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Ode to Gueuze and Lambic

Traditional, exceptional and full of patience...
Styles & Seasonals November 14, 2002      
Written by jbrus


I don’t know why and I don’t know how it happened but somewhere in my early beergeek life I became hooked on gueuze and lambic in particular. Maybe because lambic is part of history. It’s been brewed for hundreds of years in Belgium in almost just the same manner and with the same equipment.

Above that it’s brewed almost according to the beer the Sumerians brewed over 5000 years ago with malt, raw wheat and spontaneous fermentation. And those guys used to add all kinds of stuff as well, like fruit and spices. Or maybe it’s because of the brewing method: traditional, exceptional and full of patience. All things I lack myself! It could even be because of the artesinal character of the beer, which makes it nearly impossible to brew the same beer every time. You can only try to create a constant flavor by blending beers from different brews and ages. It is, however, possible to maintain a constant level of quality. Or it could be because lambic is considered a beer on the edge of extinction, and too many things in culture and wildlife fade away every day already. So maybe that’s the reason. And I shouldn’t forget the crazy aroma and beautiful flavors. But the reason why I love this type of beer is probably all of the above.

So what’s the difference between lambic and gueuze? Well, there is none and there is a lot. You take 60-70% barley malts and 30-40% unmalted wheat and add old hops for antiseptic purposes. Mash this and expose it to the open air so fermentation can take place.

This is young lambic that is pumped into old oak barrels for a second fermentation.

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The lambic needs to mature in these oak barrels for about 2 years.

To create a gueuze you mix old (sometimes even different ages) and young lambic. You need to do this right to create the right flavor. The gueuze is bottled and undergoes a third fermentation in the bottle for at least 6 months to create that wonderful golden liquid.

A real lambic or gueuze can be very sour, harsh and tart. But there are smoother and sweeter versions. I’m not talking the sweetened macro brewed lambic here, even amongst the best lambics some blends are more approachable than others. The aroma is always oak, barnyard, horseblanket and sometimes fruity. Next to complex malt and fruity flavors a lambic is flat without carbonation. The gueuze, however, does have bubbles which are formed during the fermentation in the bottle.

I have three all time favorite breweries. Number 1 is Brasserie Girardin in Sint Ulriks Kapelle. Their Lambic is like an orgasm for lambic lovers. But they also produce a very good Gueuze. Make sure you have the black-labeled Girardin Gueuze. This is the unfiltered version and much better than their white-labeled Gueuze.

Number 2 on my list is Vandervelden (Oud Beersel) and not just for it’s very smooth, sweet and sour Gueuze. The brewery is worth a visit more than once. A very nice pub and sitting in the sun with a Gueuze or Kriek is like you’ve gone to heaven without dying.

The last one in my top 3 is Cantillon.

Not that there is much difference between all three. Cantillon has a wonderful selection of Gueuze and specialties. How about Vigneronne with grapes or Fou’Foune with apricot. But be aware all you starting beergeeks! Cantillon doesn’t make a sweetened gueuze like the macrobreweries but the pure stuff. With real fruit, without sugar and they can be very harsh!

There aren’t many traditional lambic breweries left. And the larger breweries own even some of those. The best have started using the designation "oude", as in "oude gueuze" and "oude kriek", to distinguish themselves from the macrobrewery lambics. Let’s hope they will keep making a traditional lambic forever.



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start quote Number 1 is Brasserie Girardin in Sint Ulriks Kapelle. Their Lambic is like an orgasm for lambic lovers. end quote