Fundamentals #54 — Lambiek Fabriek Oude Geuze Brett-Elle

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…

The Beer Lover's Kitchen: Pumpkin Gnudi with Porcini Broth and 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze

Gnudi are a joy—especially these gnudi, which involve a few cheffy flourishes but remain straightforward to prepare.

If you’re not already acquainted, think of gnudi as standalone ravioli filling (their name—which means "nude"—is a hint that they don't come robed in sheets of pasta dough). You might also consider them cousins of gnocchi, only more pillowy and less troublesome to make. If you want to impress someone with homemade pasta—especially without a pasta roller or other fiddly tools—this is the way to do it.

Gnudi are classically made with ricotta, bound with eggs and flour, and boiled for a few minutes until they gently bob to the water’s surface. To make mine autumnal, I added pumpkin purée and nutmeg to the mix. After cooking in water, they’re toasted in a frying pan with butter and sage leaves. To finish, caramelised onions impart sweetness, porcini broth adds umami depth and Parmigiano Reggiano does both.

Beyond being one of my favourite beers for, well, almost all occasions, 3 Fonteinen's Oude Geuze is also an excellent pairing partner for this dish. Sure, you could well serve pumpkin gnudi alongside a deeper, darker beer—but this masterful geuze, with its baked apple-like sweetness, tart finish, and rustic yeast character, is a lovely fit. And with its fizz, it adds something of a celebratory air, too. All you need now? A crackling fireplace to go with.

Pumpkin Gnudi with Fried Sage, Caramelised Onions and Porcini Broth
Serves 4

For the gnudi:
1 cup (approx. 235g) canned pumpkin puree (I used Libby's)
1 cup (approx. 215g) ricotta
1 cup (approx. 150g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup (approx. 110g) flour (preferably 00-grade)
1/4 cup (approx. 40g) semolina

For the onions:
30g unsalted butter
1 tbs olive oil
2 medium onions

For the broth:
25g dried porcini mushrooms
450ml boiling water
Scant 1/2 tsp sea salt

To serve:
100g unsalted butter
20-30 sage leaves
Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano

First, make the gnudi. In a food processor, combine the first seven ingredients and blend on low speed until well incorporated. Scrape into a large bowl and add both the 00-grade flour and the semolina. Stir gently until just combined.

Prepare a baking tray: line with a sheet of parchment paper and sprinkle over a generous amount of semolina (this will prevent the gnudi from sticking). Next, fill a small bowl with excess semolina (you'll be using this to coat your gnudi, which will also help them hold together).

Use a spoon to scoop out a small amount of dough; roll gently between your palms until it's about 1-inch wide, or the size of a large marble. Place gently in the bowl of semolina and sprinkle semolina over the top so it's full coated. Place on your prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough until all of your gnudi have been formed (pausing to wash and dry your hands from time to time if the dough begins to stick to your palms). Cover loosely with cling film and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours, which will help the gnudi set.

Roughly half an hour before you're ready to cook your gnudi, slice the two onions finely. In a medium frying pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onions and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook, stirring semi-regularly, for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until the onions are soft and deeply caramelised. Remove from the pan and set aside.

As your onions cook, prep your porcini broth. Add the dried porcini mushrooms to a medium bowl and pour over the boiling water. Stir in the salt and set aside for 20-30 minutes. Strain out the mushrooms. You can add these to the final dish if you wish, though I prefer to save them for another occasion.

Remove your gnudi from the fridge. Bring a medium saucepan of well salted water to a boil. Turn down to medium-low heat (you want the water at a gentle simmer). With a slotted spoon, add approximately 12 gnudi, ensuring that the pan is not crowded. Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the gnudi gently rise to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate and cover to keep warm. Continue to cook the gnudi in batches.

To finish, melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the boiled gnudi with a slotted spoon and the sage leaves (you may need to do this in two batches, dividing the butter and sage in two as well). Cook for approximately four minutes, turning the gnudi halfway through, or until they are lightly golden, the sage is fried and crispy, and the butter has browned. Remove from heat.

To serve, divide the gnudi between four plates, pouring over the browned butter and sage evenly. Scatter the caramelised onions across, and pour over the broth (enough for the gnudi to sit in, but not so much that they're floating). Top with a generous sprinkle of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen, and treat yourself to a bottle of 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze. You're worth it.

Fundamentals #14 - Boon Oude Geuze (2014/2015)

You can work out how old your bottle of Boon Oude Geuze is thanks to the label affixed around its neck – it’s usually released three years after this date, which denotes the beer’s brewing season.

Around this time each year, when the temperature drops low enough, the lambic brewing season begins in Belgium’s Zenne Valley region, at the southwestern tip of Brussels. From then it will continue until temperatures once again rise above unacceptable levels for lambic brewing the following spring.

Brussels and the Zenne Valley are famous in the brewing world for the microflora the environment is home to. It harbours myriad strains of wild yeast perfect for spontaneous fermentation such as Brettanomyces Bruxellensis. The wort that lambic producers create is allowed to cool overnight in a long, shallow metal vessel known as a “koelschip”,
or “coolship” in English. As the wort cools, it’s inoculated by wild yeast before being transferred to oak barrels for fermentation.

Lambic attains its sourness not from the process of spontaneous fermentation, however. Brettanomyces gives lambic brewers the long and slow fermentation they desire, but the sourness will occur post-fermentation, taking place over a period of up to three years within its oak barrel. Moist, wort-filled barrels make an ideal home for bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, which often makes certain barrels or large oak vats known as foeders particularly prized by brewers. The heat of the summer months gives rise to all manner of undesirable bacteria however, which is why the lambic brewing season only extends from autumn to spring.

Lambic is becomingly increasingly sought after, especially brands such as Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen. This is with good reason too, as their products are superb. However I still delight in the fact that I can always pick up a bottle of Boon Oude Geuze with very little effort. The fact that it’s less hyped and produced in relatively larger quantities means that I don’t have to worry about this changing any time soon, either.

This year’s vintage reminded me of why I appreciate Boon’s lambic and geuze so much. It’s bright and complex – but not to the point of being hard to understand. Flavours of lemon juice and green apple are ever present from the point it pops in your mouth to the moment it zips down your throat.

By all means chase after the rarest and most sought after lambics you can possibly find. I’ll be here in the meantime, sipping at a Boon and not worrying too much about what should and shouldn’t be fussed over.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a bottle of Boon Oude Geuze in store or online.