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Beer Styles - The Lambic Family

Unblended Lambic, Gueuze, Faro, Fruit Lambic
Styles & Seasonals June 23, 2005      
Written by Oakes

Richmond, CANADA -

Lambic – Unblended

The lambic family is steeped in beer lore. Unlike some other styles, however, there is no sexy story of origin. It is just a known fact that lambic has been brewed for centuries in the area around Brussels. Today, it is made in the same way as it always has. As has happened with cheeses produced using centuries-old methods, this has drawn the ire of a European Union that whores itself for giant corporations.

The production process is fairly simple, the results complex. Lambic is a wheat beer that is fermented with wild yeasts. The unfermented brew is laid out in fermenters in the rafters of the brewery and exposed to the night air. The wild yeasts in the air ferment the brew. This is why it is said that traditional lambic can only be made in the Zenne Valley and Brussels. Some of the strains have been cultured and used elsewhere, but all the strains and bacteria can only be found in that specific geographic region. Plus, lambic is understood to be a wild-fermented beer, and pitched lambic cultures run against that tradition. After fermentation, the beer is aged for upwards of three years in wooden barrels.

Unblended lambic is served straight from these barrels. It is very sour, flat, and each barrel will have a slightly different character, making unblended lambic one of the world’s most unpredictable beers.

Unblended lambic is a straw of golden-coloured session beer, with no carbonation. It is intensely sour, with a lot of funky, barnyardy flavours. It is reminiscent of farmhouse cider in its intensity, fruitiness and acidity. These characteristics will tend to be more “raw” than in gueuze and will vary from barrel to barrel. Unblended lambic is hard to find, and a huge challenge for the beer drinker, but as one of the world’s most authentic regional beverages, not to mention one of the world’s most complex drinks, Unblended Lambic is very much worth the effort.

Most popular examples: Cantillon Bruocsella 1900 Grand Cru (Belgium), Girardin Lambic (Belgium), De Cam Oude Lambiek (Belgium)

Some of my favourites: Cantillon Bruocsella 1900 Grand Cru (Belgium), Cantillon Jonge Lambic Cognac (Belgium), De Cam Oude Lambiek (Belgium)

Colour: 0.5 – 1.75

Flavour: 4 – 5

Sweetness: 0 - 1

Lambic – Gueuze

The Lambic – Unblended description gives a very cursory overview of basic lambic production. Gueuze is a variation of basic lambic, created by blended various casks of unblended lambic together. Whereas unblended lambic is typically a draught product, gueuze is typically a bottled product. The blending process, in addition to rounding out the flavours, also has the effect of spurring the yeast into activity. The result is an effervescent counterpart to lambic’s stillness. With its colour and carbonated mouthfeel, gueuze looks on the surface like a fairly ordinary beer. Beneath that surface lies a funky, cheesy, barnyardy, leathery monster of complexity and panache.

While the blending of various lambic barrels is on the surface similar to the blending of whisky barrels, which results in a less-interesting scotch, with lambic that is not necessarily the case. Lambic’s flavours can be very wild, and make it a challenging and yet unrewarding drink at times. The intent of gueuze is to round out those rough edges, leaving a beverage less wild but just as flavourful and complex.

The process above describes a traditional gueuze. Much of the gueuze available is sweetened with sugar, and while it retains some gueuze elements, they tend to be muted and the beverage far less challenging.

In recent years, most makers of traditional gueuze have adopted the label of “oude gueuze”, meaning “old gueuze” in order to differentiate their product from the blander, sweetened examples. There are exception, however, notably Cantillon and Girardin, both of whom only make traditional lambic and undoubtedly find the “oud” designation redundant. However, many producers of sweetened lambic do still produce a traditional gueuze.

Most popular examples: Cantillon Gueuze (Belgium), Lindemans Cuvée Rene (Belgium), Beersel Oude Gueuze (Belgium), Hanssens Oude Gueuze (Belgium), Girardin Gueuze Black Label (Belgium)

Some of my favourites: Girardin Gueuze White Label (Belgium), Cantillon Gueuze (Belgium), Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze (Belgium), all other oude gueuze

Colour: 0.5 – 1.75

Flavour: 2.5 – 5

Sweetness: 0 – 2.5

Lambic – Faro

The Lambic – Unblended description outlines the production of basic lambic. Faro is a lambic to which sugar has been added. This is not the same as a sweetened gueuze, though sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference. To help understand the difference between a faro and a sweetened gueuze, a faro is essentially a sugar-flavoured lambic.

In theory, faro should be a light, refreshing, sweet-and-sour beverage with minimal funkiness, while even a sweetened gueuze should be acidic and funky. In practice, this line can be rather blurry, with the name on the label being the only way to distinguish the brewer’s intentions, and even then maybe not since Faro has a connotation of virtual obsolescence while gueuze at least reflects a hint of sophistication worthy of the modern world.

Faro exists today in two forms. The most common is the bottled, pasteurized form. The more traditional form is not pasteurized, and thus not bottled (it would soon explode from pressure buildup). This form is only available on draught at a handful of specialist cafes and has a short shelf life.

As a historical side note, according to Jeff Sparrow’s Wild Brews, “faro was once a blend of different strengths of lambic, produced with several different runnings (sparges) of the same mash and usually sweetened.” The modern form of faro is a 20th century invention.

Most popular examples: Lindemans Faro (Belgium), Boon Faro Pertotale (Belgium), Chapeau Faro (Belgium), Cantillon Faro (Belgium)

Some of my favourites: Mort Subite Faro (Belgium)

Colour: 0.5 – 1.75

Flavour: 1.5 – 3

Sweetness: 2 – 3.25

Lambic – Fruit

The Lambic – Unblended description outlines the production of basic lambic. It is produced by taking a lambic and adding fruit to the barrel and letting it age for a year or two. The traditional effect was that the fruit sugars would completely ferment, rendering the beer stronger and drier, but the fruit flavour and aroma would be imparted to the beer.

The traditional fruit is the local cherry of the Brussels region, and this makes Kriek. Frambozen has been around from at least the turn of the 20th century. Though considered a novelty, there were regions where in the early or mid 20th century local grapes were added. Peach and blackcurrant came on board in the 1980’s. Today, many fruits are added to lambic, some more successfully than others. The most commercial fruit lambics are made by adding syrup to lambic rather than whole fruit, and sugar as well. Fruit lambic can be either unblended or sparkling (blended, as a gueuze).

The character of a fruit lambic will be similar to the particular brewery’s base beer, but with the added layer of fruit. As with all fruit beers, the fruit character and lambic character should meld seamlessly. Otherwise, fruit lambic should be as all lambic – dry, funky, sour and complex. As with gueuze, there are sweetened and unsweetened versions and in recent years traditional producers have adopted the “oude” label, particularly with respect to Kriek.

Most popular examples: Lindemans Framboise (Belgium), Lindemans Kriek (Belgium), Lindemans Pêche (Belgium), Belle-Vue Kriek (Belgium), Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus (Belgium)

Some of my favourites: Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise (Belgium), Cantillon Soleil de Minuit (Belgium), Drie Fonteinen Druivengueuze Malvasia Rosso (Belgium), Boon Mariage Parfait Kriek (Belgium), De Cam Oude Kriek (Belgium)

Colour: 2.5 – 3.5

Flavour: 2 – 5

Sweetness: 0 – 4.5



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