This Is...Beer?

The class was on cheese, yet more than a week has passed and all I can think about is the curious beverage that paired so beautifully with the sharp flavors of the washed rind cheeses. The drink was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It smelled like funky champagne, heavy with fermented fruit. The carbonation and color were similar to cider, but it was sour rather than sweet. Really sour. And it was poured from a 750-mililiter bottle into wine glasses. Was this some strange new vintage I was unaware of? Closer inspection of the bottle revealed that it was not. It was beer, more specifically Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René, a particular gueuze-style Lambic.

Lambics differ from traditional lager beers in several ways: • Spontaneous Fermentation: No yeast is artificially added to the wort. It is instead exposed to the open air, producing wild yeast cells. • Seasonal: Lambics are a seasonal style normally brewed from October - May. Hot temperatures lead to undesirable bacteria in the wort. • Dry Hops: The lack of a distinct "hoppiness" is due to old, dry hops, which provide the conservation properties of the fresh hop without the bitterness. • Unmalted Wheat: More than 30 percent unmalted wheat, in contrast to adjunct lager beers, which use maize or rice.

A Gueuze is actually a combination of young and old Iambics left for several years to re-ferment the bottle. This process produces a dense foam characteristic common to many Belgian beers (a.k.a. Belgian Lace). It pairs well with salty food, seafood and intensely flavored ("stinky") cheese. While this particular Gueuze is very sour, there are other filtered and pasteurized varieties on the market with a sweeter taste.

Michael Jackson, considered by many to be the authority on beer, describes a similar first encounter with Gueuze below:

"I remember the first time I fell in love like this. I was seduced in a somewhat lavatorial tiled bar in the port of Antwerp. The bottle was half-reclining in basketwork, so as not to disturb the yeasty life forces around the punt. The cage covering the upper regions was gently unhooked, and the cork released with a sigh rather than a pop. I inhaled the toasty aroma of champagne and tasted the musty flavours of fino sherry. It was neither. It was like no drink I had ever experienced. It seemed nothing like beer, but it was...I later learned this was a type of beer made in farmhouse breweries around the town of Lembeek, near Brussels. It is the use of wild yeasts that makes these beers so winey."

Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René is available at Spec's and retails for $10-$11 (750-mililiter bottle) or $6-$7 (12-ounce bottles). Prices may vary based on location.

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