Tag Archives: beer

The Lambics


Out of the entire catalog of Belgian Beers, there is one category that mystifies me. And being born and bred in the United States, where beer ignorance is part of a national DNA, I hadn’t even heard of this style of beer until I was way past my thirties. I am speaking the Lambics, of course; a style of beer noted for its ties to beers historical roots, what with its emphasis on open-air, spontaneous fermentation, as well as the wacky notion that beer tastes better after it ages in a cask.  As we come from a culture where mega-breweries harp on the idea of “freshness dating”, the fact that there are good to great beers out there that requires 1-3 years of aging before it gets its optimal taste is unique in the worlds where Budweiser and Coor’s reign supreme.

What the lambics are, in my opinion, is evidence that the marketing arms of industrial breweries are full of it.  For every claim of freshness, for every claim of precision in brewing, lambics demonstrate an exception.

Their are several varieties of lambics out there, from the pure lambic and the fruit lambics, to krieks, and something called gueuze, an oddity so different from what one thinks of beer, that the folks at the Good Beer Guide to Belgium describes it thusly:

Your first encounter…(with oude gueze)…can be astonishingly awful. It may make you want to send it back immediately, but then persuades you to hold on for just another mouthful. Having soldiered through the bottle and awarded  yourself a gold rosette for adding painfully to your knowledge of  brewing history, it should make you vow neer to try it again. Then order another just in case you got it wrong….After your third you will never think about beer in the same way again.

It’s this sort of talk that gets me all hot and bothered about how it tastes and what it represents.  A well-made gueuze is seen as the apex of brewing; the golden fleece; the beer that’s kept in hiding until that one special moment in one’s life that calls for something  both wonderful and unique.

The beers are not just unique to the beer world, they’re unique to Belgium, with most coming from an area just to the west/south-west of Brussels, in an area called The Pajottenland, in a region of land that’s only a little larger than the size of Brussels itself. This is a theme we’ll run into again and again with Belgian Beers – namely, how can an area so small (Belgium is comparible in size to the state of Maryland) do so much with beer?

What Are the Belgian Beers?

My plans include an itinerary of sorts, but not one of places to visit, but rather beers to drink.  So, in order to do that, we need a list of what beers we are actually talking about when we talk about “Belgian Beers”.

At the bare minimum, we are talking about the following categories, as listed in the Beer Judge Certification Program.


Belgian and French Ale

  1. Witbier
  2. Belgian Pale Ale
  3. Saison
  4. Bière de Garde
  5. Belgian Specialty Ale

Sour Ales

  1. Flanders Red Ale
  2. Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin
  3. Straight (Unblended) Lambic
  4. Gueuze
  5. Fruit Lambic

Belgian Strong Ale

  1.  Belgian Blond Ale
  2.  Belgian Dubbel
  3. Belgian Tripel
  4. Belgian Golden Strong Ale
  5. Belgian Dark Strong Ale

This isn’t a perfect categorization, to be honest, but it is a good place to start.  We have three categories (Ales, Strong Ales, and Sours) with five varieties under each.  This gives me some direction as to how to plan the trip as its to be a nine day trip. With three categories, this, at first glances gives me three days apiece for each category, with room for crossovers.  It won’t be enough for an in-depth exploration of each category, but it will provide just enough time to get a good sense of the what the types are and the culture that comes with them.


New Topic: Belgium and its Beers

I should come clean. I haven’t given the topic of pilsners the due respect it deserves.  But honestly? I couldn’t think of anything to do with it aside from more taste tests, and since I’ve been overkilling on that idea with the gins, there was no clear path that I could go down that interested me enough to explore.  So I’ve set that topic aside for the time being, hopefully to revisit when it is appropriate to do so.

This leaves an opening for other topics to explore , and, thanks to the miracles that are frequent flyer miles, I’ve decided that I can afford a trip to Belgium, and that I should focus on Belgium’s beers in order to have more first hand experiences for the book I’ve been researching, writing, and trying to sell, over the past three years.

So, this means a new topic, entitled “Belgium and its beers”. I’ll try to keep you abreast of my behind the scenes experiences in covering this topic, and hopefully it will make for some interesting writing and reading.

And, as an added bonus, as I’ve already have tried what is arguably the best beer in the world, I’m under no pressure nor obligation  to focus my energy on that, although I’ll probably try to head their visitor center, if only to see what it’s like.

