Bar Tending & Beerspectives
by Matt Martinkovic
Brewsearch & Development -
Whenever the bar I work at has a Gueuze on tap I'm asked several times a night just what
kind of beer is it?  The bar by the way serves mainly craft beer and has a clientele that knows
quite a bit about it.  Still, this one kind of beer confuses some of them.  So I thought this would
be a good forum to explain it all them and to you the readers of Bar Tending & Beerspectives

Let me start by saying that Gueuze is an unfruited sparkling form of lambic.  If you're unsure
of what a lambic is here's the standard definition - it is a very unique style of beer that is only
produced in a very small region of Belgium. The name Lambic comes from the name
Lembeek which is a town near Brussels. While most commercial beers are made with carefully
selected strains of yeast, brewers of Lambic beer tend to leave things up to chance. This
gives Lambic beer its distinct qualities and makes every single bottle unique.

Belgian Lambic beer is left in open vats where wild yeast and bacteria are encouraged to take
up residence. In fact yeast is never added directly to the wort. Instead wild yeast that is
unique to the region is simply allowed to fall into the vats in a process known as spontaneous
fermentation.After fermentation has begun the beer is stored in barrels and allowed to age

Now back to Gueuze which is sometimes called “the champagne of Belgium,” Gueuze is a
blend of two or more lambics of different ages, with the younger beer providing the sugars
needed for refermentation in the bottle. Gueuze almost certainly predates champagne and
was probably originally served directly from casks. Today, with some rare exceptions, it is
considered a bottled beer by definition.

The traditional gueuze flavor is dry, sharp, and earthy, close to that of unblended lambic, but
bottle conditioning and the resulting carbonation give it perhaps even greater complexity and
finesse. Like blending wine or Scotch whisky, blending lambics to make gueuze is an art form.
The base lambics having been spontaneously fermented, each barrel will have an individual
character. Upon tasting, the blender will need to decide whether to use the beer now or hold
it further or whether to use the beer for straight lambic or for gueuze.

Young lambics provide fermentable sugars and bright vibrant flavors to the blend. Aged
lambics lend complexity of flavor along with enzymes created by the dozens of
microorganisms at work in the cask; these enzymes will break down complex sugars into
simple sugars that yeast and bacteria can work upon to create carbonation.

The proportions of young and old lambic in gueuze differ from year to year and from one
brewer to another. Some brewers use approximately 50% 1-year-old, 25% 2-year-old, and
25% 3-year-old lambic. Others prefer to use two-thirds 1-year-old lambic and one-third 2- or
3-year-old lambic. Special blends may include only 10% young beer. After blending, the beer
is bottled and laid down in cellars for at least 4 to 6 months of refermentation. Some may not
be released for many years. When they are eventually served, the bottles may come to the
table in a horizontal position; this allows the yeast deposits to remain in place while the
beer is poured out sparkling and clear.

My favorite Gueuze is from Cantillon.  It is the quintessential Belgian beer – a perfect blend
of one, two, and three year-old lambics. Tart and slightly acidic, Cantillon Gueuze is the real
champagne of beers. It is fermented only with wild airborne yeasts from the Senne Valley in
Brussels and is aged in centuries-old oak casks. It also certified organic in Belgium. A true
world classic that will thrill the true beer connoisseur.

During the late winter and early spring, the Cantillon family brewers will match and blend one,
two, and three-year old lambics to arrive at a balanced texture and flavor. Generally, younger
lambic is thinner, livelier, and milder on the palate; the older lambic is harder, more complex,
and resoundingly sour. The beer in every cask is unique, however, and one three-year old
lambic may taste radically different from another. There is no formula for blending, and no
expectation of consistency from year to year. Master brewer Jean-Pierre Van Roy says
merely that he hopes to achieve the same “harmony” each time.

The artfully blended lambic is bottled immediately, and another wondrous event occurs: the
mixture of lambic from several different casks sparks a second fermentation in the bottle.
This is the essence of the méthode champenoise by which champagne is made. The end
product is called “gueuze.” A few months’ time in the bottle “conditions” the beer – building
carbonation, and concentrating and organizing the flavors. Under proper storage
conditions, fermentation in the bottle will continue for years.

It's fairly easy to find a good Gueuze today on your beer store shelf however it's most difficutl
to find Cantillon.  If  you see it don't hesitate but it!  It's worth every penny.

Matt Martinkovic is not only a recognized beer authority but an agricultural
consultant on, of course, the growing of hops.  His personal hop garden currently
features Magnum, Crystal, Cascade, Centennial,Mt. Hood, and Chinook hops..
What Is Gueuze?
To all my readers and friends many thanks for all your support.
Also special thanks to two great breweries and the many fine people associated with them:
Conclave Brewing and Kane Brewing.
Come back soon for more of my take on what's happening in the beer world with my
insights derived from many years in the industry.  Cheers!
Matt is on vacation.  This month's article was written by Rich O'Reilly