I Tried It: (Americanized) Belgian Wild Ales

"The more man intervenes in the process, the less traditional and natural it becomes."

-John Matthys of Hanssens Artisanaal

One thing I realized very quickly when searching out different types of Belgian wild ales for my studies is that traditional wild Belgian beers, such as gueuze, faro, and fruit lambic, would be extremely hard to find stateside. Most of what is available, particularly fruit lambic, is heavily sweetened with fruit puree and syrups and is not reflective of the funky, tart, and complex wild ales for which Belgium is famous. A lot of what we think of as fruit lambic in the United States has more in common with fruit juice than with traditional fruit lambic. 

These types of super sweetened fruit lambic have their place, don't get me wrong. I'm not above buying a bottle every now and again when the mood strikes me. However, I know when I'm buying certain types of fruit lambic that I'm not buying something that best represents the style, the same way I know a Totino's frozen pizza isn't the best representation of pizza (but sometimes it just sounds good). 

That being said, I still wanted to try some of the gueuze, faro, and fruit lambic that I was able to find. Also, this tasting is more of a warm up to the better gueuzes I do possess, such as Lindeman's Gueuze Cuvee Rene (widely available at a low price and considered a commercial example), Drie Fonteinen Oud Gueuze, and the gueuziest of the gueuze, Cantillion Gueuze, which is currently stashed away aging. (Digression Depot - my husband and I have a very cool story about how we ended up with our Cantillion Gueuze.)

For this week's tasting, I had De Troch's Winter Gueuze 2015, Lindeman's Faro Lambic, and Mort Subite Framboise. If you're not familiar with these beers, as always I recommend reading about them in the BJCP Guidelines. If you want to take a really deep dive into learning about these styles, there are several phenomenal books about them, including the late great Michael Jackson (the beer one) book Great Beers of BelgiumJeff Sparrow's Wild Brews (the source of the quote at the beginning of this post as well as some of the definitions below), and Jean-Xavier Guinard's Lambic

Clothes on

Clothes on

Here is a very brief description of each of the above styles:

Gueuze: A blend of different batches and ages of lambic beer (usually 1-, 2-, and 3-year-old batches) that undergoes an additional fermentation in the bottle due to the presence of yeast and fermentable sugar

Faro: A blended young lambic sweetened with candy sugar

Fruit Lambic: A blend (but not always) of lambic with fruit added, such as cherries, raspberries, muscat grapes, or peaches

Clothes off

Clothes off

I began with the De Troch Winter Gueuze and found it to be the most similar to what I was expecting from what I had read. It had some barnyard characteristics, with notes of lemon and other citrus, as well as rhubarb. (Digression Depot again - I love rhubarb in beer.) It was somewhat sour with some honey flavor evident. Overall, I found it to be very light-bodied and enjoyable. I have another bottle that I'm looking forward to trying with my other commercial examples to see how it stacks up.

Before we leave gueuze behind, there's one pedantic note I'd like to make. Gueuze is a Flemish word and is pronounced in a way that is unfamiliar to English-speakers. For the sake of not looking (or sounding) like a complete a-hole when talking to people, I usually pronounce it the way most people do, as "gooze"; however, a more authentic pronunciation is "gur-zah" or, as Garrett Oliver puts it, saying "geyser" while coughing. 

The next beer I tried was the Lindeman's Faro Lambic, which contains brown sugar and the dubious "natural sweetener," according to the label. It was extremely light bodied from the added sugars and had some horsey funkiness, but was overall like drinking slightly alcoholic sugar water. In my research, I learned that faro should be consumed within a week of purchase and my bottle had been sitting in the beer fridge for at least three months. That's three months in addition to whatever time it spent on the shelf at the bottle shop, in the distributor's warehouse, etc. I tried to decipher the bottling date but didn't have a ton of motivation to track it down because it was already way past the time when I should have opened it. Unless a brewer/blender starts producing a faro in the United States, I think the chances of finding an authentic faro within the time it is supposed to be consumed in the United States is going to be impossible.

The last beer I tried was Mort Subite Framboise, which is a lambic beer with raspberries added. Since we're already on Pedant Peak, I'll go ahead and point out that framboise is pronounced "fram-bwah," not "fram-boys." The raspberry aroma was medium to high, which is to be expected from a fruit lambic (read your Guidelines). The raspberry flavor was very sweet, but there was still a hint of barnyard and a slight dryness with an acidic bite. However, there was no real sour finish; instead, it finished very sweet. Overall, not an unpleasant beer at all, but a tad too sweet for what I expect from an authentic framboise

Because it is difficult to find traditional Belgian wild ales in the United States, we can at least become familiar with the styles by sampling the beers available to us. Again, this is where the BJCP Guidelines come in handy: you can sip the beer while looking over its description in the Guidelines and noting the differences between what the style "should taste like" and what the beer you're sipping actually tastes like. All of the above beers I tried were close to what they traditionally taste like, just unbelievably sweetened. Knowing that, I was able to set aside the sweetness in most cases and focus on the underlying traditional flavors that were present in each of them.