Lambic beers are a unique style of beer that offers a truly distinct and intriguing flavour profile. In this article, we will dive deep into the world of lambic beers, understanding the brewing process, exploring the history behind this ancient beverage, and discovering the various styles and flavors that make lambic beers so special. Whether you're a seasoned beer aficionado or a curious newcomer, join us on this journey as we uncover the secrets and flavours of lambic beers.
Understanding Lambic Beers
The History of Lambic Beers
Before we delve into the brewing process and flavours of lambic beers, let's take a step back in time and explore the rich history behind this unique style. Lambic beers have their roots in the Belgian region of Pajottenland, where they have been brewed for centuries. Dating back to the 13th century, lambic beers have a long-standing tradition that continues to this day.
The brewing of lambic beers was initially driven by the natural resources of the region. The water, wild yeast, and the specific microclimate of Pajottenland played a crucial role in the creation of this distinct beer style. The region's water, sourced from local wells and rivers, had a unique mineral composition that added to the complexity of lambic beers.
Furthermore, the wild yeast responsible for fermentation in lambic beers, known as Brettanomyces bruxellensis, is found naturally in the air of Pajottenland. This serendipitous presence of wild yeast allowed the local brewers to embrace spontaneous fermentation, a process that would define lambic beers and set them apart from other beer styles.
Lambic breweries were small, family-run operations, with each brewer adding their own unique touch to the brewing process. The recipes and techniques were passed down from generation to generation, ensuring the preservation of the traditional lambic brewing methods.
Throughout history, lambic beers faced challenges such as competition from other beer styles and the impact of wars and industrialization. However, thanks to a dedicated group of Belgian brewers and the rising popularity of craft beer worldwide, lambic beers have experienced a resurgence in recent years. Today, lambic beers are celebrated for their historical significance and distinct flavours, attracting beer enthusiasts from around the globe.
The Brewing Process of Lambic Beers
One of the most fascinating aspects of lambic beer production is the brewing process itself. Unlike other beer styles that rely on specific yeast strains, lambic beers undergo a process known as spontaneous fermentation. This means that the wort, the liquid extracted from malted barley, is exposed to wild yeast and bacteria present in the air. This allows for a natural fermentation process and contributes to the unique flavors and characteristics of lambic beers.
The brewing process of lambic beers begins with the mashing of malted barley, where hot water is added to the grains to extract their sugars. After the mashing process, the liquid, known as wort, is transferred to a large, shallow vessel called a coolship. The coolship is typically made of copper and has a large surface area, allowing the wort to cool down and be exposed to the wild yeast and bacteria in the air.
As the wort cools, it becomes a breeding ground for microorganisms, including Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and various lactic acid bacteria. These microorganisms start the fermentation process by consuming the sugars in the wort and converting them into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
After the wort is exposed to the wild yeast in open fermentation vessels called coolships, it is then transferred to large oak barrels for fermentation and maturation. These barrels, some of which are decades old, add another layer of complexity to the beer, imparting flavors from the wood and previous batches. The porous nature of the oak allows for slow oxygenation, which further contributes to the unique characteristics of lambic beers.
The brewing process of lambic beers is not a quick one. Unlike other beer styles that can be brewed in a matter of weeks, lambic beers require months and even years of aging to develop their flavors fully. During this aging process, the wild yeast and bacteria continue to work their magic, transforming the beer into a complex and tart beverage. The flavors evolve over time, with younger lambics exhibiting brighter fruit flavors, while older ones develop deeper, funkier characteristics.
It is this extended aging process that sets lambic beers apart from other traditional beer styles. The patience and dedication required to brew lambic beers are what make them truly special. Each sip is a taste of history, a testament to the craftsmanship and artistry of the Belgian brewers who have kept this ancient brewing tradition alive.
The Unique Flavours of Lambic Beers
The Role of Spontaneous Fermentation
Spontaneous fermentation is a crucial element in the creation of lambic beers and plays a significant role in shaping their unique flavours. The wild yeast and bacteria present in the air during the brewing process contribute to the complex and often sour taste of lambic beers.
