A fairly unique beer style that falls into the Belgian category is Gueuze. Pronunciation and spelling of this style varies, but a widely accepted pronunciation is “gooze”. This should sound like “ooze” but with a soft G at the start.
While not many people are familiar with this style, they are probably somewhat familiar with what makes it up. A Gueuze is a blend of young and old lambic beers. Generally, one, two, and three year old lambics are blended to create a beer that is truly unique. The sugar that is remaining in the younger lambics allows for re-fermentation in the old, giving a character that is more than the sum of its parts.
So What Is A Lambic?
Lambics are beer that are fermented using open fermentation tanks known as “coolships” where wild yeast inoculates the wort, giving it a unique character unlike tightly controlled yeasts. Today these wild yeast strains are controlled to an extent to help give a more uniform product for production, however. A lambic uses up to 40% un-malted wheat paired with malted barley for the fermentable brewing material, as well as hops that are aged as long as four years. This hop aging is done to kill off much of the hop character while keeping the preservative value of the hops. This provides a sharp, clean taste that lambics are known for.
The Gueuze Is Created
Once brewed, the lambics are aged in wood barrels for a certain amount of time. Generally speaking this goes by years, but truthfully, a good cellerman will keep a close eye on the beer and age it as long as is necessary to gain the properties he or she is looking for. Once this occurs, the beer is ready for the next step. The various aged lambics are now blended together in a ratio that varies dramatically depending on the character the brewer is looking for. The more young beer used, the brighter, sharper the taste will be. This must be balanced with the sweetness wanted to not give the Gueuze a sweet, cloying taste, which is generally not wanted here.
Once blended, the new beer can go back into casks to age more, or can be bottled to start bottle conditioning, which is commonly the case.
Characteristics of a Gueuze
Since lambics are considered wild ales, the Gueuze is considered wild as well, as wild yeast is used. During the blending process other organisms can be introduced to give some more unique characteristics than is present in just the lambics. A standard Gueuze has a wild, slightly sour taste that is often dry and slightly reminiscent of a dry cider. Some acidic qualities can be present, but should only support the wild yeast profile. A light fruity, honey character can be present as well. Sweetness should be kept to a minimum and not detract from the wild, barnyard character.
Overall, a Gueuze should, at it’s core, be balanced. The balance is what makes this style of beer great. The more balanced the acidity, sourness, and sweetness is, the better these beers are considered to be.
The famous beer writer Michael Jackson said of Gueuze:
“They are a marriage between youth and experience.”
I feel this is a perfect description of this style, and I recommend that if you can find one, to try it. This is an example of a style that has been largely unchanged for over 400 years, and for good reason.
Here are a few commercial examples you may be able to find:
- Cantillion Gueuze 100% Lambic
- Monks Cafe Cuvee De Monk’s Gueuze
- Boon Oude Gueuze
OG – 1.040 – 1.060
- FG – 1.000 – 1.006
- IBU – N/A
- SRM – 3.0 – 7.0
- ABV – 5.0 – 8.0
That’s about it for Gueuzes. There is a LOT more to these beers than meets the eye, so if you’re interested, I’d recommend reading more about them. Since these require so much barrel aging, it is fairly difficult to properly home-brew a Gueuze, but there are amazing professionally brewed examples out there, so I say find one and see what you think!
Until next time,