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Oude Mûre Tilquin à L'ancienne

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Tilquin was the beer that made a believer out of me. Ever since that first fateful Tilquin Gueuze, my regard for lambic (and sours in general) has only increased. At the time, you could reliably find bottles of Tilquin out and about, but these days, they seem to have gone the way of Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen. You can still find them on occasion, but they don't normally sit on shelves for very long. Not bad for a Gueuzerie that only opened their doors in 2011.

Since the beginning, they had a fruited variant made with plums, but that offering didn't make its way to the US until a larger batch was produced in 2013, whereupon beer dorks like myself declared it a success. (Funny, at the time, I marveled that this stuff was still available on shelves...)

Now we have a second fruited variant, this time using German "Lock Ness" (aka Rubus fruticosus) blackberries (aka Mûre in French) and blending with small amounts of 2 and 3 year old lambic. I always knew I wanted Mûre Tilquin:

Oude Mûre Tilquin à L'ancienne

Oude Mûre Tilquin à L'ancienne - Pours an orange crimson color with half a finger of white head (maybe some pink tonez). Smells very funky, earthy, a little unidentifiable but tart fruit. Taste starts off sweet, hits some earthy funk notes in the middle, then moves into jammy tart fruit territory (not obviously blackberries, but something clearly there) with a sour kick. As it warms, it feels a bit richer and the oak comes out a bit more. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, moderate acidity. Overall, this is great, complex, jammy, stuff. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.4% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 1/27/17. Best by: 05/01/2026.

Excellent stuff, as you would expect. Up next on the Tilquin front is a Pinot Noir variant that should be making its way to the US in 2017. Fingers crossed that Kaedrin's beer acquisition team stays on top of it.

Lambickx

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Hardcore lambic nerdery incoming. Take cover! So there have been some attempts to classify the different styles of lambic. The most common is to separate Gueuze (blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambic), fruited lambic (exactly what it sounds like), and unblended lambic (lambic that is not part of a gueuze blend or fruited lambic, and is usually near still or flat).

As it turns out, the usage of "unblended" is mildly inaccurate, but persists due to its widespread usage in English-speaking publications (N.B. this includes writings from Michael Jackson and other highly respected authors, so this isn't meant as a slight). While "unblended" lambic does exist, it seems to be rare. Most beers categorized as such, like Cantillon's Grand Cru Bruocsella or De Cam's Oude Lambiek, are actually blends of various old lambics. Since they are all older lambics, they still don't qualify as gueuze (which is a blend of old and young) and they don't experience any refermentation in the bottle and thus lack carbonation. Locals in lambic regions tend to refer to these beers as simply young or old lambics (The terms "jonge" and "oude" in Dutch and "jeune" and "vieux" in French translate to "young" and "old" respectively).

I have, of course, been guilty of using "unblended" in the past. Frankly, it's never been my favorite approach to lambic. I tend to be sensitive to carbonation issues and thus haven't been in love with the few examples I managed to snag. That said, I'm told that this approach does allow you to get closer to a given brewery's "house character" than a gueuze, and with this Lambickx offering sourced from De Troch, I think I may be catching on to the style.

This is all well and good, but it would be nice to know the carbonation state before opening a bottle and just calling something "lambic" seems like too big of an umbrella term for that. Maybe instead of "Unblended" you could use "Still" or "Pure" or "Straight" (all of which I've seen used in differing capacities). I mean, I knew what I was in for when I popped the cork on this bottle, but from the label alone one could easily assume it would be carbonated (like most other lambic or beer). Regardless, as hinted at above, I ended up enjoying this much more than I would have thought. Then again, that very "pure" nature of this offering also leads to more variability, so maybe I just got a particularly good bottle. Or maybe Vanberg & DeWulf's barrel selection is just on point.

