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What is lambic and how to make spontaneous fermentation beer

Lambic is one of the best and most sophisticated styles of beer. Kat Thompson talks about his taste and production process in an article in Thrillist magazine. Pivo publishes a translation of the material.

Lambics have something in common with blue cheese or fish sauce. At least that’s what Kevin Martin, director of production at the Cascade Brewing brewery in Portland (one of the most famous suppliers of sauers and fruit beer on the West Coast of the United States) believes. And no – this is not because its smell and taste are as specific as these products (although some lambics are described as having a smack of cheese or mold). The fact is that, like many good things, you need to get used to them.

“Lambics are known for their characteristic taste. You can find shades of straw, cheese, mold and even cider in it, ”explains Martin. – To describe them, people use slightly confusing words, such as “farm” … doesn’t sound very attractive. But actually the taste of this beer is very complex and unique. ” That is why drinking lambics is much more interesting than lagers or IPA – you can never be sure of what is hidden in a particular bottle.

As breweries develop sauers, and consumers become more and more interested in rare varieties, lambics with their complex and multi-layered taste become an indispensable item in the list of styles that are worth a try.

So what is a lambic?
As for what can be called a real lambic, opinions differ. Someone associates this name with the region of the same name, as is the case with champagne, which is produced in the French region of Champagne (everything else is sparkling wine). At the same time, a substantial legal justification of why the same should apply to lambics is missing.

“Out of respect for tradition, a specific set of rules was agreed upon,” says Martin. “Therefore, most bottles labeled“ lambic ”will indeed come from Belgium, or rather, from Flanders.”

How to cook lambics?
The creation of lambics is an ancient tradition. It is based on the so-called “spontaneous fermentation”, which distinguishes lambics from most other styles. Spontaneous fermentation is a process in which a heated wort, which is essentially an unfermented base for a lambic, is left in a cooler (a huge open tub) to cool. At the same time, various microorganisms from the environment enter the wort.

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“If you make a stout, IPA or lager, you usually brew beer first and then use a yeast strain bought in the lab – the one strain that allows you to get a predictable result,” Martin explains. That is how Cascade Brewing makes its beer – that is why Martin, who was in Belgium and saw the process of creating traditional lambics, in no way considers his beer a lambic. “Spontaneous fermentation is an old method that was used thousands of years ago. You simply heat a mixture of wheat or oats with water, and then expose it to the open air. ”

Does a lambic necessarily have to be brewed in Belgium?
Belgian brewers do not believe that lambics can be made outside of Belgium. This lambic is created in the valley of the Senna River, where seasonal wild yeast gives this original Belgian beer a unique taste. But even though the term “lambic” is protected, brewers in different countries still try to repeat this ancient method.

“Can this product be produced in America, or the microflora in Brussels and its environs makes it truly unique, and can only be made there? Asks Andrew Holzhauer, production director at Funk Factory Geuzeria. “I was not 100% sure of this, and so I decided to check whether such beer can be brewed in our country.”

Together with other American brewers, he met with representatives of the Belgian Lambic Producers Association (HORAL) to create labels that American breweries can use to observe the very strict rules for creating lambic. The special term Méthode Traditionnelle was coined – if you see it on a bottle, it means that this lambic beer was prepared using the same methods that have been used in Belgium for many centuries, but not in Belgium itself. American brewers do not call their beer “lambic”, but “lambic beer” or “spontaneous fermentation beer”.

“Spontaneous fermentation” sounds serious. How can brewers be sure of the quality of each batch?
The very process of creating lambics implies that each batch will be different from the previous one, because it is impossible to control the ingress of microorganisms into the cooler. However, Brett Willis is a marketing specialist at the Allagash Brewing Company brewery.

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