Fruit lambics - from airborne yeast to a taste that’ll drive you bananas!
What do you know about fruit lambics? If the answer is “…fruit who?”, then hold on to your hat and prepare to be educated. Before we go any further let’s clarify something: lambic is the name for a type of beer and has nothing to do with iambic pentameter, that pesky technical term from your poetry exam that was something to do with rhythm.
Lambic is special because unlike other beers, it is spontaneously fermented. This means that instead of yeast being added to the mix by some bloke, it is added by beautiful Mother Nature herself. The wild yeast cells are in fact in the air and blow in to the brew, which is left specially uncovered. As if that weren’t exciting enough, what makes lambic a real rarity is that this natural process happens in Brussels and Brussels alone.
The action all occurs in a little place called the Senne River valley, and after that airborne yeast has started its magic and those flavour-enhancing (and anti-bacterial!) hops have been thrown into the mix, the lambic is moved into old oak barrels. These aren’t just any old oak barrels though. Often the barrel of choice, for the discerning lambic brewer, is an old wine barrel from somewhere like Portugal, or maybe Spain. A few years of good old traditional fermentation later (yes, up to three years!) and the stuff’s ready to consume.
Right. So that’s a lambic then. Are you still with me? …Good. Now what about the fruit? The really pukka fruit lambics don’t use fruity syrups, bubble gum or any other modern additives for flavour. No, it’s real whole fruit that gets poured into the fermenting liquid and broken down. Not only do the best flavours emerge from the genuine article, but the bacteria found on the skins of the fruit add an extra twinkle to the taste. Undeniably, there’s something a bit eye-of-newt about the process, but it certainly works.
Cherries, raspberries and blackcurrants are all commonly added, usually as separate flavours although sometimes as a blend. Slightly rarer are apple lambics, and you might even happen upon a cranberry variety too. For the real tongue tinglers though, you have to look a little further afield to somewhere like Bourwerij De Troch.
Bourwerij De Troch is a Belgian brewery (hence the name) with a century of experience under its tastefully careworn belt. Their business is the creation of unusual, hand-crafted fruit lambics. While these don’t count as one of your five a day, a little number such as Chapeau Abricot is the sort of beer that’s bound to add a spring to your step. And for the real fruit salads out there, Chapeau Banana has been awarded a certificate of wonderfulness by the beer lovers of Chicago!
So from airborne yeast to a taste that’ll drive you bananas, the next time someone asks you what you know about fruit lambics, you can answer them with “…quite a lot actually”.
I Love Good Beer Mag - Oct 2013