Traditional Lambic: The Queen of Naturalness

Lambic is unlike most beers. While most brewers don’t like to leave things up to chance, Lambic producers don’t select any yeasts. They work with spontaneous fermentation and aging in wooden barrels. This beer is entirely a work of nature.

The first traces of the Lambic recipe date back to 1516.

Nowadays, Lambic beer survives but is still quite rare. Only two breweries produce it according to the traditional method. You can get to taste it at Cheese at the workshop The Queen of Naturalness on the 16th of September.

Traditional Lambic Beer Presidium was established with Slow Food Brussels convivium and Patrick Böttcher, the Presidium’s coordinator. Patrick started his Slow Food adventure with natural wine, but slightly after widened it to beer and food. 

Patrick Böttcher, the Traditional Lambic Presidium’s coordinator

How would you describe the taste of it to someone who has never tried it?

“The taste of Lambic is certainly one of the most characteristic flavors in the world of beer. Because of spontaneous fermentation and the long aging in wooden barrels, the final taste will be under the influence of many living factors. The result is the union of various natural yeasts and bacteria combined with the ability of assembly of the brewer master.

There is not one flavor but so many flavors that we can find through various production styles and various brewers.

Lambic’s taste is just how our grandfathers knew the beer seventy years ago. If we must define a taste, we may say that all the previously described factors give an acidulous taste and a great complexity of flavors which remain for twenty years or more.

According to the producers: honey, apple and toasted bread notes close to those that one finds in a chardonnay of Burgundy. Moreover, Lambic is generally little or non-sparkling, which essentially makes it different from a great majority of beers as we know today.”

Many believe that the first depiction of lambic is in the painting “Peasant Wedding” by the famous painter Pieter Bruegel.

The first Lambic recipe dates back to the sixteenth century. The traditional recipe involves specific rules and does not allow for any pasteurization, chemical substances, addition of sugar and artificial flavorings.

With the seasonal wild yeasts of Belgium’s Pajottenland in the Zenne valley, each bottle ends up being unique and rare. True Lambic can’t be produced anywhere else than this very specific region.

Is it a very common practice to add artificial flavorings and aromas to commercially produced Lambic beers?

“As for many other historical beers, there is an enormous difference between industrial Lambic beers (Mort Subite, Belle Vue) and real artisanal ones (Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, Tilkin).

We used the word “Traditional” for the Slow Food Presidium. This was indeed to make a clear difference between industrial Lambic beers produced with artificial flavorings, aromas and supplemented sugars with the traditional ones where it’s strictly forbidden to add anything to the whole process (except lactic acid by some brewers).”

 

The wort is pumped at 18°C into oak or chestnut wood barrels. Spontaneous fermentation is active and visible at the start, and slows naturally. The sugars are transformed into alcohol within three years.

Before you taste Lambic, you need to clear all the preconceptions about beer from your mind. This is a flat beer since carbon dioxide is released from the barrel during fermentation. The end product is close to cider or sherry while the production process is closer to winemaking than brewing.

What kind of cheese would you pair it with?

“Certainly with raw milk Herve cheese and Hesbaye pear and apple marmalade, which are two other Presidia from Belgium. The other perfect pairing is the famous French Comté. I also personally like to drink Lambic with Belgian cow’s Tome.”

What do you think about the event Cheese?

“Cheese is an essential event for all those who are living with the “slow” spirit. Cheese is certainly one of the most essential products to keep our traditions alive, in respect with the producers. Actually, we are organizing a great slow fair in Brussels at the same time of the forthcoming edition of Cheese!”

Patrick is organizing “Vini, Birre, Ribelli”, a fair that marries the world of natural wine with artisanal beer and Slow Food.

Buket Soyyilmaz

b.soyyilmaz@slowfood.it

Cheese is offering two other workshops on beer:

Herbs and Spices and the Art of Brewing on the 15th of September

Pleasure of Beer on the 17th of September

 

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