Tag Archives: beer culture

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?

The American Beer Revival

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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.

Pubs vs. Bars vs. Clubs vs. Taverns

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I am fond of drinking establishments. It would be odd, as a writer of a book covering whisky, if I did not have at least some affection for these sorts of locations.

What’s striking to me is how distinctive my needs are for these sorts of places. Or rather, how many places out there cannot meet these needs. Because, when I examine them, these characteristics that I am looking for in a watering hole are, while distinctive, are still quite easy to meet. They are, in no particular order:

  • The establishment must create a sense of community. I’m not saying that the drinking place must be an upstanding member of the chamber of commerce or members of the local Fraternal Order of Moose. Instead, these places need to illicit a feeling within the customer that they are part of something special. And by customers, I mean all customers, regardless of age, gender, or social status.
  • The place in question must not be intimidating. It must be warm and inviting.
  • Finally, it must be a place of celebration, or of laughter. Typically if the other two items are met, this third one will happen by default. But sometimes not, so it is worth mentioning.

What amazes me when it comes to bars, pubs, clubs, and taverns, is how many fail to meet these three items. This suggests to me, as a simple observer, and one who has routinely dismissed any idea of running such an establishment, that either it’s quite difficult to hit these marks, or that owners have no idea that these are desirable traits in their business, or that they simply do not care to cater to those who want that out of their social drinking experience.

We see this last point demonstrated in many places. Clubs ( who, almost by definition, seek to exclude) are typically the worst offenders of this, seeking to market themselves to a select clientele, be they under-25 supermodels and celebrities, or white males over the age of 65 who hide out in their Eagles, Elks or other similar social clubs . I’m not stating that such exclusion is improper, only that such exclusions exist and should be noted.

And let’s not kid ourselves. There are some places out there who accomplish their exclusivity through sheer intimidation. This can be and is still done intentionally, in many locations. One need to only be of the wrong race, or gender, or have the wrong sexual preference to see this up front, and at times, in your face. In a great majority of the drinking establishments throughout the United States, the straight male rules the roost.

But intimidation comes in other forms as well, sometimes without the owners even realizing. Everything from liquor and beer selection to where the bar is located is enough to get a place labeled as “snobby” or “elite”. There are times when nothing will run out a customer faster than to not have their beer selection available to them, be it Guinness, Duvel, or Budweiser.

As I get older, bolder, and wiser, I find myself no longer willing to settle for places that seek to exclude, even if I meet whatever unspoken requirement needed to stay at these locations. And in my travels, I have found that, for the most part, those places that call themselves “pubs” rather than bars or clubs, meet my needs.

I find this peculiar for a variety of reasons, with the first being that this is not a hard and fast rule. There are bad pubs in America, just as there are cozy bars and taverns. Secondly, Pubs, at least from a legal definition, are bars. Let’s make no mistake here. The fact that owners of these “pubs” have called them as such demonstrates to me how important it was to differentiate these places from the bars, clubs, and taverns. Yet many of these self proclaimed pubs are often based, not on actual British or Irish pubs, but rather on the American idea of what a British or Irish pub is or should be. In essence, many of these pub owners have taken the traditional pub ideal, and have created places that are similar, yet they are distinctive enough to be their own entity.

And now that I reflect upon it, the taverns here in Washington State (where ‘tavern’ has a definitive legal meaning that marks them differently that bars and clubs) seem to have more in common with British and Irish Pubs in terms of substance and feel than the British and Irish pubs that dot our American landscape. Note to self: research this for a later post.

That aside, there seems to be a concerted effort on “pub” owners here in the States to create a sense of community amongst its patrons. Some bars do this as well, and they need to be commended for this as much as anyone else. But in my experience, if one is looking for those three items listed above, the odds of finding them in a self-proclaimed “pub” seem higher than finding them at any other drinking establishment.