In this series of articles I’m going to give you a crash course in the rich and varied beers that dot the globe. In case you haven’t noticed, microbrew beers are taking off big time. Beer used to be the “ugly cousin” of the alcohol world. Pretty well everyone drank their fair share, but only a handful of die hard beer drinkers ever really paid it too much respect. Finally beer is starting to be appreciated for its rich history and diversity, and the care and time that goes into crafting a quality brew.
In this series I will usually give a quick run down of the history, characteristics and popular brands you are likely to find in stores. I might even throw in the odd homebrew recipe, so keep an eye out!
The first beer I’d like to introduce to you is a peculiar style known as “Lambic”
Although no one is exactly sure how or precisely when this style of beer came about, the town of Lembeek (likely where the name came from) has been active in brewing since at least the 1400s. It’s in this region of Belgium we can derive most of the history and production of this particularly unique form variety of beer.
One of the things that make this type of beer so unique is the way in which it’s produced. The earliest forms of any style of beer were typically made from airborne yeast particles, since at the time no one really knew what caused beer to ferment. Instead, they observed that if they left their brew out in the open air for a time some magical force caused it to begin the desired process. However, since then, science has identified this substance that floats in the wind as yeast; brewers have used this knowledge to more purposefully start each new batch with the use of a yeast culture. Lambics on the other hand have never converted to the newer, more controlled method of brewing. Since brewers of Lambic allow wild yeast strains to inhabit their brew it causes the distinctive winy, tart flavor and earthy aroma. There is huge variation between Lambics produced at different dates, and even between different bottles.
Another characteristic of Lambics is that they are made traditionally with large amounts of aged hops. The reason for this is said to be that the old Belgian brewers understood that hops were a good preservative, but on the other hand didn’t want to influence the flavor of their beer too dramatically as would usually result from adding an abundance of hops. This is where the ageing process comes in. Aged hops are much less effective at imparting their natural flavor to beer, but they still have the ability to pass on their preservative qualities.
A common practice utilized by Lambic brewers is to blend their finished product with other beer varieties to produce fruit beers. By far the most popular styles of blended Lambic are “cherry kriek” and “raspberry frambozen”. Blended Lambic is actually where the bulk of the Lambic made by the larger producers is going. It’s still possible to purchase traditional unblended Lambic in Belgium, and to my knowledge there are some North American store bought varieties being produced. There’s no two ways about it though, the single best way to get your hands on quality Lambic is to home brew it yourself!
Unblended Lambic Producers:
Blended Lambic/Fruit Beer Producers:
Samuel Adams Cranberry Lambic
Lakefront Cherry Beer
Mason Arms Damson Beer
I hope you enjoyed the first article in this series.
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