With Apologies to Stan, Does Lambic Have an Appellation?

My friend Stan Hieronymus runs a blog called Appellation Beer, subtitled “in search of the soul of beer,” in which he pursues the theory that it does matter where a beer is brewed, much as it matters where a wine is “grown,” although perhaps not as acutely.

I’m unsure as to whether I agree completely with Stan’s theory that appellation matters in beer – I tend more towards the view that it matters, and emphatically so, where a beer is consumed, more than where it is brewed – but there is one style for which we are on the same side: lambic. Or at least I think we are.

Brewed from at least one-third unmalted wheat, spiced with aged hops and, perhaps most importantly, spontaneously fermented, lambic is an ancient style still produced to any significant degree in only one place, the Payottenland of Belgium, located principally in the Senne River valley around Brussels. Fermented by air-borne microflora, as well as resident bacteria from the barrels in which the beer is conditioned for up to three years, traditional lambics are indeed the champagnes of the beer world: dry, complex, often tart creations of great character and substance.

Thing is, they are no longer alone in the world of spontaneous fermentation. This Friday, at the Nacht van de Grote Dorst (“Night of Large Thirst) in the Belgian town of  Eizeringen, Allagash Brewing of Portland, Maine, will be pouring not one, but four spontaneously fermented beers of their own: Spontaneous (lambic style), Coolship Red (with raspberries), Coolship Cerise (with cherries) and Resurgam (gueuze style). Inoculated with microflora from the Maine air rather than from the atmosphere of the Payottenland, these beers are viewed as “lambic-style” rather than true lambics by event organizer Yves Panneels because they lack the influence of the “specific micro-organisms in the air in and around Brussels.

I tend to agree, although a niggling part of my brain also sides with Cantillon patriarch Jean-Pierre Van Roy, who once told me that lambic could be brewed and fermented anywhere providing that the wheat content, aged hops and spontaneous fermentation requirements were met. So the question remains, does lambic have an appellation? And the corollary, which matters more, process or microflora?

(For the record, Allagash is emphatic about their beers “honouring the lambic tradition” rather than being true lambics.)

We Interrupt This Trip for the Following Observations

  • Sink the Bismark.” Oy! Will these boys never stop? Next up, almost for certain: 42%+ from Schorschbräu.
  • I like the new Ranger IPA from New Belgium. Not unconditionally, but in a surprised, “hey! this is from New Belgium?” kind of way. And I like this video, in an admittedly cheesy, lowbrow, white-guys-rapping kind of way. Jeff Alworth does not.
  • And speaking of Mr. Alworth’s observations and opinions, “a little brand-forward for my tastes”? As if craft brewers should be above marketing their beers? C’mon, Jeff, it’s a mature market out there and surviving means selling.
  • Those who are regularly asking me about craft distilling and how to learn it should check out the American Distilling Institute’s 7th Whiskey & Moonshine Distilling Conference at Huber’s Starlight Distillery in Borden, Indiana, from May 2 – 5, 2010.
  • I’m not in the habit of giving gratuitous ink to upcoming events, but this cheese and beer dinner in West Chester, Pennsylvania, looks too good and too good a value to pass up. If you’re in or planning to be in the area, and you’re not lactose intolerant, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

What I Learned About Beer in 2009, Part I

The thing I truly love about this business is that I never stop learning as I go, even if the new knowledge is sometimes oh so inconvenient. Like…

  1. Almost Everything I Thought I Knew About Beer History Is Wrong: Thanks a lot Ron and Martyn and the rest of you anally retentive lot. Now I have to rewrite a good chunk of my teaching materials.
  2. Beer Style Is Almost Meaningless: Yeah, I knew this before, but this year really brought it to the fore. The sooner we start tearing down the old definitions and rewriting them in an entirely new fashion, the better.
  3. Some People Get Quite Irritated at the Merest Mention of Beer and Food Pairing: For reasons I still can’t quite fathom, even if…
  4. Sometimes I Can Get Quite Irritated by People Who Harp on About How Wonderfully Beer X Goes With Dish Y: As Stan says in Rule #5, it is only beer.
  5. Beer Is Not the New Wine: But wine might just be the new beer! (Think about it; more tomorrow.)

Counting Down: Looking Back, Looking Forward

A week from today will be Christmas, and a week after that the new year. So it seems a fine time to begin a look back at 2009 and, further on up the road, forward to 2010. First, though, let’s go backwards.

Best Book of the Year – In a year in which I not only co-authored a book of my own, The beerbistro Cookbook, but also contributed to a few others, you know that for me to overcome my own ego and say that Pete Brown’s Hops and Glory was the beer/non-beer book of the year, well, it has to be something pretty damn special. And it is. If you can find one of the few hardcover copies still kicking around in stores, buy it, for yourself or someone you care for. Otherwise, I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait for the softcover.

Inspired Self-Publishing Lunatic of the Year – If you enjoy reading Ron Pattinson’s “Shut Up About Barclay Perkins” blog as much as I do, then you simply must buy yourself some of his downloadable books. (They are available in hard copy, too.) His style is not so much a style per se as it is stream-of-consciousness, but extraordinarily well-informed stream-of-consciousness. You just need to experience it. Trust me.

Honourable Mention, and Less of a Lunatic: Jeff Evans has authored an ebook called Beer Lover’s Britain, and that’s exactly what it is. Indispensible for first-time vistors and quite useful even for old U.K. beer hands.

How Cool is This?

Yes, we’re still mired in a global recession, but the beer business remains good, by all indications. And astonishingly, even the beer writing business appears healthy.

Just look at the evidence: Stan had to plead work when he missed last week’s Session; Melissa is so caught up in business she hasn’t even had time to take more than a quick glance at the new Cask Report, which was authored by Pete Brown; Lew made it to the Session, but was otherwise so stretched that he has been sticking to pithy one and two line posts, à la Jeffrey, and even had to limit himself to three sentences about Porktoberfest; and even Uncle Jack is down to a mere four posts a day, well off his usual ten or twenty (the bastard!).

Me, I’m balancing a column about brandy with a feature on the reinvention of British pub grub, the planning of an all-American beer dinner, flying to Atlanta on Thursday and, oh ya, the purchase of a new condo and imminent move from here to there.

It’s all good, people. All very, very good.

(So what’s Alan’s problem then…?)

Yoghurtbier: Something New from the GABF?

Those of you familiar with Ron Pattinson’s blog “Shut Up About Barclay Perkins” will also be familiar with his posts on all things interesting, historic and occasionally downright weird. Like this:

Yoghurtbier…is not dissimilar in taste to Berliner Weissbier; it is made by souring the wort (of barley malt and wheat malt) with a pure culture of bacillus bulgaricus and fermenting the soured wort with a highly-attenuating top-fermenting yeast and contains living bacillus bulgaricus.

Sam Calagione’s newest project? No, that would be the spit beer. Something quite beyond the pale from southern California? Wrong again. The latest from Mikkeller? Third strike, you’re out!

Yoghurtbier is, according to Ron’s research, something widely brewed in central and northern Germany in the early 1900’s. And, according to my interpretation, further proof that there is no such thing as so-called “extreme” beer.

Go read more from Ron here.