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What are Breughel's happy peasants knocking back to give then such clear complexions and unfailing energy? lambic! Traditional, refreshing, made only from natural ingredients - and now threatened by large-scale producers.

Here is what you need to know, based on information from an Objectieve Bierproevers leaflet. The OBP are not responsible for any mistranslations that may have slipped in.

What is lambic ...

Lambic, documented as early as 1559, is a mixed-grain beer that contains at least 30% wheat and is spontaneously fermented. In addition to the many commercial breweries, Belgium is home to this unique style of beer. The wort is fertilised by wild yeasts, including the famous brettonomyces, then laid down in wooden tuns. The beer ripens here for several years, and though lambic is always a flat beer its taste varies depending on its age. A young lambic starts off slightly sweet and has a bitter-sweet aftertaste. An old lambic can be anything between sweet and decidedly sour.

... and what is geuze

As time went by, beer-drinkers in Belgium started demanding a beer with a head. Some bright lambic brewers came up with the idea of geuze, applying the méthode champenoise and blending lambic from different vintages. The young lambic contributes enough sugar to the blend to start a secondary fermentation, which continues in the bottles – champagne-style with a wired cork so to withstand the pressure that builds up – and yields the desired head.

Fruit beers

Fruit beers are also based on lambic, and prepared by adding whole fruit which then macerates in the beer. The traditional fruit lambics are kriek and framboze, made with tart Schaarbeek cherries or raspberries, respectively. Almost all the other fruit beers are made with fruit syrups, or worse still with colouring and flavouring.

Geuzemakers category by category

Traditional geuze
Real geuze made from 100% lambic and in the Zenne region is available from Girardin, Vanderlinden and Vandervelden.
Spontaneously-fermented beers
Other parts of Belgium also make spontaneously-fermented beers, though these cannot be called geuze because they are made outside the Zenne region. In Ingelmunster and Bellegem, Van Honsebrouck and Bockor produce beers of this type and blends of spontaneously-fermented and controlled-fermentation beers. Jacobins and St Louis belong to this category, though St Louis Fond Tradition is 100% spontaneously-fermented.
Commercial geuze
Quite a few breweries make a traditional geuze but sweeten it; they include Mort Subite, Timmermans, Lindemands, De Troch, De Neve and Eylenbosch. Some of them also offer a traditional, unsweetened fonds in their range.
Industrial geuze
This product is an ordinary top-fermented beer, mixed with a little spontaneously-fermented beer and then pasteurised; for example, Belle-Vue.

I add, entirely on my own responsibility, that I find the lack of a rigorous appelation controllée for geuze and lambic a disgrace. Vote with your throat! Educate your friends! Remonstrate with your off-licence!

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