Lambickx De Troch

Lambickx De Troch 2012-2014 - Pours a honey gold color, no head, no carbonation. Smells great, light funkiness, tart fruit, sour twang. Tastes quite nice, sweet, nice tart fruit character, a little oak, moderate to low sourness, very well balanced. Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, still (no real carbonation), moderate to low acidity, again very well balanced. Overall, this is much better than I was expecting. I've not been particularly enamored with unblended lambics in the past, but this is quite nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.75% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/6/16. Brew Year: 2012. Bottle Year: 2014. Number of Bottles: 2667. Source: De Troch. Barrel Type: 600 liter French Oak.

So I may have to snag some more Lambickx vintages and variants, maybe even age some further. Other Still Lambics might get on my radar as well. Funnily enough, while I have a category for Gueuze, I pretty much put everything else in a generic Lambic category. Now that I've got a couple of these Pure Lambics, I should probably

Hanssens Oude Schaarbeekse Kriek

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Schaerbeek is nicknamed "the city of donkeys" because they are ruled by a master race of giant, hyper-intelligent donkeys (and I, for one, welcome our new donkey overlords and would like to remind them that as a trusted blogging personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground cherry caves.) Or, you know, people of Schaerbeek, who were cultivators of sour cherries, would use donkeys to transport their precious cargo to its various destinations. One of those things. Anyway, the traditional cherries used in lambic krieks came from that region, but as lambic production has increased, the usage of authentic Schaarbeekse cherries has lessened due to obvious supply and demand pressures. Many breweries risk the "wrath of the donkeys" to do limited runs of their standard krieks with Schaarbeekse cherries, and the result is generally considered a step above the normal kriek offerings.

Hanssens tends to be known more for their Gueuze, which is very good, but when you take their standard kriek (a middle-of-the-road fruited lambic offering, quite nice but not a monster at all) and substitute those Schaarbeekse cherries, they manage to put out an interesting special release. Which, of course, is what we have here.

Hanssens Oude Kriek Handgeplutkte Schaarbeekse Krieken

Hanssens Oude Kriek Handgeplutkte Schaarbeekse Krieken - Pours a deep, dark red color with a little fizzy head that is not long for this world. Smells great, tons of cherry character, but also some oaky aromas and a very nice earthy funk too. Taste has a nice and rich cherry flavor, plenty of oak, and a little earthy funk livening things up (or, er, grounding them?) Sourness peeks in towards the middle and intensifies through the finish. More acetic than usual, but not at all inappropriate and still well balanced. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a bit low on the carbonation (but nowhere near still), a little sticky or syrupy, but still pleasantly so, moderate to high acidity. Overall, this is delicious. A slight increase in carbonation would make this one a classic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 375 ml bottled(375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 10/29/16. Bottled: March 2015.

So that's a nice offering from Hanssens, a mildly underrated lambic producer (I have not reviewed their Gueuze, but it's good and reliably available).

Zwanze Day 2016

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Zwanze is a French word that roughly translates as "Humor typical of Brussels" and each year, Brussels-based Cantillon releases a beer of that name in a special worldwide event. As you might expect from the name, the beers tend to incorporate experimental ingredients or unconventional takes on their classical lambic style. In 2016, only 50 or so different bars throughout the world could hold a Zwanze Day celebration and as luck would have it, one was Monk's Cafe in Philly.

Monks Cafe Neon Sign
(Click to Embiggen)

Of course, the occasion also marks an excuse to tap lots of other rare and interesting beers, including four other Cantillon lambics. Monk's also held a truly astouding raffle and sells a limited amount of Cantillon bottles to-go. It's an all cash event and proceeds go to a good cause, this year being Fair Food. I wasn't sure if I'd be up to making the trek into the city and braving the crowds, but during dinner on the preceding night I cracked open a fortune cookie and saw this:

Fortune Cookies Never Lie

So I strapped my big boy pants on (ugh, I had to wear pants too, it was the worst), hopped on a train, and got in line a couple hours early. And if you think that's crazy, some people had been waiting in line since 8 pm the previous night (around the time I was elbow deep into some Chinese food).

