Lambics gone wild

Today a New York Times (free registration) tasting panel tackles lambic beers from Belgium.

Eric Asimov writes:

If you have explored beer and decided it’s not for you, well, I toast your open mind. But if you have exiled beers to parts unknown, I have a radical proposal: Take the time to seek out and try a few lambic beers from Belgium and tell me if these are not as complex and distinctive as many fine wines.

What makes this radical? Even many beer drinkers know little about lambic beer. It’s perhaps the most unusual beer around, truly made in the old-fashioned way. It is not at all easy to find. You will most likely have to seek out a shop specializing in great beers of the world, but I assure you it is worth the effort.

The panel breaks the beers into three categories. Favorites among the gueuze category are Cantillon Organic Gueuze and Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René, both receiving three stars (out of four). Top dry fruit lambics: Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek 2003 and Hanssens Oude Kriek, both with three-and-a-half stars.

Asimov touches on the issue of tradition when introducing the sweet fruit lambics.

Now here’s the sticky part, and the reason I hedged before in terming all these beers lambic. As in any community of passionate devotees, serious debate rages over what constitutes authentic lambic beer. This debate focuses on the most popular style, which has penetrated the beer market right down to the deli level. I’m speaking of the sweet fruit lambic beers, which often depart from the traditional methods by adding fruit juice or syrup to the brew, resulting in a sweet, sometimes cloying beer.

The favorite was De Troch Apricot Chapeau (three-and-a-half stars).