A guide to lambic beer

Monday, February 6, 2023
Lambic beers are a traditional style of Belgian beer known for their sour and wild flavors. They are brewed using a unique process called "coolship," which involves cooling the hot wort (unfermented beer) in a shallow, open vessel called a coolship.

The coolship (koelschip) is placed overnight in the brewery, allowing wild yeast and bacteria from the air to 'inoculate' the wort, leading to spontaneous fermentation.

The cooled wort is then transferred to barrels where it ferments further and matures, developing the distinct sour and wild flavors that are characteristic of lambic beers.

The beer is then blended from multiple barrels and sometimes flavoured with fruit before being bottled or kegged. The coolship method is used only in the production of lambic beers and is what sets them apart from other types of beers.

Lambic beer originated in the Pajottenland region of Belgium, located just south of Brussels.

The style of beer has been produced in the area for hundreds of years and is thought to have developed from the local tradition of spontaneously fermenting beers. This style of beer-making is unique to the Pajottenland region and is what sets lambic beers apart from other types of beers.

The Pajottenland region is known for its favorable climate and the high concentration of wild yeast and bacteria in the air, which makes it an ideal location for producing lambic beers.

Today, lambic beers are considered a traditional style of Belgian beer and are highly regarded by beer enthusiasts around the world.

coolship fermentation for lambic beer

There are a few kinds of lambic beer:

Gueuze: This is a blend of one, two, and three-year-old lambics that are fermented in oak barrels. It is a dry, sparkling beer with a sour and funky flavor profile.
Kriek: This is flavored with cherries. It has a bright red color and a fruity, sweet and sour taste profile.
Framboise: This is a lambic beer that is flavored with raspberries. It has a reddish-pink color and a sweet and sour flavor profile with a fruity aroma.
Faro: This is a sweetened lambic beer that was popular in the 19th century. It is brewed with brown sugar and has a milder flavor profile compared to traditional lambic beers.
Other fruit lambics: There are other fruit flavored lambics such as peche (peach), cassis (black currant).

What foods go well with Lambic beers?

Lambic beers are typically highly carbonated and have a sour, wild, and funky flavor profile, making them an ideal pairing for a variety of foods. Some popular food pairings with lambic beers include:
  1. Cheese: The sour and funky flavors of lambic beers pair well with sharp and tangy cheeses, such as cheddar, goat cheese, and blue cheese.
  2. Seafood: The light and refreshing flavors of lambic beers make them a good match for seafood dishes, such as grilled or steamed shellfish, salmon, and other oily fish.
  3. Fruit: Lambic beers are often flavored with fruit, such as cherries or raspberries, and these flavors can complement the sweetness of fresh fruit or fruit-based desserts.
  4. Salad: The high acidity of lambic beers makes them a good pairing for salads, especially those with a tangy vinaigrette dressing.
  5. Spicy Foods: The sour and carbonated flavors of lambic beers can help to cut the heat from spicy foods and provide a refreshing contrast.
  6. Charcuterie: Lambic beers are a great pairing for cured meats, such as salami, ham, and prosciutto, as their sour and wild flavors can help to balance the richness of the meats.
Belgians have a fine brewing history (such as their contribution of the quadruple) and their breweries are well known - here's some of the more reputable ones that make lambic style beersies.
  • Brasserie Cantillon: This brewery, located in Brussels, is considered one of the premier producers of lambic beers. They are known for their Gueuze, which is a blend of young and old lambics that are aged for several years in oak barrels. This beer is known for its sour and funky flavor profile, as well as its high carbonation and dry finish.
  • Brouwerij Boon: This brewery, located in Lembeek, is known for its traditional lambic beers, including Gueuze and Kriek. Boon's Gueuze is made with a blend of one, two, and three-year-old lambics, and is known for its balanced sourness, effervescence, and complex flavor profile. Their Kriek, made with cherries, is known for its bright fruit flavour and dry finish.
  • Brasserie Lindemans: This brewery, founded in 1822 & located in Vlezenbeek is known for its fruit-flavored lambic beers, including Kriek, Framboise, and Pêche. Lindemans Kriek is made with cherries and has a bright fruit flavor, while their Framboise is made with raspberries and has a sweeter fruit flavor.
  • Brasserie 3 Fonteinen: This brewery, located in Beersel, is known for its traditional lambic beers, including Gueuze, Kriek, and Faro. Their Gueuze is a blend of young and old lambics, and is known for its sour and funky flavor profile. Their Kriek is made with cherries, and is known for its bright fruit flavor and dry finish.

What about the Belgian brewing laws?

There are Belgian laws regulating the use of the term "Lambic" for beers. 

The term "Lambic" can only be used for beers that are brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium, using a traditional brewing process that involves spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast. It's kind of like how only true Champagne comes from the region of the same name in France

The brewing process must also include the use of malted barley, unmalted wheat, and aged hops, and the beer must be fermented and aged in oak barrels.

Additionally, the term "Lambic" can only be used for beers that meet specific requirements for alcohol content, acidity, and pH levels, and must undergo rigorous quality control tests to ensure that they meet the standards set by the Belgian government.

These laws are in place to protect the traditional brewing methods and the reputation of Lambic beers, and to ensure that consumers are able to purchase high-quality, authentic lambic beers that have been brewed according to traditional methods.


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