Although the idea of wild yeast and bacteria may sound unappealing, the result is a beer that offers a wide range of flavors, from funky and tart to complex and fruity. The flavours produced by spontaneous fermentation can vary depending on factors such as the time of year, the specific location of the brewery, and the individual brewing techniques employed.
The Impact of Fruit Additions
In addition to spontaneous fermentation, another factor that contributes to the unique flavours of lambic beers is the addition of fruit. Lambic beers can be aged on various fruits, such as cherries, raspberries, and apricots. These fruit additions not only add vibrant colours to the beer but also infuse it with their distinct palette and aromas.
The use of fruit in lambic beers can range from subtle to bold, depending on the brewer's preference. Some lambic beers showcase a subtle hint of fruit, while others have a more pronounced and intense fruit character. This variety in fruit additions further expands the already diverse world of lambic beer characteristics.
Popular Lambic Beer Styles
Gueuze Lambic Beers
A popular style of lambic beer is gueuze. Gueuze is a blend of young and old lambic beers, offering a complex taste profile. With its effervescent carbonation and a balance between tartness and fruity sweetness, gueuze lambic beers are a delight to the palate. The aging process of gueuze can range from a few months to several years, allowing for a wide range of flavour profiles within this style.
Kriek Lambic Beers
Another well-known style of lambic beer is kriek. Kriek lambic beers are aged on cherries, resulting in a delightful combination of sourness from the lambic base and the natural sweetness of the cherries. The addition of cherries gives this beer a beautiful ruby-red colour and a pronounced fruity aroma. Kriek lambic beers are often enjoyed as a refreshing and slightly tart beverage.
Tasting and Pairing Lambic Beers
How to Properly Taste Lambic Beers
When it comes to fully experiencing the unique flavours of lambic beers, proper tasting techniques are essential. Start by pouring the beer into a tulip-shaped glass to capture and enhance the aromas. Take a moment to observe the colour, clarity, and carbonation level of the beer.
As you take your first sip, let the beer coat your palate and appreciate the initial flavours. Pay attention to the sourness and tartness, the fruit character, and any other unique notes that emerge. Allow the beer to unfold and evolve as you savour each sip.
Food Pairings for Lambic Beers
The distinct flavours of lambic beers open up a realm of possibilities when it comes to food pairings. The tartness and acidity of lambic beers make them a fantastic match for a variety of culinary delights. Here are a few pairing suggestions to enhance your lambic beer experience:
- Oysters or other types of seafood
- Soft cheeses, such as Brie or Camembert
- Fruits, especially cherries, raspberries, or apricots
- Duck or other game meats
- Dark chocolate desserts
Experiment with different pairings to find the combinations that best suit your taste preferences. The interplay between the flavours of the beer and the food can create a memorable dining experience.
Where to Find and Buy Lambic Beers
Best Breweries for Lambic Beers
If you're eager to explore the flavours of lambic beers, there are several Belgian breweries renowned for their exquisite offerings. Some of the top breweries known for their lambic beers include:
These breweries produce a wide range of lambic beers, from traditional Gueuze and Kriek styles to innovative variations. It's worth seeking out their beers to experience the full diversity of lambic flavours.
Online Sources for Lambic Beers
If traveling to Belgium to sample lambic beers from these renowned breweries is not feasible, fear not! There are plenty of online sources that offer an extensive selection of lambic beers.
Krafty have a wide range of lambic beers available to purchase online, with UK wide shipping. For our international readers, your local craft beer shop will offer a selection of lambic beers for you to purchase.
Exploring the unique flavours of lambic beers is a journey filled with history, craftsmanship, and a wide spectrum of tastes. From the intriguing brewing process of spontaneous fermentation to the vibrant fruit additions, lambic beers offer a world of flavours waiting to be discovered.
Whether you prefer the complexity of Gueuze or the fruity delight of Kriek, there is a lambic beer to suit every palate. By understanding the brewing process, appreciating the flavours, and exploring the many styles available, you can embark on a truly immersive and delicious adventure into the world of lambic beers.