Traditional lambic is a unique Belgian beer style, inseparably rooted in and around the Senne river valley; Pajottenland and Brussels, where it originated more than two centuries ago. Ever since, Lambic is undoubtedly intertwined with all parts of historical, cultural, socio-economic, demographic and even folkloric aspects of the local society.
Traditional lambic is a 100% naturally and spontaneously fermented beer. It is brewed with a grain bill of approximately 35% raw, unmalted wheat and 65% malted barley.
After a disproportionally long mashing, filtering and boiling process, aged hops are added instead of fresh hops, to avoid bitterness in the beer. It must be emphasized that no cultivated yeast is being used: after boiling, the beer is pumped into coolships (i.e. open flat containers), where the Lambic wort rests overnight and undergoes a spontaneous inoculation of airborne wild yeasts and micro-organisms. In the brewing process, aerial and climate factors are influencing the result. Lambic (wort) can only be brewed in a few winter months a year when night temperature is below 10°C.
The next morning, traditional lambic wort is being pumped into wooden barrels for an extended fermentation and ageing stage of at least one year and up to three year, and even longer. While ageing, the Lambic gains complexity and forms a unique taste profile.
Besides straight Lambic from the cask, there are two main types of derived lambic beers:
Filtration nor pasteurization is applied before bottling. Due to its 100% natural and spontaneously fermented character, traditional Lambic beers develop in taste and benefit over time from extended aging. These beers can easily be aged for years and even decades.
Where once hundreds of producers were known, nowadays only a few of them remain, to be divided in traditional lambic brewers (f.e. 3 Fonteinen and Cantillon) and traditional lambic blenders (f.e. Tilquin). The latter do not brew their own lambic but source freshly brewed lambic wort from different other lambic brewers, to let it further age in their own wooden barrels.
A distinction between traditional and commercial and industrial brewers ought to be made – a lot of beers carry the name of “lambic” due to a flaw in the Belgian legislation.
Traditional Lambic takes a lot of time, expertise, and passion to create. The typical throughput time between a lambic brew and a finished bottle of geuze is more than 3,5 years. In case of commercial and industrial players, only a fraction is real Lambic wort, while the use of non-spontaneously fermented beer, artificial juices and sweeteners is applied.
Brewing traditional Lambics and blending traditional Geuzes and fruit Lambics is an art. The abundant natural and spontaneous caprices during the whole process make every blend unique and always with a different tasting experience, that cannot be standardized … nor should it be.
The perseverance and hard headiness of the remaining producers evoke respect amongst craft beer fans and inspire brewers and blenders worldwide. A beer style that should be treasured to preserve it for generations to come.
Traditional lambic has become rare and almost legendary for connoisseurs.
The first draft of the Presidium’s production protocol was drawn up with the help of the Slow Food Metropolitan Brussels Convivium and two great beer experts, Lorenzo Dabove (aka “Kuaska”) and Luca Giaccone, coordinator of Slow Food’s Master of Food beer program.
Now that the project has been established, the Presidium will work on developing the definitive version of the protocol, with input from the producers who have joined the project during the annual Vini, Birre, Ribelli event in Brussels.
Brussels, Pajottenland and surroundings
Brasserie Cantillon, Rue Gheude 56, 1070 Bruxelles, cantillon.be