Lazy, late summer Sundays are perfect for enjoying a sour beer or two. There’s something about leaves turning a dark, heavy shade of green and the scent of burning charcoal drifting from garden to garden that tells you it’s time to slow down for a while. Now is the perfect time to take stock of your year so far, before the colder months begin to set in.
Which sour to reach for, though? Do you choose a tart, bittersweet Flanders red or oud bruin? Perhaps you desire a few cans of a modern gose, laden with fruit and refreshing salinity. You might even choose a cider or natural wine that errs on the funkier side of things. For me though, you can’t beat the elegance of an oude geuze.
There is something magical about geuze (or gueuze if written in French instead of Flemish). The way in which it’s made contributes to the power of its spell. It is fermented spontaneously – meaning that fermentation is achieved by inoculating wort with airborne yeast and bacteria – no yeast is pitched (the creation of a sourdough yeast culture would be a good comparison).
The beer is then fermented and matured in oak casks, typically former wine barrels, for up to (and sometimes more than) three years. This unblended beer is called lambic. It becomes geuze when old lambic is blended in bottle with young lambic. The residual sugars in the younger beer will trigger refermentation in bottle creating a lively, champagne-like beer. If the old lambic used is at least three years old, then it is allowed to be called oude geuze. To be called geuze, the beer must also be produced in the Pajottenland, a small area to the southwest of Brussels, along the Zenne Valley. It’s home to many legendary producers, including Boon and 3 Fonteinen. There are newcomers too, however, such as Lambiek Fabriek, which began its own journey into spontaneous fermentation in 2016.
Due to Lambiek Fabriek being far younger than most producers of lambic and geuze (and the relative popularity of rare geuze among hardened beer collectors), coming across its Brett-Elle blend has so far been relatively challenging. You can be thankful, then, that Hop Burns & Black have managed to secure some for you.
Where Brett-Elle may lack the simple elegance of an oude geuze from say, Boon or Tilquin, it makes up for this through sheer punch of flavour. It provides an immediate hit of tart, freshly squeezed lemon juice on the palate. There’s a touch of farmyard to this beer too, as if you’ve been rumbled scrumping lemons from a local farmer, and you’re hiding in a barn, behind a drove of goats. Then, quite suddenly, another snap of pithy lemon and a dry, saline finish snaps you back into the garden. Be careful not to burn those hamburgers as you enjoy this beer.
Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Be first to read Matt’s columns when you sign up to our All Killer No Filler beer subscription box - along with Claire Bullen’s recipe and pairings, plus in-depth tasting notes, they’re included in every box…