The Loon
(Click to Embiggen)

It was a bit of a madhouse and crowds aren't really my thing, but I managed to stay sane with the help of some Cantillon Mamouche (a lambic made with elderflowers that originated as Zwanze 2009, but they liked it so much they kept making it), fresh Kriek (which is a super jammy cherry bomb and very different with some age on it - either way, it's awesome), Gueuze (always a delight), and what I believe was Iris Grand Cru (which is Iris sans the dry-hopping and unblended to keep carbonation minimal - interesting to try, but I'm not overly fond of still beer.)

Two for one - Cantillon Gueuze and Kriek
(Click to Embiggen)

The event started at noon, but they weren't tapping Zwanze until 3 pm, so I also got to dip into some other interesting beers, including a pair beers cellared since 2010. Russian River Supplication is one of my favorite beers and with 6 years on it, it still holds up pretty well. A little oxidation and perhaps a bit mellower than fresh, it also had a beautiful vinous fruit character that worked great. Lost Abbey Red Poppy from 2010 has also held up very well, retaining a surprising amount of cherry character.

Eventually, the crowd had swelled to bursting levels and Zwanze was poured. This year's edition is a throwback to Cantillon's old-school Framboise (i.e. pre-Rosé De Gambrinus, which is made with 100% Rasberries). As Jean van Roy explains: "When we used raspberries from Belgium, the taste was nice, but the color was not so beautiful. It was a bit old rose. To get a bit more color to the beer, we blended the raspberry beer with 25 percent of cherry Lambic and a bit of vanilla." For Zwanze, Jean switched things up a bit, producing a blend of 82% raspberry lambic with 18% blueberry lambic and .05% vanilla added.

Cantillon Zwanze 2016
(Click to Embiggen)

And it's delicious. Best nose of anything I had all day, complex fruit, hints of funk and oak. Taste follows the nose and the mouthfeel was a bit undercarbed (but nowhere near still, like the Iris was). It was great and with a little age and some extra carbonation, I feel like it could get even better (I don't think they sold any bottles to go anywhere, even at the brewery, but I would hope they kept some in reserve - would love to try some in a year's time to see how it held up). I wish I got a bigger pour, but I'm glad so many other people were able to get a taste.

All in all, a very exciting event. I'm really glad I went but truth be told, big crowds aren't really my thing so I'm not sure if I'd go again. I'm reliably informed that some other venues weren't nearly as crowded, so perhaps that's the ticket. Only time will tell! Until then, I'm sure I can occupy myself with lots of other great beer, perhaps with Monk's Cafe's help!

Lindemans Kriek Cuvée René

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I think my first lambic evar was a draft pour of Lindeman's straight up Kriek. It was not a great beer... and it still isn't particularly good. Why? It turns out that the process for the regular kriek is to take young lambic and add cherry juice and artificial sweetener. In the past, this included something called Acesulfame K, which I know sounds delicious, but is actually pretty gross. These days they use Stevia, but it still tastes odd. It's a cheaper process and thus the beer is more widely available, but then all these sweetened lambics basically taste like sugary Robitussin.

Lindemans Cuvée René Gueuze, though, is a decent example of that style and doesn't cut such corners. Now they've expanded the line to include Kriek Cuvée René, where they blend lambic that is at least 6 months old and throw it into an oak foudre with actual whole cherries (pits and all) to age for another 6 months or so. The result is wholly different and a vast improvement over the regular kriek. Let's dive in:

Lindemans Kriek Cuvee Rene

Lindemans Kriek Cuvée René - Pours a deep, dark red color with a finger of fizzy, short-lived pink head. Smells great, plenty of cherries of course, but also a really nice musky funk. Taste is sweet, with those cherries up front, followed by a little oak and vanilla, finishing with an intense blast of sourness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, with lots of acidity, especially in the finish. This sucker is drinking really well right now, but from my experience, it seems like the sort of thing that will age really well too. Overall, this is great, seek it out. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/13/16. Bottled 12 Aug 2015.

