Now is the time to find out! From 18 September to 17 October 2021, Tourism Flemish Brabant, together with a number of partners, is organizing Lambic Month.
“What is Lambic beer?” is not just a good pub quiz question. You’ll even hear so-called beer aficionados asking it. This is because Lambic is one of the world’s rarest and most unusual beers. On the other hand, those that do know it seem to rate it very highly. Some say it’s one of the world’s best beers, and Lambic beers are frequently ranked highly in beer competitions. It’s a type of beer brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium, south-west of Brussels, and in Brussels itself. It dates from the 13th century and there’s no single Lambic. Lambics are a complex family of beers, which include dry aperitif beers, full-bodied dinner beers, and fruity dessert beers, going under the names of Gueuze, Kriek and Framboise, to name just a few.
What makes Lambic special?
There are many reasons for the uniqueness of Lambic. For a start, the brewing process often takes several years. Another reason is that Lambic is a spontaneously fermented beer. It’s the only beer in the world that is fermented via wild, airborne yeast – so no yeast is added by the brewers. This gives Lambics their unusual and unique flavors.
In addition, while most brewers use fresh hops, Lambic brewers use aged hops. A further unusual feature is that the hot Lambic wort is exposed to the outside air that is laden with floating wild yeast cells. The air enters the brewery through specially designed louvers in the walls. The wild yeast strains include Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces lambicus; most beers are based around the cultivated yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
After fermentation, the beer is transferred into fermenting vessels for two summers of maturation. The second fermentation takes place in an oak cask or in steel with oak chips added. After aging, the base Lambic is treated in different ways to make different beers.
For Gueuze beer, young and old Lambics are blended to make a distinct, wine-like drink that is traditionally served with a meal. This is where I came across a new Dutch word for me: bierstekerij. This is a beer blender, as opposed to a brouwerij which is a brewer. So Gueuzes are blended in a stekerij.
Lambic fruit beers are some of the more popular Lambics. The first fruit beers were made with sour cherries growing in villages around Brussels. In the 1930s different farm breweries restarted brewing Kriek by adding crushed cherries to young Lambic in the casks. Artisanal Lambic breweries now make fruit beers by blending the Lambic and fresh fruit or fresh fruit juice before bottling, to produce Kriek (cherry), Framboise (raspberry), Pêche (peach), and Pomme (apple) Lambics.
A special beer deserves a special month
Lambic Beer is inextricably linked to a certain region of Belgium, namely the Pajottenland and the Zenne valley to the west of Brussels in the province of Flemish Brabant. To draw more attention to the entire Lambic culture in this region, Tourism Flemish Brabant is promoting Lambic Beer Month. The program includes five themed weekends. So you can go on a Lambic Walk, a Lambic Cycling Route, and of course visit some Lambic breweries and cafés. Most of the events are in Dutch, but some of them are in English. Your starting point is this overview of Lambic Month. You will see that the five weekends and their specific focus areas are:
- Lambic Cycling Routes: September 18/19
- Open Days at Lambic Breweries: September 25/26
- Enjoy Lambic with a Meal: October 2/3
- Lambic and Farming: October 9/10
- Lambic Walks: October 16/17
My eye was caught by the following:
The Lambic-Geueze 41k Cycle Route
Starting point is the Lambic Visitor Center in Alsemberg, which is probably worth spending some time in before setting off. On the route you have the opportunity to stop off and taste a traditional Gueuze, Kriek or Lambic at Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen, Oud Beersel Brewery, Hanssens Artisanaal Geuzestekerij, and Boon Brewery. Below is the map. Further details are available here.
Sign up for a guided tour in English around Oud Beersel Brewery and then a walk to Beersel Castle. It takes place on Saturday 18 September 10:00 – 12:00.
A 1-day Lambic course
If you really want to look deeply into a glass of Lambic, then this one-day course in English could be for you. It’s taking place at Brouwerij Lindemans in Vlezenbeek (Sint-Pieters-Leeuw) on Monday 27 September 2021. More info and sign-up here.
16k Lambic Walk
This looks an interesting walk for a whole day. Starting point is the Lambic Visitor Center in Alsemberg, and along the route it passes a couple of Lambic breweries and a blender. More info here.
In addition, a number of local B&Bs and hotels are offering Lambic Month Arrangements if you want to make an overnight of it.
The above is just a small personal selection. You need to look through the agenda to see the full range of events on offer.
So I hope this post has partially answered the question “What is Lambic beer?” But to get a more complete answer, you really need to visit a brewery or café and taste one yourself! Let me know how you get on in a comment below. Any questions and you can drop me a line.
And what about if you send me a photo or two of your Lambic-related activity? I would be happy to post them here.
More on Belgian beer
Have you visited the Best Beer Bar In The World? It’s in Belgium, it specializes in Lambics and Gueuzes, and is loved by beer geeks. It’s worth visiting, if only to say you’ve been to one of Belgium’s iconic pubs.
Have you done my Belgian Beer Quiz? So you think you know all about Belgian beer? Test yourself and see. It’s not too beer-geeky. Some readers got 10 out of 10! Can you join them on the podium? If you do, I’ll buy you a Lambic next time we meet.
Have you visited my favorite beer blog? Matthew at It’s A Brewtiful World exquisitely combines beer, hiking, cycling, smooth writing, humor, and clever photos that I’m surprised are not snapped up by beer marketing agencies. And he’s based in Belgium! He has written about breweries and beers the length and breadth of the country. Highly recommended.
Very interesting, Denzil! There are a few brewers in the U.S. experimenting with this, including the Funk Factory (the brewer’s name is Funk) in Madison, Wisconsin. I believe they label them “Méthode Traditionnelle” to distinguish them from Belgian products, just as the winemakers in the Finger Lakes often put “méthode champenoise” on their sparkling wines, although there’s no rules here preventing them from being labeled lambic or champagne. I’ve tried a couple that are exported to U.S., pretty sure Lindemans is the only brand I’ve seen though.
Well, excellent post, I now have a much clearer understanding, even if the beers are often “cloudy,” and dying to come over and sample the lot!
Hi Robert, I checked out Mr Funk’s “stekerij” and he certainly has a wide range of quasi-Lambics. I can understand the Belgian brewers wanting to keep the name to themselves. After all, it’s their airborne yeast that makes their Lambics, and the yeast in Madison are presumably different. However, Mr Funk disagrees, as I read in this quote: “Some will say spontaneous fermentation will look different in Wisconsin as opposed to Chicago. I think that’s a romanticized notion,” Funk says. “The idea of local microflora is an argument for Lambic purists who don’t want the term ‘Lambic’ to be used in the U.S. It seems a bit preposterous to say a certain river valley has a unique microflora than the other side of the hill. But some people believe it.”
Well I believe it, for sure. Our Zenne Valley yeast just ain’t the same as your Gilson Street yeast!
I totally agree. You’ve got yeast floating around from Roman bakeries, Bronze Age diaper rash,
Spanish army vino, medieval ales, whatever Napoleon was scratching under his coat at Waterloo, etc.
Very true, but I don’t think you should consider a career in beer marketing Robert.
haha you’re probably right about that. 🙂
Fascinating write-up. Bet however wonderful and rare it is, it still tastes like beer (albeit very fine beer).
Well yes, but it’s what you call sour beer Pat, which gives an indication of its taste.
We tried Lambic beer on our beer tour in Brussels. It wasn’t my favourite.