Every winter we become inundated with the beers of the cold-weather season: thick porters, spicy holiday ales and novelty beers with flavors ranging from pumpkin to iced gingerbread. Many styles of beer have been delegated to our harvest times due to the availability of their constituent ingredients.
One beer, however, has blossomed every spring for thousands of years, harkening back to the very first days of modern brewing. Yes, without the cooler months, the lambic would certainly not exist, and with it would go one of the best beverages ever created for a warm springtime day.
Let’s gain an appreciation for why this is so before we delve back into the long and mostly unknown history of the lambic, one of the earliest known beers.
The lambic begins its brewing process as a standard wort strained from a process of boiling water and other ingredients. This is given a small amount of hops, just as any beer would, for their preservative effect. The first difference is the beer is then fermented in open-air containers to pick up wild yeast and other microbes, rather than having specialty yeast added by the brewer. The result is a sour beer, singularly unique in a world of lagers and pilsners.Lambic is created almost solely in Brussels, Belgium, where airborne yeasts have been used in the creation of lambics for hundreds of years. Between the months of October and May the temperature gets low enough for open-air fermentation, the signature of the lambic. Brussels is one of the few places perfect for the creation of lambics for the uniform flavor they’re able to derive from wild fermentation, year after year.
Many believe this process of wild fermentation is based on the forced open-air brewing methods of prehistoric man. Beer is an ancient drink, and due to lack of adequate technologies many of these early drinks would be necessarily brewed out of doors. Many surmise it was this open-air technique that led to brewers discovering individual strains of yeast. After drinking their open-air brew, they would save some of the leftover sludge and throw it into their next wort. This would allow for what many modern drinkers now take for granted: replicable flavors.
Slowly these ancient yeasts were chosen and created a cultural evolution of beer. This led to the beautiful cornucopia of beer styles we enjoy today.
But the lambic kept the old tradition, remaining at an evolutionary standstill (if you’ll pardon the pun). The recipe for the lambic is referred to in Belgian records dating back to the 16th century as having come from an “old recipe.” Lambic, originally known more simply as “yellow beer,” reached the peak of its popularity during the Middle Ages and remained there until the mid-19th century.
Like many styles of yore, we have the modern brewing renaissance to thank for resurrecting the lambic in recent years. One fantastic modern example of the lambic style is Oud Beersel’s Oude Geuze Vieille.One peculiarity to mention: This is not a pure lambic, but a blend of old and new lambic produced specifically for shipping purposes (similarly to porter). The gueuze is also double-fermented in a fashion similar to champagne and other sparkling wines.
The body of the beer definitely demonstrates this: It has a clear, golden coloration with an insane amount of carbonation that sticks to the walls of the glass. The aroma is that of grapefruit and a peculiar mustiness not found in other beers.The beer is very champagne-like in mouthfeel, with a watery carbonated body. The taste is tart, with hints of sour cherries and other sour fruit. A slight yeast permeates the taste, as well, and the beer hits a spike of sour notes on the way down the throat.
Though lambics are a bit esoteric, they’re worth the hunt if you’re going to be celebrating this spring. No beer is more refreshing or better suited to an outdoor patio party than the fruity-without-fruit taste of the sour, intriguing lambic.
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