I've been getting more and more enchanted with lambics of late, which is kinda bad news since they are so expensive and hard to find. Still, with stuff like this hitting shelves semi-reliably, there's plenty to explore. This one is worth checking out for sure. I'm curious to see if Lindemans steps up their game in other ways, too...

Drie Fonteinen Intense Red

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Your typical Oude Kriek lambic will be made by blending young lambic with somewhere on the order of 25%-30% (by weight) of cherries. Intense Red? Well, it uses 40% whole sour cherries. Madness, I tell you! Madness. In any case, the name "Intense Red" is most certainly appropriate. I was unable to figure out why this particular offering has a completely different labeling style from all of Drie Fonteinen's other artwork, but then, maybe that's why I was able to find this on a shelf. I'm not complaining, so let's wade into this potent cherry potion:

Drie Fonteinen Intense Red Oude Kriek

Drie Fonteinen Intense Red Oude Kriek - Pours a clear, vivid ruby red color, quite striking, with a cap of bright pink head. Smells very sweet, tons of cherries of course, but also hints of underlying earthy funk and maybe really faint notes of oak. Taste is syrupy sweet, lots of sour cherries, just hints of earthy funk present themselves in the middle along with some oak, only to be drowned out by tart cherries in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, very sticky, but not cloying, low-ish carbonation, but enough to make it palatable... Light to moderate sourness. The impact is generally pretty powerful, making this something that'd be worth sharing (even this small bottle). Overall, this is very good, somehow managing to be simultaniously unique and yet a little one note... but if you like cherries, you'll love that note. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tumbler glass on 4/16/16. Bottled: 02-05-2014.

As always, 3 Fonteinen delivers. Alas, no new varieties on the horizon for me... yet. I'm sure I'll find a way to try something else soon enough. I'm looking at you, Framboos.

Lambickx Kriek

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Vanberg & DeWulf is an importer with a long history of bringing Belgian beer to America, even back in the Dark Ages of U.S. beer in the 1980s. At various times, they handled the likes of Duvel, Rodenbach, and Boon, but those operations eventually outgrew Vanberg & DeWulf's small-scale focus. These days, they're probably best known as the importers of Brasserie Dupont and, for you lambic dorks out there, Geuzestekkerij DeCam. They also seem to have good relationships with Oud Beersel, De Troch, and Boon, sometimes importing one-offs or oddball lines like the Bzart series of champagne/lambic hybrids.

I'm not huge into the business side of beer, but one aspect that does interest me a bit is the sort of strange commodity market that has evolved around lambic. This sort of thing seems to happen more often with aged booze, and given the 3 year lead time for a good Gueuze (typically a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambic) it seems to be present in Belgium. Granted, it's probably not as widespread as NDP bourbon and Scotch houses, but there's a few blenderies that don't actually make the beer, but rather just age and blend it. And they're not scrubs either; Tilquin has quickly become a Kaedrin favorite, for instance. This is also how you end up with all those weird mad scientist blends that we've been covering lately.

Anyway, Vanberg & DeWulf's founder Don Feinberg used his connections in the lambic world to purchase his own lambic reserves and bottle his own selections under a the Lambickx brand. Some of these have clear provenance (usually an unblended DeTroch lambic), but others label the source as the cryptic "Private Domain". Vanberg's website says they're from De Troch and Oud Beersal, but other sources claim Boon is also involved. What we have here is actually the Kriek, two year old lambic with cherries added (actual fruit, none of that syrupy, artificial adjunct gunk they put in the cheap fruited lambics). It hails from that ever-mysterious Private Domain, but it's actually one of the better fruited lambics I've had outside of the big boys (i.e. Cantillon and 3F). I've always been scared away from the regular Lambickx offerings because they're unblended and nearly still, and I have this thing about carbonation and whatnot, but this one is actually pretty well carbonated. Let's take a closer look:

