Lambic is a beer style that has been brewed in Belgium for centuries, and it continues to be one of the most distinctive and sought-after beers in the world.
Lambic is renowned for its tartness, complexity, and unique fermentation process, which uses wild yeasts and bacteria to create a truly unique beverage.
In this article, we’ll explore the history of lambic beer, its distinct flavor profile, and how it’s made.
What is Lambic?
Lambic is a unique and complex beer style that has been brewed in Belgium for centuries. It is usually described as tart, acidic, and funky, with a dry finish.
Lambic is spontaneously fermented, meaning it uses wild yeasts and bacteria to create a unique flavor profile instead of cultivated yeast varieties. This process produces beers with high levels of acidity and notes of barnyard funk, which can be off-putting to some but are beloved by beer aficionados.
The history of lambic beer can be traced back to the Middle Ages. The style was traditionally brewed in Belgium, particularly in the Pajottenland region near Brussels.
Lambic has been enjoyed by locals for centuries, but it didn’t gain international recognition until the late 1800s when Belgian brewers began exporting their beers around Europe and beyond. In recent years, lambic has made a resurgence in popularity due to its unique and complex flavor profile.
Sustainability and Future Potential
Lambic beers have a long history of being brewed in a sustainable manner, relying on wild yeasts to produce the beer without the addition of artificial ingredients.
Lambic brewers typically use locally sourced ingredients, often foraged from the local environment. This helps to reduce the environmental impact of production and ensures that quality ingredients are used in the beer.
Lambic Brewing Process
Lambic beer is brewed using just four main ingredients: barley malt, aged hops, water, and wild yeasts. The malted barley provides the sugars necessary for fermentation, while the aged hops provide a subtle bitterness. The water used in lambic brewing is typically sourced from local wells, as it is often deemed to contain the perfect combination of minerals for optimal fermentation.
Mashing is the process of converting starches in malted barley to fermentable sugars. This is done by soaking and heating the malt, which breaks down the carbohydrates and releases enzymes that convert them into simple sugars.
The mash temperature is important, as it affects the flavor and aroma of the beer. Traditional lambic brewers typically use a single-step mash, which involves mashing at a single temperature for an extended period of time.
Once the mash is complete, the liquid is drained and transferred to a boiling vessel, typically a traditional copper kettle. The boil time for lambic beers can range from several hours to several days.
During this time, the hops are added to provide bitterness and aroma, and boiled down until it reaches the desired sugar levels. Boiling also helps to sanitize the beer and kill off any unwanted bacteria or wild yeasts.
Cooling and Fermentation
Once the wort has been boiled, it is transferred to a cool ship, which is a shallow vessel made of copper or stainless steel. The cool ship allows the beer to cool overnight, and in this process, wild yeasts present in the air naturally begin to ferment the beer. This traditional method of fermentation can take up to several months and produces a unique flavor and aroma.
Blending and Bottling
Once the beer has finished fermenting, it is then ready to be blended. This allows brewers to create unique flavor profiles by blending multiple batches of lambic together.
This is often done with a mix of young and old lambics, which results in a smoother and more balanced flavor profile. The beer is then bottled and allowed to age for several months, resulting in a tart, funky and complex beer.
Varieties of Lambic
Traditional Lambic is the original style of lambic beer that has been brewed in Belgium for centuries. It is fermented with wild yeasts and bacteria, which give it a unique, tart flavor and aroma.
Traditional lambic beers are typically light in color and can range from 5-7% ABV. They are usually dry, sour and highly carbonated, with subtle notes of fruit, such as apple or pear.
Fruit Lambic is a variation of the traditional lambic beer style that has become increasingly popular in recent years. It is brewed using the same ingredients and process as a traditional lambic, but with the addition of fruit juice or purée during fermentation. This imparts subtle notes of fruit, such as apple, cherry, raspberry or blackberry, to the beer for an extra layer of complexity and flavor.
Faro Lambic is a type of Belgian lambic beer that is served sweetened with brown sugar or candy syrup. It has a lower alcohol content than traditional lambic, typically ranging from 2-3% ABV. The beer has a dark amber color, and its flavor can range from lightly sweet to tart and sour. Unlike other types of lambic, Faro is not spontaneously fermented and is typically blended from multiple lambic batches.
Gueuze Lambic is a distinct style of lambic beer that is created by blending one, two and three-year-old batches of lambic together. The blend of young and old beers creates a unique flavor profile, with notes of tartness balanced by fruity esters from the aged beer. Gueuze lamb ic beers are typically dry, highly carbonated and can range from 4-8% ABV.
Color, Aroma, and Flavor
Color: Lambic beers typically have a light to medium color, ranging from pale yellow to deep amber-brown. The color of the beer will depend on the type and amount of malt used in the recipe.
Aroma: Traditional lambic beers are known for their unique aroma, which is created by the wild yeast strains used during fermentation. They typically have notes of tartness, funk, and fruit, as well as subtle notes of earthiness, spice, and herbs.
Flavor: Lambic beers are tart and sour, with a balance of sweetness from the malt. They can also have subtler flavors of fruit, depending on the type of lambic beer being brewed.
Lambic beers have a distinctively high level of carbonation, which provides the beer with its signature tartness and effervescence. The carbonation is produced naturally during fermentation when wild yeasts present in the air cause sugars to convert into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Lambic beers are typically bottle conditioned, meaning that yeast is added back to the beer prior to bottling, which creates a secondary fermentation and additional carbonation.
Lambic beers are unique in that they can be aged for considerable lengths of time. During the aging process, flavors and aromas can develop and mature, resulting in a more complex beer.
Lambic brewers typically bottle condition their beers for several months before releasing them to allow the flavors to develop. Some lambic beers can even be aged for up to a decade, producing beers that are exceptionally complex and full-bodied.
Serving and Pairing Lambic
Lambic beers are best served in stemmed tulip glasses that help to retain the beer’s carbonation and aromas. The wide base of the glass allows for a fuller appreciation of flavor and aroma, and the curved bowl shape helps to direct the flow of carbonation toward your nose. These glasses also hold their temperature well, allowing you to enjoy your lambic at the perfect drinking temperature.
Temperature is an important factor when drinking lambic beers. The recommended temperature range for serving lambic beer is between 45-50°F (7-10°C). Serving the beer at this temperature helps to bring out the best of its flavors and aromas, while also helping to preserve its carbonation. It’s important to store lambic beers at a cool, consistent temperature to ensure that the beer maintains its quality over time.
Lambic beers are versatile and pair well with a variety of dishes, from light salads to rich stews. The tartness of lambic beers can help to balance out the spice and heat of chili, while their carbonation helps to cut through the greasiness of fried foods. They can also be used as an ingredient in sauces and marinades, or enjoyed alongside desserts like fruit tarts and chocolate cake.
Lambic beers are becoming increasingly popular among craft beer enthusiasts, and can be found in many bars and restaurants. The unique balance of tartness and fruity esters make them a great alternative to traditional ales or lagers.
Additionally, the fact that they can be aged for several years makes them an exciting beer to explore for both novice and experienced drinkers alike. As more breweries continue to experiment with the unique flavors of lambic, its popularity is sure to continue to grow.