CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Horse blanket, face puckering, sour and sweaty are all adjectives to describe the beer category that is the basis for our beery subject of lambic beers. Lambics are beers that are spontaneously fermented by wild yeast and bacteria native to a region outside of Brussels, Belgium, specifically the valley along the River Senne.
Referred to as Payottenland, this region, its people and customs were often the subject of the festive paintings of the famous Flemish painter Pieter Breughel the Elder. The master often depicted the local folk drinking the sour lambic beer from traditional clay urns that are still used in the region.
The casual observer may think the subjects are drinking wine, but wine was the drink of the noble class in Northern Europe, not the festive peasants that were the subject of Breughel's brush.
Lambic beer starts with a simple grist of wheat and barley that is milled almost to a powder and mixed into a porridge that is constantly stirred, and heat is applied to convert the starch to a sugary wort. This turbid mashing process can take up to three hours unlike normal brew, which is typically less than half the time.
The hot wort is pumped to large shallow "coolship" fermenters that typically reside literally up in the rafters. The roof of the brewery is equipped with louvers to allow the naturally occurring wild flora to inoculate the cooling wort. The Senne Valley micro-flora is said to be specifically suited for this purpose and unique in the world. The area was once abundant with sour cherry trees that are credited as the genesis of this lamibcus micro-flora. So now you know the "funk" ...
There are only nine real lambic breweries left in the region along with four lambic blenders. The product is protected as a "Traditional Specialty Guaranteed" or TSG by the European Union.
As for lambic beer styles hailing from the region, we have several traditional versions of beers based on the fundamental lambic beers.
1.Young (fox) lambic -- typically only available in Belgium and at a lambic brewery pub. This beer is not for the faint of heart, typically very sour and will definitely test your salivary glands.