For today's mini horizontal, let's have a look at three brews of the same style - a raspberry lambic ale - which all hail from Belgium. As we've seen before, lambics are a peculiar style of beer. Unlike pretty much every other beer in the planet, lambic ales undergo the fermentation process naturally, rather than by virtue of the brewmaster adding his or her yeast at the key moment. Due to the unique geography of the region - for those interested, the vast majority of lambics come from the Pajottenland, which is SW of Brussels - natural yeast strains have set up shop in the fields and farmlands, which means that all the brewer has to do is invite the yeast to float on by and do its thing. The resulting brew tends to be extremely sour, with some bizarre flavors such as lactic acid, citrus, funk, "musk" and the dreaded "horse blanket", whatever the hell that means. It's amazing that the early brewers didn't just pitch the stuff, but then again, people still love Blue and Limburger cheese despite their powerful rank. For some batches, the brewmaster will combat this sweetness by adding fruit, with the common additives being cherry (kriek) and raspberry (framboise or framboos it is often called). Blending different batches can also result in a more specific flavor, depending upon the level of sourness or sweetness the brewer wants to achieve. Thus, there can be incredible variation between brews of this type, which makes the raspberry lambic an excellent subject for a mini vertical!
I should take the opportunity to thank my friend Jeff for bringing these brews back from Belgium and sharing them with the group - cheers man!
Without really knowing how the three would taste, we opened them more or less at random, so I'll go at them in the order we did.
Beer: 3 Fonteinen Framboos
Brewery: Brouwerij Drei Fonteinen (Beersel, just south of Brussels, and one of the better names for a brewing town!)
This is a special release brew that was picked up at a festival at the brewery. I missed some of the story on this, so I apologize for missing the details, but suffice to say, this isn't your everyday lambic brew.
Poured into that little snifter there. Nice colour on this, which is a soft murky cherry. Thin head that doesn't last long, save for a few wisps round the middle. The colour is the most important feature, and it is brilliant.
Great nose on this, with tart fresh raspberry dominating things. A bit of funk and musk in the back, with assertive sourness as well, which is typical of the style.
This brew has an impressive balance to it, with the sweet/tart raspberry pairing nicely with that funky sour lambic backing. As we shall soon see, lambics that have fruit added to them to cut the tart acidic base can do so to varying degrees, with the end result being either extremely sour (like the Cantillon we'll get to in a moment) or very sweet and sugary, like Lindemans Framboise. Now, my palate for the sours is still improving but I'm still not wild about them. I have my limits, and this brew is just sitting neatly at that level. Carbonation is firm, but not overpowering.
Might not be an everyday thing, but certainly worth the occasional go, especially when sharing with others!
Moving things along, we arrive pleasantly at the entry from Cantillon, which I have to admit has one of the most intriguing labels around. I'll just leave this here for you to consider.
And here we are, with "Rose de Gambrinus."
Beer: Rose de Gambrinus
Brewery: Cantillon (Brussels)
First thing you notice about this brew (aside from the blonde) is the colour, which is a bright scarlet-cherry. The folks around the table with me agreed that it seemed a bit artificial, and although I have to say it didn't look that way to me, it did seem to be overly dark considering how sour this brew was.
Nose is incredibly funky, with a real acetic acid sourness hitting me squar in the back of my nasal cavity. This has been my problem with many a Cantillon brew - goddamn, these mothers are sour. Only a touch of raspberry, which becomes more prevalent as the brew warms up and my nose becomes accustomed to things.
Again, sourness is the name of the game here. Very tart, with fresh raspberry, lemon, a bit of grain and funk. This one certainly grew on me after a while - like a bag of sour candy, your tastebuds eventually get to the stage where they can handle what was once overwhelming. Still, this one is just a hair above my absolute threshold of sourness that I can endure. Carbonation is sharp, and the brew is medium bodied.
So yes, if you are a sucker for all things sour - or like sultry ladies on your beer labels - this one is for you. But despite the boobage, this brew was just too much for me. I just don't think Cantillon is a brewery I'm going to like, but I'll keep trying, dammit!
Last but not least is the entry from the Boon brewery, of perhaps the most appropriately named Belgian lambic brewing town of all - Lembeek. Unfortunately, due to the intoxicating effects of liquor, I don't have a close up shot of this brew, but in the shot of all three above, Boon is on the right.
Beer: Framboise Boon
Brewery: Brouwerij Boon
The colour of this brew is visually quite striking - a deep maroon colour that reminds me of a red wine or port. Probably closer to what cherry juice actually looks like than the bright coloured concoctions we've seen so far. Similar colour of raspberry pie or jam. Half inch of white head, solid retention.
Nose is quite sweet, with the cherry coming through quite nicely. But instead of tart and funky like the first two, this one was far sweeter, with a smell more akin to cherry pie or jam. Dark cherry, at the very least. Only a bit of funk and lactic in there as compared to the first two.
Sweetness is the name of the game for this brew. Certainly a great lambic if you like them a touch sweeter than those sour bombs. The lactic acid and tart funkiness is kept in check, allowing the raspberry some time to shine. Oddly enough, however, with my tastebuds so accustomed to the taste of sour raspberries, this one came off as being too sweet for right now. Borderline cloying, in fact, but still quite drinkable. If I see this brew again, I'll be sure to make this brew the only lambic - or at least the first one of the day - so that I don't have that comparison again.
Amazing how much difference you can find in a style just by comparing a few variations of it in one sitting. My vote, along with the votes of the rest of the party, went with 3 Fonteinen's Framboos, because it sat nicely in the middle between tart and sweet, funky and fruity, with the other two occupying the other ends of the sweet-sour spectrum. All three had their merits; the horizantal tasting allows you to see where you tend to sit. A horizontal tasting is a great way to see what aspects you like in a style beer, what the possibilities within that style might be, and to pick out the different characteristics the brewer intended in his production - i.e, did she go for a particular hop or flavor over something else? It's all about exploring the possibilities, which in the craft brewing world can be diverse and wonderful. Happy tasting everyone!