Lambic beers

Generally, beer is made under controlled conditions and the brewer will do everything to keep all bacteria out of the fermenting wort except the yeast that he or she chooses to pitch in order to ferment the wort. But lambic beers are made by spontaneous fermentation. The unfermented wort is left in open vessels for wild yeast to settle in, multiply and ferment. Lambics also contain at least 30 per cent unmalted wheat. Strictly, the style is produced by only a handful of brewers in the Senne Valley, within 10 kilometres of Brussels. Lambic production has been tried elsewhere in Belgium, but has not produced beer of the same character. The microbiology of the breweries is not something that can be created in years, or possibly even decades.

Lambics are also unusual in that they are made with aged hops. Ageing hops (lambics use hops that are about three years old) reduces their flavor, but not their preservative qualities, which is why they are used in lambic beers. Stong hop flavors and wheat beers do not go well together. The brewing process is more or less standard until it comes to fermentation. The wort is run into large, shallow, open vessels. The windows of the brewery are left open and wild yeast blows in from outside or from within the brewery building and begins its magic. When fermentation is finished the beer is transferred to wooden barrels and left to mature for several years.

The brewing process produces a dry, earthy beer with sharp lactic characteristics and little carbonation. Tasting lambics for the first time can be a confronting experience!

Gueuze is a blend of old and new lambics that undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle. It is more delicate and carbonated than an unblended lambic and has a toasty aroma. Some gueuze is filtered, bottled and pasteurised, which results in a less-complex beer, but one that is easier to drink.

Faro is a lambic beer that has been sweetened. The bottled examples are filtered or pasteurised to kill or remove yeast and prevent the added sugar fermenting.

Kriek and Frambozen are lambics to which fruit, usually and traditionally cherries or raspberries, has been added for flavour or as extra fermentable sugar, or both. Most lambic brewers add the fruit fresh to the fermented wort when it is in the barrel maturing, so it takes some wild yeasts with it.

OG: 1.045 to 1.055. IBUs: 15 to 30. ABV: 3.5% to 6.5%


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