Sour beer is a hard style of beer to get into let alone like. Human beings are naturally predisposed to be concerned when sour foods or drinks come across our palates. It’s an evolution thing, extreme sourness means rancid and rancid means we shouldn’t consume it. As with all things in life there are caveats and sour beer in the form of lambic is one of them.
For some of you that may not know what lambic is well it’s a spontaneously fermented beer that has been brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium. If I can break it down it’s essentially beer that has had no yeast added to it by human hands and is made in this specific region of Belgium. Now what makes it so special is the spontaneity of it, yeast that’s in the air or the warehouse innoculates the wort and then it goes into barrels to age for 1, 2, 3 or more years. After this period of aging the beers are blended to get a consistent taste and some are even aged on fruits like cherries (kriek), raspberries (framboise) or apricots for up to a year and then bottled.
“True” lambic in recent times has seen a massive resurgence with breweries like Cantillion, 3 Fonteinen and Boon becoming more popular all over the world. It wasn’t always this way though in the past these breweries almost went the way of the dinosaurs due to pressure of the market and the wants of a populace that wanted sweeter and sweeter beverages in the form of “False” lambic. Today I’m glad to say this is not a problem and these breweries are still alive and very much kicking.
My revelation at the beauty of lambic is rather recent and I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to “True” lambic before I ever set my lips to a glass of “False” lambic. Personally it wasn’t the easiest step trying these new sour beers. I’d been accustomed to heavily hopped IPAs and extremely rich and thick imperial stouts; lambic was never part of my repertoire. There is a characteristic when I drink lambics that sounds quite odd but makes sense given the way they’re made. This characteristic is funk, some describe is barnyard like, horse blanket-ish and etc… For me it’s this tart and edgy flavour that I’ve never had in other beers before lambic. It’s unique to this style and extremely enjoyable as it refreshes my palate every time I take a sip and makes me want to go back for another. When you add fruit like those mentioned above to this funk it adds a whole new dimension to the beer, and it becomes this drink which is like no other. The fruit takes center stage but the funk at the end comes and cleans the palate and reinvigorates it.
For me of the fruited lambics I’ve tried; the most enjoyable for me have been the krieks (cherry). Kriek lambics are a beautiful reddish colour and the aroma they exude is one of tart cherries and slight funkiness. They drink exceedingly easily with the flavour of sour cherries being the star of the show, then citrusy elements coming into play and finally ending with a little sweetness and oakiness from the barrels the lambic resided in for so long. The style of lambic I believe is somewhere in between the realms of beer and wine. The lambic style will appeal to those who previously enjoyed wine but maybe not beer. If you are looking to try to enjoy a lambic I would highly recommend trying an ‘Oude Kriek’ before going and trying an ‘Oude Gueze’ it won’t put you off from the style and will be a gentle entry into the wonderful world that is lambic.