My journey to sour salvation started on a summers afternoon back in 2013. I was propositioned a bottle of Boon Gueuze in the Broad Chare gastro pub, Newcastle by @pj and @sheriffmitchell it was a warm day and the bar itself was just slightly cooler than outside. Initially I repelled at the funkiness, that barnyard nose, but dove right in.
Instantly my first impression was the vinous like character that soaks your palette then bang! The dryness pulls right into those sour receptors – and for a newbie like me, the tartness was a real eye opener. I needed to get into this beer.
Over the next year or so I dabbled with a few bottles in shareouts and late night spending sprees – one I certainly remember was with Buxton’s head brewer Colin Stronge. It had been a heavy evening after a meet the brewer event at our local Brew Dog, we visited quite a few of Newcastle’s great beer bars till late in the evening. By that time all roads lead to The Free Trade Inn.
Colin opened my eyes to how a Gueuze was made, what it was fermented with, how it was blended from different aged lambics then aged. Most importantly that well oiled evening taught me to treat it like a wine not a straight forward beer. We went through Cantillon, Boon and a 3 Fountain – I loved the Boon Marriage Parfait but the Cantillon stood out, huge aroma and a lovely velvety not too astringent dryness that carries its sour funk like no other Gueuze.
Over the next year or so I saw Gueuze invigorating beer conversations and get togethers all over the UK. I had arranged an evening meet up for a couple of pints with @totalcurtis expecting us to regale the delights of Brodies all night (we did for half an hour) but the craft wankers soon showed their faces when we decided to share a large bottle of Horals Mega Blend in Craft Beer Co. Covent Garden.
I’m pretty sure that bottle got us involved in some beery banter with a group of Irish and American visitors to the pub, themselves all sour beer fans or soon to be converts.
During May 2015 the opportunity arose to pass through Belgium on the return journey of a road trip to see AC/DC play in Germany. When I realised we could fit in a visit to the famed Cantillon brewery during the week, plans were made for two nights in Brugges enabling us to take a day trip to Brussels.
Cantillon, founded in 1900, is situated in a slightly run down residential area in the Anderlecht part of the European capital. The brewery is off the normal tourist trail, but definitely on the Ale Trail!
Visitors enter through a large door right on the pavement. You step back in history when you cross that threshold. The same family still independently run the brewery as Brussels working museum of gueuze. Some of the equipment is over one hundred years old and the history is tangible.
You’re handed a little booklet and left to guide yourself through the various stages of Lambic production. The mash tun with its agricultural mechanicals, vessels linked by huge copper pipes, granary rooms bedecked in decade old cobwebs and the hand riveted copper coolingship in the eaves of the brewery where the magic happens
The cooling ship vessel holds 7500 litres of the hot wort, cooling of the wort happens at night during the winter months. There are louvres in the eaves which are opened or closed depending on wind direction to allow airflow over the liquid. This is when inoculation occurs. Wild airborne fermenting agents in the form of yeasts and bacteria initiate spontaneous fermentation i.e. the magic.
The wort then goes into wine casks for fermentation, a single batch fermentation is called a Lambic. The different Lambics are fermented for between 1 and 3 years, the different lambics each with their own detail and flavour nuances are expertly blended to produce a more complex fuller flavoured beer.
The younger lambics in the blend still having some residual sugar which allows for a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Once bottled the beer is laid down for at least a year. This allows CO2 to charge the blended lambics producing the lovely Geueze.
Enough of the science, time to get drinking it!
Its a great step in your beer knowledge and one worth persevering with if you don’t really “get it” first time. Share with friends, age your own collection, do side by side tastings and pair with food. Anything fatty and mustardy goes well with Gueuze as does cheese – lots of cheese!
Also don’t forget those fruit Lambics, not your sugary sticky beers, proper fruit lambics bring a shimmering sparkling summer orchard of berries and fruit to your taste buds!
Let the flavours develop, treat it like wine, try to pull out the different aromas and then taste it properly. Let the beer flood your palette, sense the age, the blending, try and draw out that magic and you’ll soon understand why sour beers are revered the world over and you will soon be part of that growing band of Gueuze lovers.