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If you were to think of a beer that had as much prestige as champagne, with a similar background and even shared similar characteristics, gueuze (literally pronounced "gur-ze") should come to mind. Born from the ingenuity of Belgian brewers and borrowing from the methods of champagne production, gueuze is a blend of different lambic beers. A blend? Indeed, gueuze is actually an unflavoured blend of both young and old lambic -young meaning around newly fermenting to 6mths old, and old meaning around 2 to 3 years old - with a secondary fermentation that occurs in the bottle to mature and mellow. The blending proportions vary, ranging from 15% to 70%. Young lambics tend to add a lactic character, while the old lambics add aroma and depth. Once blended, the gueuze is bottled in the same fashion as champagne, using strong bottles (with punt - that indent at the base of many wine and champagne bottles) and a cork and wire to secure and deal with the high pressure of carbonation. Once bottled, the gueuze is aged for a lengthy duration from anywhere up to 24 months, or even longer, at temperatures between 10 and 15ºC. This allows for maturation, with an end result of a highly sparkling carbonated beer (sometimes cloudy) and often crisp and dry with fruity-esters, sour, acidic or tart flavours. Gueuze beers are also typically light-bodied, lightly hopped and contain no malt sweetness. Alcohol by volume contents range from 5 to 6%.
Now you are probably asking "What the hell is a lambic?" Lambics are spontaneous fermented wheat beers, meaning that the brewer does not add yeast to the beer directly, but rather they let nature take its course with the beer. The process of introducing free-floating wild yeast and bacteria creates a most unique beer that is bubbly, tart and dry. A traditional lambic is brewed with both malted and raw unmalted grains. The hops used are generally aged/stale, and not too bitter so as to not disturb the delicate flavour of the beer. After the mash and boil, the wort (unfermented beer) is traditionally pumped up to a cooling vessel, usually at the top of the brewery, where it is exposed to the open air. Once cooled to the appropriate temperature, the beer is then drawn in to wooded barrels and fermentation takes place.
At first glance a typical lambic brewery might look real filthy - with cobwebs and dust everywhere - yet this is the natural environment where the spiders take care of the nasty insects (who want the sweet brew) and where the wild airborne yeast and bacteria invade the beer. To dust off a barrel, or disturb a spider's web, is something the brewer does not consider - hell, this might disrupt the circle of lambic brewing and perhaps change the beer for the worse!
How can I get some?
You can find many imported lambics and fruit lambics throughout the US, and many US breweries might even brew a lambic-style beer on occasion. However, you won't find many stateside breweries crafting a gueuze, and you might find gueuze a bit tougher to find on the shelves. For your convenience we compiled the following short list of gueuze beers available in most areas, or rather ones we have seen recently:
- Jacobins Gueuze from Brouwerij Bockor N. V.
- Boon Gueuze from Brouwerij Boon
- Cantillon Gueuze from Brasserie Cantillon
- Oude Gueuze from Hanssens Artisinnaal
- Cuvèe Renè from Brouwerij Lindemans
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How to serve?
When you purchase your gueuze, ensure that you serve it slightly chilled, and decant it into a proper glass - a champagne or similar flute shaped glass will do. As gueuze beers are bottle conditioned they will contain residual yeast at the bottom, so you will want to pay attention to the pour. Storing your bottle undisturbed in the fridge for a short period will allow the yeast to settle out and compact neatly at the bottom. Uncork, pour slowly and enjoy!
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