OK, I had not heard of Lambic and that’s mainly because I am not a big beer drinker, but this was something of a revelation …and a delicious one.
Lambic is a style of beer brewed mainly in the Pajottenland region of Belgium. These beers include gueuze and kriek lambic, which are both striking and rather unique beverages. Lambic differs from most other beers in that it is fermented through exposure to natural wild yeasts. These are found on many plants and fruits. Also, a bacterium native to the Zenne valley plays a part. These give the resulting beers their distinctive characteristics: dry and cidery, usually with a sour but delightfully mouthwatering aftertaste.
The beer is generally brewed from a grist containing around 65% barley malt and 35% unmalted wheat. The wort is cooled overnight in a shallow metal basin called a coolship. This exposes the wort to those friendly enzymes. The process usually takes place between October and May as in the summer months there are too many unfavourable bacteria in the air.
The Lambic which one finds for sale is usually a blend of at least two different beers. Unblended lambic is a cloudy, uncarbonated, sour beer that is rarely available on tap. Draught versions are generally described as either jonge or oude, young or old.
A second fermentation
Gueuze is made by blending young (1-year-old) and old (2- to 3-year-old) lambics, which are then bottled for a second fermentation. Traditionally, gueuze is made in champagne bottles, which hold either 375 millilitres or 750 millilitres. The wild yeasts that are specific to lambic beers give gueuze its celebrated dry and sour flavour. That is actually a rather unflattering description of a beer which I find rather appealing – I could imagine that this would work well as an aperitif instead of the more predictable prosecco.
Kriek lambic is a style of Belgian beer made by fermenting lambic with sour cherries. It isn’t an over-sweet ‘drink for the girls’. These days the fruit is often imported from other parts of Europe. The name comes from the Flemish word for this type of cherry.
Using lambic beer as a base, sour cherries and their stones are added. The cherries are allowed to remain in the beer for a number of months, causing a refermentation. Typically, all the sugar is converted to alcohol so there will be pronounced cherry flavour but without sweetness. There is a further maturation step after the cherries are removed. Some lambic brewers have added sugar to their cherry beers, to appeal to a broader consumer market.
A couple of breweries to visit:
Lindemans Brewery is a Belgian family brewery in Vlezenbeek, a small town southwest of Brussels. Lindemans was founded in 1822 by Frans Lindemans. The brewery is still a family company, formerly run by brothers Nestor and Rene, with their sons Dirk and Geert taking over the company.
Visit Lindemans Brewery here: https://www.lindemans.be/
Timmermans Brewery is a lambic brewery in Itterbeek and was founded in 1702. A few miles from Brussels, it was owned by Jan Vandermeulen. Timmermans Oude Gueuze was voted “World’s Best Sour Beer” at the prestigious World Beer Awards 2015.
Visit Timmermans Brewery here: http://brtimmermans.be
Belgium is a beer enthusiast’s paradise. It’s a country with beer heritage aplenty and much loved by those who are interested in brewing and tasting and appreciating the craft. There are festivals throughout the year, too!