By Paul Barry | Assistant Buyer: Beer & Spirits
I enjoy introducing people to Lambic beers, the first taste always draws surprise. Barnyard, white wine, cidery, tart, lactic, fruity, musty are just some of the words people use to describe lambics. One word that I think best encapsulates it is ‘funky’.
Lambic is primarily brewed in the small Pajottenland region of Belgium. They use a portion of unmalted wheat to give extra body to the beer and also aged hops, these have lost that ‘hoppy’ taste and aroma but retain their preservative properties. You won’t find any hoppy flavours in Lambic. However, the biggest difference is in the fermentation.
Most commercial beers are made with carefully selected strains of yeasts, in as sterile an environment as possible. Talk to any brewer and they’ll tell you that their job is 5% brewing and 95% cleaning. Lambic beers however are different.
Lambic is fermented by intentionally allowing wild yeast and bacteria to ferment the beer. The wort (which is the sweet viscous liquid that, once fermented will become beer) is left to cool in coolships. Coolships are large shallow pans open to the air where naturally occurring airborne yeast spontaneously fermented the beer. It is then placed in barrels where it can take months to ferment and even years to mature.
Most Lambic beers are blends of batches from several years such as gueuze. Gueuze is made from the careful blending of Lambic that are at least one to three years old. The blending creates a secondary fermentation in the bottle as the yeasts in the older Lambic are presented with more sugars present in the younger. The result is a complex sour beer with mild carbonation, a cloudy appearance and a smooth full mouth feel. They can show incredible complexity of flavour and develop in the bottle for decades.