My last post of 2005 was about my discovery, in a New Year’s Eve trip to Holiday Wine Cellar, of 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze, which I had not seen since a visit to the brewery in Beersel, on the outskirts of Brussels, in 2003. It is only fitting, then, that my first post of 2006 should be a tasting report.
I was so excited to be drinking this fine brew that I neglected to take a photo of the beautiful dark amber liquid with the effervescent head, but the brewery website offers a photo of the brewer, Armand Debelder, with a glass of another of their blends. This morning I took a photo of the label–not easy to do, given how much the logo wraps around the bottle.
(It’s not the highest quality photo, but as a souvenir, it will have to do.)
I really do not have the vocabulary to describe the incredible array of layered flavors, aromas, and textures that this beer offers. It is vaguely champagne-like (but much more refreshing and complex), making it perfect for New Year’s Eve. It has a terrific balance of tartness and sweetness. The flavor profile is quite fruity, even though there is no actual fruit in it. (It is very common for lambics to be brewed with fruit*, and while geuze is a blend of three different “vintages” of lambic, to my knowledge fruit lambics are never used in geuze blending.)
When I tasted another blend at the brewery cafe in 2003, I was struck by the similarities in flavor profile to pitanga, one of my favorite lesser-known fruits. This bottle had some of that pitanga funkiness, too. This brewery’s house flavor has the same sort of “wild” (if it were meat one might say “gamey,” in the good sense) or “musty” sweet flavor as the pitanga, which must be something imparted by the wild micro-organisms of this corner of the Senne valley. It is the bacteria landing spontaneously in a lambic brewery’s open cooling vessels in the attic that give any genuine lambic its distinctive character. Some of that character no doubt also comes from the aging in oak casks and, in the especially intense and complex form associated with the geuze, from the secondary fermentation in the bottle.
Some of the descriptions by various tasters over at Beer Advocate are worth excerpting (each paragraph is from a different taster, to give an example of the range of flavors one can experience from this one brew):
Flavors shrivel the tongue in a sour tart blast. Lemony acidity. Farmy barnyard funkiness. Stinky runny cheese. Snap of grapefruit bitterness. Woody cork flair. Spicy. Whip crack tart.
The aroma is extremely sour. There is definately a fruity character, but I can’t tell what it is behind the sourness. Hoo-Ha. The flavor doesn’t have the sour kick that the nose foretold. The flavor is blended excessively well, but it still has the sourness and the strong fruity character …
There are also notes of heather, wormwood and bitter oranges. The aftertaste is surprisingly creamy with flavours of â€œHerbs de Provanceâ€ spice mix and bitter citric fruits.
More subtle and subdued pears, white grape and wheat qualities in the aroma, with a lucious estery farmhouse scent that tells of spring.
But this was my favorite description (both paragraphs from the same taster):
Tart white grapes, green apple skins, lemon rinds and horse blankets on the nose, that mystery smell reminds me of my grandfather’s workshed out on the farm, the combination of rusting iron and old leather harnesses from beasts of burden.
Immediate tartness in the flavour, dry white sour grapes, lime, fresh apricots, with some mineral sediment. Grassy pasture, horsehair, and more citrus, like under-ripe tangerines can be detected. The mouthfeel is light and effervescent, with some mild carbonation to add a backbone.
Strangely enough, no one mentioned pitanga!
Flavor is hugely complex, acidic, sharp and sour citrus fruit, funky cheese and something indescribeable that I have never experienced in any other beer.
I know what that it is!
This brew–and all genuine lambic and geuze–are real works of art. And they–along with some of the better country Saisons of Belgium and the bieres de garde from just over the border in France–are the true champagnes of beer.
* Not flavored with fruit syrup added after fermentation, like some imitation “lambics,” but actually fermented with fresh fruit–see the discussions of RosÃ© de Gambrinus and Fou’Foune apricot lambic (a bottle of each is chilling in my fridge) at the website of another famous lambic brewery, Cantillon.