27 December 2011

Know Your Styles: Gueuze

Many people are discovering the pleasure that sour ales have to offer drinkers.  I am not entirely comfortable with the term "sour" or "sour style ales," but that is the best we've got for the time being.  I will only say that the mark of beers that fall under "sour categories" doesn't mean that more sour = better quality.  That couldn't be further from the truth, and I fear that the path we are heading down makes it seem that way.  The race for mouth puckering sourness is heating up with each new American brewery that begins producing these beers.  I think that does a great injustice to beers that fall into this category of beers that include: Berliner Weiss, Oud Bruin, lambic, Flanders Red, and fruited lambics.  

Gueuze is a fantastic style of beer that falls into this category, and gueuze's are extremely labor intensive and require much patience.  These spontaneously fermented beers are a blend of young and old lambic. That is important to understand.  Lambic is the base beer for gueuze.   This can range from as young as four months to as old as three years and just about anything in between.  A master blender is then charged with knowing when and how to blend these ageing casks of lambic.  These can then range from anywhere to 15% young-to-old to 70% young-t0-old.  Once the casks and blending amounts have been chosen the bottles are then are aged horizontally for at least year (or longer) where they undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle.  The residual sugars left in the young beer will continue to ferment out of the blend and create the champagne-like effervescent quality of gueuze. Then, finally, the beer is shipped to thirsty consumers worldwide.  That is a tremendous amount of work for a beer isn't it?  

Several brewers in Belgium are brewing this beer on their own and going through the entire process from brewing, blending, ageing, and distribution.  A very small number of places actually purchase lambic from other brewers and then age, blend, package, and distribute from that point.  I can't imagine that business ever taking off in America, but I find it very interesting that that type of business exists in Belgium. 

These beers should be served slightly chilled to get the most appreciation for the many nuances of the beer in nose and taste.  

Eyes: Gueuze will usually be a golden color with a medium to large white head that will last most of the beer. 

Nose:  The mark of a great gueuze will be balance.  The tart and acidic scents should be balanced with scents of orchard and citrus fruits.  Some gueuze's will have more wood flavors based on aging as well. 

Taste: Balance is again key for the mark of a great gueuze. The flavor profile should have that barnyard/acidic funk right beside the apple, melon, lemon, and grapefruit flavors that can be tasted in many beers in this style. 

Overall: Gueuze's are not for everyone, but the beauty is in the details for these beers.  A true work of art and craftsmanship in your glass. The price point for these beers is actually pretty low when you think about how much time and effort when into these beers, and a small bottle of these types of beer are worth a chance at least once. 

Commercial Examples: Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze (pictured), Hanssens Oude Gueuze, Cantillon Gueuze: 100%, Lou Pepe, and Lindeman Gueuze



  1. Good article! As a point of clarification, the "blenders" of Gueuze purchase the "wort" (unfermented beer) and then handle all of the laborious fermentation, conditioning, fruit additions, bottling, storage, etc. tasks. It is an interesting concept that seems to work in Belgium for these very complex beers.

    The key to the flavor of Lambic / Gueuze is the fermentation with a wild yeast, Brettanomyces (or Brett for short). Brett is what imparts that funky barnyardy, horse blanket, leather, etc. type of aroma and flavor that makes this beer so unique.

    Bacteria like Lactobacillus and Pediococcus help create the sourness, which should be more of a clean lactic sour, with no acetic / vinegar-like sourness (which is reserved primarily for the Flanders styles).

    The combination of typical yeast, Brett and bacteria works together to ferment nearly "everything" in these beers, making for a very, very "dry" finish.

    With the aged funkiness of these beers and their tartness, they pair really well with tart fruit like strawberries and aged cheeses.

    Lastly, people often confuse barnyardy beers with farmhouse beers, but farmhouse beers (i.e. Saisons and Biere de Gardes) are just a brewing culture / tradition from the French speaking areas of Belgium and do not typically use Brett.

    I talk a lot about these complex styles in my various beer classes. See www.BeerMBA.com. I have some public classes starting soon. Sorry to sound like an ad, but check it out if you are interested.

    Again, great article and introduction to this wonderful style. Thanks for sharing it.

    Ron Smith
    National BJCP Judge
    Certified Cicerone
    Beer Educator

  2. MMMMMMM. Gueuze!

    I had the pleasure of enjoying a bottle of 40 year old Hanssens Gueuze a few months ago. Despite the carbonation being extremely low, the beer held up amazing and was simply fantastic.