From Belgium with love: Lambics
Can beer be romantic?
Think about it. If you’re trying to impress a girl on a date, you go right for the wine. But (yawn) so does everybody else. If you really want to slay her, try ordering a goblet of Framboise, a Belgian Lambic beer aged with raspberries. Chances are she’s never tasted anything quite like it.
Fruit Lambics come flavored with Cherry (Kriek), Raspberry (Framboise), and more recently peach (Peche) and blackcurrant (Cassis). You can also get unflavored Gueuze, tongue-mangling in both name and flavor. They’re hard to find in bars, but readily available at specialty beer stores.
Straight Lambic is an extremely dry, sour, cidery brew which originates from the region around the town of Lembeek (which is near Brussels, but so’s everything else in Belgium). It’s only served in a few cafes in the capital and around the region.
Despite the efforts of breweries on this side of the pond, the flavor of Lambic is irreproducible, due to the key role that geography plays in the beer’s fermentation process.
After the Lambic wort is boiled, the unique yeast native to that small Belgian region is introduced through a method that would make strait-laced German brewers cringe. The liquid is left out in the open air, so the airborne yeast, along with other assorted microorganisms, can settle in naturally.
Afterward, the wort is transferred into old wooden barrels, creating the only possible environment for Lambic. When done, and after a couple of years’ maturation, the beer tastes light, tart and acidic. Its mouth feel is comparable to champagne. If the batch is to be a fruit Lambic, the appropriate produce (or fruit syrup for the more bottom-line oriented producers) is added into the barrel.
The resulting beer is an intricate blend of Lambic’s tart vibrancy and the color, aroma, and sweetness of fruit. A good Kriek, such as Lindemann’s, pours a deep ruby red, with a persistent light pink head. Predictably, it smells like cherries, the sweet flavor of which is mellowed by the acidity of the beer. It’s not cloying, yet just intense enough to make a great dessert beer. It’s fantastic with dark chocolate.
Framboise and Kriek are the two traditional, old-school fruit Lambic types. The other flavors are the creation of marketing personnel and, while not bad, just lack that aura of authenticity. They’re made with cheaper fruit syrups instead of the raspberries and sour cherries straight from the Belgian fields.
Although Lindemann's is the most widely imported brand, and the only one you’ll probably ever find on draft in the USA, several other producers export to this area. They’re all small operations, and the flavors can vary greatly in tartness, sweetness and intensity.
Now granted, this isn’t manly bachelor party brew. You’re not going to see rappers swigging it on MTV, and rarely will some dude roll up on his Harley for a couple of Peches. Most beer geeks view Lambic as an occasional indulgence at best and it finds favor with a primarily female audience. However, it can be an excellent choice for celebration and an expression of creativity as a party gift. Mark even serves Kriek instead of champagne on New Year’s Eve.
And, for drinkers of sweeter cocktails, the beautiful, richly-colored Framboise is a great introduction to the world of beer. There’s no hop taste to get used to (hops are present, but only as a preservative, aged beyond the point where their flavor is evident), and the fruity essence is welcoming and refreshing. That, and their visual appeal, makes elegantly-served Lambic absolutely unique among beers.
So next time you’re out on that big date, swing by a bar that serves Lambic (Monty’s Korner and The Old Toad frequently carry it), or pick up a bottle at Beers of the World. If you’re back at your place, serve it in champagne flutes. Then watch her eyes go wide.
And remember to send us a thank-you card.
Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org