The American Beer Revival

[ylwm_vimeo height="480" width="640"]34050720[/ylwm_vimeo]

Yes, another Vimeo video. However, this is a test, as I’m trying to see how to connect such a video to a spotlight position.

There is an additional bonus here, as the data in the vimeo video shows how a few motivated individuals can reshape  a corporate landscape. The future of American enterprise lies somewhere within the model that the craft brewers have shown us.

How Indie Brewers are Outpacing Beer Industry Growth

Via ColumnfiveMedia, a brief infographic on where the craft beer movement is today.

Youtube Find: What is a Pilsner?

A brief, yet succinct overview of what exactly is a pilsner, brought to you by the fine folks at maltminute.com and Penn Brewery (located in my hometown of Pittsburgh!).

The Pilsner Hops


There are many variables that shape one variety of beer over another. From fermenting styles to the types of barley used, to types of adjuncts added,  to what kind of yeast is “thrown into the pot”, a change to any one  of these variables is sure to bring out something different.

For pilsners, one of the primary characteristics comes from the hops used to help bitter/flavor the beer. It’s not necessarily the only variable considered, but it is one of the first. For Pilsners, this means use of the noble hops.

Actually, I need to expand on that a bit, because there are two types of noble hops. The first type is your classic continental noble hops, generally recognized to include the following:

  • Hallertauer An aroma-type cultivar which originated in Germany. Good in recipes for European-style lagers, with its mild spicy flavor and aroma. (alpha acid: 3.5-5.5% / beta acid: 3.5-5.5%)
  • Saaz: Saaz is the traditional noble hop for true pilsner beer. (average alpha acid: 3.0%)
  • Spalt Select: Aroma based cultivar, grown in Germany in the Hallertau and Spalt areas and in the U.S.A. in Washington State. (alpha acid: 3.5-5.5% / beta acid: 3.0-4.5%)
  • Tettnang Tettnang is an aroma-type cultivar which originated in Germany and is now also grown in the U.S.A. in Oregon and Washington State. It is said to be ideal for lagers and wheat beers. The German variety of this hop has a fine, pure aroma, that is not present in United States version. (alpha acid: 4.0-5.0% / beta acid: 3.5-4.5%)

There is, however, a group of hops called the modern noble crosses. They inlcude:

  • Crystal: Aromatic. Very popular in the craft-brewing industry, and often used in Pilsners, Lagers, Koslsches, ESB’s, and Belgian-Style Ales. (alpha acid: 4.0-6.0% / beta acid: 5.0-6.7%)
  • Liberty: An aroma-type cultivar. (alpha acid: 3.5-4.5% / beta acid: 3.0-3.5%)
  • Ultra: A relatively new cultivar, a near clone of a German variety Hallertauer. (alpha acid: 4.5-5.0% / beta acid: 3.6-4.7%)

The primary purposes of any hops is to do one or two things – add flavor and/or add aroma.  From a pilsner perspective these hops should provide a flavor that can be somewhat bitter, but not overly so. When it comes to pilsners, flavors from hops should be present, and can range from everywhere between subtle to strong,  but it does have to remain in balance, with no one ingredient defining the characteristic of the beer.  However, the aroma should be distinct, and in line with the smells of the hops mentioned above. I’ll explore this in more depth when I talk about each individual variety.

So why do pilsners use these hops? Two reasons: One – they work, meaning that when they are used properly, they create a distinct, tasty beer. Two – tradition, at least for the German and Bohemian variety of pilsners. And when I say “tradition”, what I mean is that, historically speaking, these hops worked well in the beers made with the water found in those areas where pilsners thrived.

The classic American pilsner is a bit different in its regard to its usage of  noble hops, because, as with almost every American beer that comes with a German heritage, tradition wasn’t the driving force as much as trying to find ingredients which could create a reasonable facsimile of what they knew of beer from back home. This included breeding and splicing hop shoots in order to get the flavors required/desired to get something resembling a pilsner. This is an over-simplification of American hops history, but I think you get the general idea.

More to the point, when you think Pilsners, you need to think “noble hops”, either of the classic variety or the modern variety. Any other kind runs the risk of creating a beer that is notably not pilsner-like.

So again- Pilsners = noble hops.

It’s not the only defining characteristic, but it should be the first thought of when someone says “pilsner, please”.