Some of the best classical music composers reuse their best material and not often due to lack of originality. Have you heard how repetitive works like Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ or Allegri’s ‘Miserere’ is?
And so I repeat a claim previously made, not due to any inkling of genius but because that is what this poetaster does best, and that is to recycle. Lambics taste like ladies. Some lambics/ladies taste better than others. Imagine my horror when my father, knowing I was excited to be back in the beery-foodie game said that I could bring back any beery leftovers to share. Shudder. No Dad, you can’t have my ladies and also, lambics are an acquired taste. Dad’s not a big beer drinker at all (he prefers wine) so my concern wasn’t prompted by snobbery but by my own first experience with sour beers.
Both Professor Pilsner and humble Ale Star Tsar Shandy still remember the scrunched-up face of distaste that was lambic virginal Gem. I said to Tris prior to this session that tasting lambics for the first time felt like someone forcibly holding me down and squeezing an entire lemon’s contents into my mouth, wrenched open.
Initially, it was not an experience I was particularly keen on replicating. It should be embarrassing (and they tease me mercilessly about it) but looking back, I’m actually pretty proud of how far my palate has come. Me and lambics are now truly friends. To continue with the overtly sexual conceit (fuck yeah lit nerdery), I can now hide my rude robbed-of-virginity face, though now everyone knows what my (beery…) orgasm face looks like.
Most of the folks at this evening were pretty well informed about sour beers, so this did allow Shandy to get into some more beer-nerd-tech aspects of lambic and its genesis. They are old, and according to our excruciating trivia questions, ‘lambic’ derives from Lembeek, assumed to have given this beer style its name. It also apparently means ‘lime creek’. It would have made my day if it actually meant ‘lemon’ creek given my predilection for the ladies (I can’t believe no one remembers this as slang for lesbian in primary school: showing my age, you say?).
First up, and probably my favourite of the evening was the Cantillon Bruocsella Grand Cru, brewed in Nov 2005 and bottled in Nov 2008 — because I know some of the more…pedantic among us were concerned.
My photographer was off-duty (read: a disorganised whatsit) so I had to resort to the Smartphone of Evil™ for my photos. The light wasn’t great so yes, the using of flash sin was committed this evening, and committed often. However, I had previously enjoyed this beer so have a better photo of it on my Flickr account.
Revisiting this lambic was a remarkably different experience to my first trial of it at the Slowbeer Cantillon showcase: it was smooth, not at all that sour and wine-like, which was actually one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. The beer was kept in a sherry cask hence its less blonde colour and its vinous aromatics. Virtually no carbonation and no head.
For our second beer, we had the privilege of Scott, the main brewer of Bright Brewery introduce his ‘Pinky Framboise’. My beer briefing sheet is absolutely covered in notes about this beer: it’s made with raspberries from a farm local to the brewery and they’d experimented with making a similar one based on wild blackberries! Mmm, wild blackberries…takes me back to visiting my lovely uncle who lived in Hertfordshire and used to let us pick blackberries from his garden to eat. Ah British childhood memories!
Argh, the beer! It wasn’t that tart, with a hint of bitterness that I did not initially attribute to hops, but the hop bitterness become more evident when the beer warmed. The beer was made when raspberries were in season and the one we had on the evening was, by the brewer’s admission, still a little young. Gorgeously fragrant in the best way possible, I think this is a beer to ride cider’s coattails. I really wish it had’ve been the sour beer to break my sour beer virginity.
Back to hearing our fave beery Scot talk, the third beer on our list was Brouwerij Boon’s Oude Gueuze.
(image is not mine and comes from UC Davis ChemWiki site)
I added the above image to illustrate how one measures levels of acidity and alkaline/basic substances. Water (roughly) has a pH of 7.
The Oude Gueuze has a pH of 2. That, my friends, makes it a really fucking sour beer and oh boy was it felt! Easily the beer my palate struggled with the most. It was pretty ‘rude’ on the nose and extremely lively on the palate. Ale Stars folks had some great tasting notes for this one: dry concrete, wet cardboard (oxidation), pineapple, sherbet. Beautiful, cream-foam head. Apparently aged in two hundred year old wine barrels (and these dudes have making it since the sixteenth century). Reprazent.
Lastly, a nice bookend to my personal lambic journey — started with a Cantillon I’d had before and ended with another: the Iris. Again, before the sour beer pedants get up in my grill, first things first: Iris’ maturation year is 2007 and any matured in 2007 were bottled in 2009. It’s one of the few unblended lambics that uses fresh hops. Funny that this seemed such shock to the tastebuds (again, at Slowbeer’s Cantillon showcase) but seemed quite, well, natural at this stage. It has a white foamy cottonwool-like head, a very carbonated mouthfeel, with antiseptic and metallic notes – none of those notes being unpleasant. A tad bitter initially not seeming to be hop-driven, but like the Pinky Framboise, once it warms up the bitterness is more evidently hop-related. Still, it’s mouth-puckering but a solid, smooth flavoured sour beer.
Though there are about one hundred different bacteria to be found in lambics, the three main suspects for making lambics the special whatsits that they are are Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and acetic acid bacteria. Erm, don’t read the lacto’s Wiki page too thoroughly…it’s present in some rather yonic places, it would appear. So yes, ‘bad’ bacteria can yield some good things. Unrelated to beer, I learnt just before going to this Ale Stars that sometimes really, really bad bacteria can save lives. In other cases, it can cause mirth within the Australian craft beer community, particularly when an uninvited bacterium gatecrashes. I’m sure Corey Worthington wouldn’t have minded…
Incidentally, even repetitive music when performed consummately is still hair-on-back-of-neck amazing. The same goes with beer, and these beers too. While I’ve had the pleasure of having had both the Cantillons offered at this night before, repeat performances remind you why you fell in love with them in the first place, or give you a chance to have them grow on you. The lambic love groweth and this was reflected by fellow Ale Star members, though given the aceness of Ale Stars in general (no, not myself, I’m a miscreant lapsed member now), it’s not a jot surprising.