I can’t remember the first time I tried a sour beer, but I haven’t been the same since. It opened my eyes to the wide diversity of beer, while shocking my palate with a wonderful surprise. While there are many fantastic sour beers, I’ll argue Gueuze (sometimes Geuze), and the Lambics from which they’re derived, rule supreme in sour land.
Master Blenders blend young and old Lambics to make Gueuze. Lambic, a discussion for another post, spontaneously ferments by taking advantage of wild bugs in the air to create the wild ale . Lambics have complex flavors of fruit, funk and a delicious sourness, some say they are almost wine or cider like.
Blending various aged Lambics gives Gueuze its own unique character. The young Lambics contain residual sugars which continue to ferment in the bottle, creating vigorous carbonation and a dry finish. The old Lambics bring maturity, smoothness and complexity to the finished product. Traditional Gueuze, unlike some modern commercial exploitations, are unfiltered, unpasteurized and have no sugar added. Look for Oude Gueuze (Old Gueuze) to be sure you’re getting the good stuff.
Wine geeks make a big deal about “terroir,” which describes the character of the wine as influenced by its environment, climate and soil. While beer can be influenced by its geography, the terroir is rarely something you can taste. Few beers are impacted by terroir like Lambic, and therefore, Gueuze. The wild yeast and bugs in the air of the Senne Valley around Brussels add a character from the region that is unique to the beer. You’ll taste a complex blend of “barnyard” flavors with citrus, fruit and sourness, with a crisp, dry finish
Gueuze pours a beautiful clear gold, with a SRM* rating of 3 to 7. While there are hops in Gueuze, they are aged and used primarily for preservation and not bitterness, with a very low IBU* level of 0-10. The sourness hide the alcohol content well, which can go as high as 8%, to a low of 5% ABV.*
It’s impossible to talk about Gueuze and not mention Cantillon. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my hands on one quickly. Another fine producer is Drie Fonteinen, creating some of the finest Gueuze you’ll taste. I could try to do justice describing it, but here’s the poetic description straight from the bottle:
A true Geuze – a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year-old Lambic, unfiltered and unpasteurized, and aged in the bottle for at least a year after blending. Refermentation in the bottle gives Gauze its famous champagne-like spritziness. The lambic that goes into it is brewed only with 60% early malt and 40% unsalted wheat, aged hops, and water, spontaneously fermented by wild yeasts, and matured in oak casks.
Another great option, if not only for availability, but flavor is Gueuze Tilquin. You can find Tilquin much easier than Cantillon or Drie Fonteinen. Other fine examples can be had from Boon, Hanssens, Lindemans, De Cam, Oud Beersel and Timmermans.
Because the flavors are so closely tied to the Belgian’s Senne Valley, Gueuze is not a style easily duplicated by American craft brewers. American Wild Ales have much in common with Gueuze, yet are very different. A few good American interpretations are The Bruery Rueuze, Rivertown Ville De Rivere Geuze and Allagash Coolship Resurgum.
Consider the sourness, funkiness and dryness of Gueuze when pairing food. On its own, Gueuze is a great apéritif before dinner. The acidic tartness makes Gueuze a perfect compliment to one of Belgian’s classic dishes, Moules Frites (Mussels and fries). Seafood is a good choice, as the cutting power of Gueuze is big enough to stand up to seafood oiliness. Gueuze also pairs well with tangy goat or funky cheeses.
Belgian brewers take pride not only in their beer, but in their custom chalices. Brewery glassware is always the preferred way to drink Belgian ales, so if you can pick up a Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen or Tilquin glass, do it! Also, the Spiegelau Tulip glass is versatile and works well with nearly every style, especially Gueuze.
*Standard Reference Method (color)
*International Bitterness Units (hop alpha-acid utilization)
*Alcohol by Volume
All quantitative specifications are from the BJCP Style Guide, 2015