Lambickx Kriek

Vanberg & DeWulf Lambickx Kriek - Pours a striking clear red, so many robey tones bro, with avery pretty finger of pink head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, lots of sour cherry and some earthy funk, maybe some hints of oak. Taste is very sweet, lots of cherries up front, buttressed by oak and earthy funk in the middle, ending back on cherry character, more syrupy this time, in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, lightly acidic, with just a hint of syrupy character but then, it kinda dries out in the finish. Overall, this is an excellent Kriek, one of the better ones that I've snagged off of a shelf. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 4/9/16. Batch 2. Brew Year: 2012. Bottle Year: 2014. Number of Bottles: 9867. Region: Zenne Valley. Source: Private Domain. Barrel Type: 650 liter, Oak and Chestnut.

This was good enough that I'd like to snag another sometime and age it, see if that funk blossoms over time. Someday, I'm sure I'll take a flier on regular Lambickx, despite the supposed lack of carbonation. In the meantime, I've got a couple other Kriek lambic reviews coming your way, so stay tuned.

Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek

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Along with the Oude Geuze, Drie Fonteinen's Oude Kriek is one of their flagship beers. It is basically youngish lambic aged on macerated cherries (pits included!) and refermented in the bottle. I'm reviewing one of the 2015 vintages, but the most intriguing vintage is the 2009.

Drie Fonteinen has been around in some capacity for over a century, but most of that time they were basically a blender. They would buy inoculated wort from lambic producers, then age and blend it. In 1999, they leased a brewing system and started producing their own lambic. In doing so, they became the first new lambic producer in over 80 years. It was pretty good timing too. Lambic was thought to be near dead in the early 90s, but the winds were shifting, and apparently Drie Fonteinen had their finger on the pulse, because the 2000s saw a dramatic increase in interest in Lambic.

This progress call came to a screeching halt one day when Armand Debelder entered his warehouse to find a catastrophic failure of his climate control system. In what's become known as the "Thermostat Incident", a hot air blower essentially never turned off, raising the temperature of the warehouse to 60°:C (14060°:F), essentially cooking over 80,000 bottles of lambic and even causing a few thousand to explode. Most of the lambic was ruined, and the 10 year lease of brewing equipment was coming due. Armand had to temporarily scrap his brewing operation and find ways to recoup. There were several strategies to do so, but the short story is that they're back to brewing again, and their future is bright.

One way they recouped was to take some of the cooked geuze and distill it into eau de vie called Armand'Spirit. They were also able to salvage a few thousand bottles of the Oude Kriek, which were released with a sticker that says "Saved from Thermostat Incident" and eventually became referred to as "Hot Cherry" bottles. You still see ISOs for these now and again, but reviews are difficult to suss out. It's hard to beat the romantic story behind it, of course, but that also tends to color impressions. Of course, this is all academic for me. It is unlikely that I will ever see a bottle of the stuff, let alone taste it, but a man can dream. In the meantime, let's check in with the current humdrum vintage:

Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek

Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek - Pours a striking, clear, radiant dark ruby color with a finger or two of fizzy pink head. Smells great, lots of tart fruit, cherries, blackberries, and the like, big funky earth character, and oak. Taste takes on a bright fruit character, lots of that cherry comes through strong, the earth and oak are present towards the finish but toned down a bit in favor of the tart fruit, and the moderate sourness anchors most of the taste. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, moderately acidic, maybe a hint of stickiness, but it's not syrupy. Overall, a rock solid Kriek lambic, not quite Cantillon levels, but on the same playing field. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/5/15. Bottled: 2015 January 18th.

Drinking 3F is always a pleasure. Bottles are hard to come by, but not quite as impossible to find as Cantillon these days. Definitely something to keep an eye out for, and usually worth paying a premium for...

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Lambic category.

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