I were to create an American geuze, that is what Iíd be trying to emulate. But, how would that be received? What would happen if Russian River started throwing out their acetic barrels and refined Beatification to be a clean and balanced geuze? Unfortunately, I believe most (American consumers) would find it to be inferior to their previous batches.

(For the record, I am not bashing on RR. Iím a big fan of RR and Beatification. This is a commentary on what seems to be the american consumerís demand for American sour production. Acetic vs Acidic. Belgian brewers weed out acetic barrels, where American brewers keep them around to amp up the sour level. )

I very much think that american brewers will progress towards the more balanced, belgian characteristics in their lambics. The american lambic is still way too young to be considered a style and as you say, only a few beers fit into this style. I would still consider american lambic to be in its beginning fase and that the flavours will develop incredibly much before we actually can say that there really is main flavour profile to "american lambic".

With that said... I personally enjoy a bit of an acetic kick. Balance is nice, but I find an intensely acetic beer to be extremely refreshing and tasty from time to time. As for now I prefer belgian lambics over american lambics, but not because of the difference in acetic flavour.
5/21/2012 2:05:11 PM

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GT2 8741:613
If you picked up acetic acid in Beatification, then you got a pretty bad bottle. DDG was acetic from the beginning. Even more acetic was Jolly Pumpkin Lambicus Dexterius which was a 3-2-1 blend.

I think one problem is that many people actually like the super sour and vinegary acetic acid. Look at all the Bruery sours and more recently Lost Abbey Veritas stuff.

Even at CBC Struise was pouring a super acetic Alvinne cherry sour blend called Cherilensis that I did not like but the reviews were about half and half love hate.

5/21/2012 2:18:26 PM

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TheAlum 5909:10
Weíve all been guilty of giving an acetic example high scores.. it happens.. itís the extremely awful hard to be nice acetic sours (Mother Funker, Biggs Stache, etc) that really make me shake my head when I see the high ratings.. I went through an Acetic phase in order to get to the piint Iím at now.. but man, t I donít know what some of those raters were thinking.. are they just slaves for the acetic acid??
5/21/2012 2:40:56 PM

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McGrupp612 139:1
I was thinking about this earlier in the bottle shop today. I was staring down three cherry sours: cascade kriek, red poppy and LP Kriek. The American sours were 30 each, and the LP kriek was 34. It was almost a no brainer. Why would I drop 30 bucks on tasty (but "inferior") sours when I could have an awesome kriek for 4 dollars more? If duck duck gooze had the same price and availability as cantillion classic or 3F geuze would anybody buy it?
5/21/2012 3:05:04 PM

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AlexanderK
Iíd like to see this discussion go on because there are just so many facets. But one thing it seems Levi is interested in is, in the case of an American brewer/blender successfully emulating a traditional Belgian gueuze, would the response mirror that of a comparable product coming from within the boarders of Belgium?

One simple issue is that labels, and scarcity, are unfortunately so influential in the hype of what is ígoodí beer. Many people seek out rare bottles in favor of drinking locally-available ones that may taste preferable. And there are some cases where the SAME beer (if not same batch) is labeled two different ways. I am certainly guilty of this as well, and itís fine in and of itself. Itís fun.

But Iím also concerned over a more conflicted response that I sometimes have, and that I have seen others have many times. The response is a negativity toward a product simply because it treads too closely to a perceived sanctity. Belgian sours are exactly what they are through centuries of tradition, and they are regarded as perfect examples of their styles. A report of anyone else making a traditional Belgian gueuze would be met with nothing shy of íimpossible.í
How many times have we all said íFor an American (insert style name), this is pretty darn good!í whereas if it had no label, it might very well compete with your favorite Tripel, Quad, BPA, and you would swear it MUST be from Belgium to be so spot on.

Palates, as well as our beer culture, are constantly evolving, so I can certainly imagine a very welcomed attempt to produce a great stateside gueuze. And like the first response above said, I might actually get to try it since the perceived value is lower!

5/23/2012 1:35:02 PM

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cquiroga 371:11
Originally posted by AlexanderK
Iíd like to see this discussion go on because there are just so many facets. But one thing it seems Levi is interested in is, in the case of an American brewer/blender successfully emulating a traditional Belgian gueuze, would the response mirror that of a comparable product coming from within the boarders of Belgium?

One simple issue is that labels, and scarcity, are unfortunately so influential in the hype of what is ígoodí beer. Many people seek out rare bottles in favor of drinking locally-available ones that may taste preferable. And there are some cases where the SAME beer (if not same batch) is labeled two different ways. I am certainly guilty of this as well, and itís fine in and of itself. Itís fun.

But Iím also concerned over a more conflicted response that I sometimes have, and that I have seen others have many times. The response is a negativity toward a product simply because it treads too closely to a perceived sanctity. Belgian sours are exactly what they are through centuries of tradition, and they are regarded as perfect examples of their styles. A report of anyone else making a traditional Belgian gueuze would be met with nothing shy of íimpossible.í
How many times have we all said íFor an American (insert style name), this is pretty darn good!í whereas if it had no label, it might very well compete with your favorite Tripel, Quad, BPA, and you would swear it MUST be from Belgium to be so spot on.

Palates, as well as our beer culture, are constantly evolving, so I can certainly imagine a very welcomed attempt to produce a great stateside gueuze. And like the first response above said, I might actually get to try it since the perceived value is lower!




I know I would be delighted to find an American geuze that was close in flavor to a traditional Belgian geuze. The closest Iíve found was Russian River Beatification Batch 2 after several years of aging (last time I had it was about 18 months or 2 years ago, and it was stunning). I donít think thereís any merit to "treading too closely to your forebears" as a criticism in and of itself. If it tastes good, itís good.
5/23/2012 1:56:13 PM

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flabeer 2
The closest American sour Iíve had to a Belgian Lambic has to be RR Beautification 5. Not at all acetic, yet, anyway. As far as ratings go, anything giant and in your face pertaining to sours is going to rate well until the average raters pallet is a little more mature.Unfortunately the "Bigger, Badder, More" mentality will continue to win out in the short run. Easiest and quickest way to get there is acetobacter. As time goes on, the same people crazy over something like Cherilensis will eventually come around to appreciate the nuances of the Belgian Lambics.

5/23/2012 2:10:13 PM

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FrumptyDumpty
I have gotten Acetic flavor in Cantillon many many many times.
5/23/2012 2:12:49 PM

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