Beer, Wine, and Spirits
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Funky. Fruity. Incessantly spontaneous. No, it's not your ex we're talking about; it's lambic beer, the companion that never disappoints. Lambic beer is almost 500 years old, practically the grandfather of beer history. And it is not interested in your new brewing techniques, so please, get off its lawn.
Lambic beer has a distinctively sour taste with a cloudy appearance, mild carbonation and a thick mouthfeel that's best characterized as "funky." Practically every bottle stands out and is fun to drink, especially when you consider most lambic beers are fermented with apricots, raspberries, grapes and other bits of nature-candy.
This unique, archaic beer is only produced in Belgium's Senne River Valley. That's because it's spontaneously fermented. Lambic brewers use an age-old technique that relies on stale hops and lambic ferments out in the open air. We're talking open windows to let all the bacteria-riddled air in. Before you turn up your nose, you must know that lambic beer relies on this bacteria and yeast settling into the broth before it's fermented in oak barrels with fruity combinations. The result is a refreshing sourness unlike any other beer, and it cannot be replicated elsewhere in the world.
Types of Lambic Beer
To make lambic beer even more exciting, you have different types to choose from:
- Pure lambic: Pure lambic beer needs no introduction. It's the seasonal delicacy that's been crafted the same, imprecise way for generations.
- Gueuze: Gueuze, on the other hand, is a type of lambic made by blending young and old lambic beers. Young lambics are only one-year old and not fully fermented like older lambics. Since these younger beers have more fermentable sugars, the gueuze undergoes a second fermentation before bottling. There is little to no hop flavor, a noticeable carbonation and a sour taste that's often described as "barnyard-like." Don't let that put you off, though. Gueuze is worth a taste!
- Faro: Faro is a historically low-alcohol beer. Made using a blend of lambic and freshly brewed beer, faro was intended to serve as a light, cheap everyday sweet drink that appealed to the masses. Faro takes its unusually sweet flavor from the brown sugar, caramel or molasses added to the freshly brewed beer before blending.
- Mars: Mars was a weaker beer crafted from the lambic brewing process's second running. Unfortunately, mars beer hasn't been commercially produced since the 1990s.
- Kriek: Kriek refers to a lambic beer made with sour cherries. Traditionally, kriek is sour and dry like gueze, and it experiences secondary fermentation in the bottle.
- Fruit: Having trouble finding your favorite lambic beer? Try a fruit lambic. Fruit lambics run the gamut of flavors from peach and strawberry to blackcurrant and banana. These beers are typically bottled with secondary fermentation and are often artificially sweetened. Beer snobs often snub their noses at fruit lambics because these beers have a reputation of being low-quality, but when you find something you like – and can save a few bucks in the process – why not enjoy it?
How to Drink It:
First, find lambic beer. Stat! Bottles are typically labeled as framboise, kriek, peche, pecheresse or cassis. Lambic beer is best served at the standard cellar temperature (50-55 degrees) in a flute, tulip or snifter. But we won't judge if you're not that fancy. A stange is perfectly acceptable.
After pouring the lambic, take a sniff. Most lambic beers are described as smelling fruity, earthy, acidic and citric, but we've also heard the words goaty, horsey and barnyard thrown around. The taste can be reminiscent of cider or sherry with smoky or cheesy aromas.
Despite their low ABV, lambics are great for storing, so feel free to hoard if necessary. Keep the bottles away from light in a place with consistent humidity levels and cellar-like temperatures. And always store beer standing up. When you finally crack it open, there's no need to refrigerate in advance. Serve it at its storage temperature.