Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Cider & her sour cousin Beer

Wild yeasts. Farmyards. 3rd generation family business. Fruit. Passion... you're thinking about Cider and I'm talking about beer, Lambic Beer. They are specialist beers brewed in Belgium and as much a beer as every other you drink, except its older in style and tastes like none of them.

Before you get your knickers in a twist, my justification about talking about Lambic beers on a cider and photography blog are these:

1. If its in a bottle and you pour it into a glass, you can photograph it -just like cider. ('He's such a pro' I hear you thinking)

2. They have a unique similarity with real ciders, that link being the flavours they derive from using wild yeasts. In a Venn diagram between beer and cider flavour, Lambics would sit in or very near the middle.

For the most part, they don't actually taste like cider but, for a beer, you might say they have a cider like quality - there are some definite similarities on the palate. It can a difficult style to enjoy, the Gueze probably the most difficult, so if you're keen, start with a fruit lambic and go from there.

What makes it 'Lambic' is that at the end of the brewing process, when the weary brewer wants to cool the beer, he does the exact opposite to what the rest of the brewing world do. He allows it to cool naturally exposed to the open air (some even open a window and let the wind blow over the beer) exposing it to all the shite the air can carry. All that warm sugar gives any and all wild yeasts the chance to dive in and have a slow dance. Bacteria even crash the party. Different organisms all work at different rates, taking individual metabolic pathways mostly fermenting their way along until the sugar is gone or the process is stopped. The result concoction benefits from the skill, patience and passion of an experienced artisan to carefully blend and age the beer (or cider) to bring out its best. Its tangy, refreshing, and unlike any other beer style. The wild yeasts in cider come from the skins of unwashed fruit colonised on the orchard floor or from inside the core itself where they became trapped inside the flower after germination. There are also the native yeasts living the cider house, the barrels etc all of whom have a role to play.

When introducing (non fruit based) lambics, known as Gueze in Belgium, to someone who has never braved them I set them up as 'The Jazz of Beer'- often difficult to understand but beguiling nevertheless. You hear alot of people describe the aroma as 'horsehair', 'farmyard' and 'vomit' -and other such undelightful whiffs.

Fruit Lambic is the same but whole fruit is added to it at the conditioning stage to flavour the beer, the most popular being Cherry. You've probably tried some, they are delicious and can be alot sweeter. The Knickerbocker-Gloriousness of Lindemans Kriek is an easy place to start, even if it is the least cidery! As is Mort Subite.

I really love English Ale and drink it regularly, but Belgium beers are so different and so good too (the Lambic family is a prime example.) In an obscene generalisation I going to say they're more luxurious, at least to an Englishman. Try them. Try them all. If you're a cider drinker, your liver can take it. Trust me, you really really won't regret it.

Here are some photos.


  1. Some constructive criticism, so don't take this for the rants of a hater please!

    1) Something from England is English, like your example of "English ale." Something from Belgium is Belgian, like "Belgian beer." "Belgium beer" is like "England ale."

    2) Rodenbach is a Flemish sour ale, not a lambic. It is made by an entirely different fermentation process.

    3) Lambic is the base beer made when spontaneous fermentation is complete, and it is typically quite flat. If one packages it in a thick-walled bottle and adds a "dosage" of something sweet, like sugar or fresh wort, and seals the bottle, it will condition in the bottle, and the result is gueuze. (Rather like English bottle-conditioned ale, isn't it?) If, instead of sugar, fruit is employed, the resulting beer often takes on the name of the fruit: Kriek for cherry, Framboise for raspberry, and so on.

    4) Lindemans is the largest of the lambic makers, but still just one of several, mostly concentrated in a region called the Payottenland, just west of Brussels. Some of these producers are very small, and their beers aren't easy to find even in their home region. Names to look for include Cantillon, Girardin, 3 Fonteinen, De Cam, Hanssens, and Mort Subite.

    As an aside, another beer style has something in common with lambic. It's called Gose, and is associated with the German cities of Leipzig and Goslar. Gose has a tart, lightly-sour (and sometimes not light at all!), lightly-spiced character, and may also appeal to cider drinkers. Germany also has a cider culture as well, based in Frankfurt am Main, where a range of specialist taverns serve the local Apfelwein ("apple wine"), worth seeking out for people interested in an interesting, and not widely known Continental variation on cider.


  2. Nice post Bill. I find it a divine coincidence that I brought home a Rodenbach tonight and end up reading this. I've always thought the same of sours. For me it is the acids and the tannin characteristics I love.