Gueuze is an interesting style, right down to its pronunciation. In America, it typically is pronounced “gooze,” which to me sounds vaguely pornographic. It turns out that the correct Flemish pronunciation is something more along the lines of “ger-ser” – but go ahead, try to walk into a bar in America and order it this way. No one will understand what you’re trying to order, so you might as well just say “gooze” and be done with it.
Yet another indigenous Belgian style, gueuze is a form of lambic. For those of you who took Intro to Logic in college, all gueuzes are lambics, but not all lambics are gueuzes.
Most lambics consumed in America are of the “fruit, sweetened” variety made popular by Lindemans, and to a lesser extent, the Belgian brewers St. Louis and Timmermans. There is nothing inherently wrong with those sweetened beers, but I feel that they obscure the whole concept of “lambic,” a style category that includes some of the most elegant, complex beers on the planet (in my humble opinion). To most people, “lambic” is synonymous with Lindemans Framboise. This article is in part an attempt to help change that perception.
“Oude gueuze,” “classic gueuze,” or however you wish to preface it – gueuze is simply a blended lambic that contains no fruit or sweeteners. The gueuze brewer will typically come up with a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambics, making the brewing and blending of gueuze a very time-and-labor intensive ordeal. The idea behind the blending is to strike the right balance between the bright, slightly sweet young lambic and the musty, woody old lambic. Like all other lambics, this beer undergoes spontaneous fermentation by various species of the wild yeast Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus bacteria, as well as any number of other related microscopic beasties. Hops are used in the brewing of gueuze; however, in this style aged hops are preferred. Aged hops retain the preservative qualities of fresh hops, yet contribute very little bitterness, instead helping lend a kind of “cheesy” aroma/taste to the beer.
As are all beers that undergo a bacterial fermentation, gueuzes are tart. Some are downright sour – to the inexperienced drinker, often impossibly sour, making the acidity of most wine seem tame by comparison. There will likely be some cheesy, leathery funk, with notes of cat urine not uncommon. Lastly, depending on the age of the beer, there may be an overriding bright apple-lemon-white grape fruit character. Lack of complexity is rarely a problem here. I usually like to refer to a fine Champagne as a reference point, as there are some similarities, not the least of which is a bubbly, lively mouthfeel.
Let’s get drinking. I’m popping open Timmerman’s Oude Gueuze. I mentioned Timmermans before – this brewery is most well-known for producing the popular “Strawberry Lambic,” one of the sweetened lambics I mentioned earlier. However, they also brew a couple traditional lambics – the bottle I have in front of me is one of them.
In the glass, it looks like any number of blond ales. It’s a sunny gold (though slightly cloudy) with a fizzy bone-white head that doesn’t show a lot of staying power, rather, foaming up viciously and settling quickly much like a glass of kombucha. To me, the aromatics are a tableau of lemon zest, a light cheese, and faint cat urine. It’s mostly sour lemon, though.
Well hello, this is quite the mouth-puckering beer. It’s far more sour than I thought it would be, given this brewery’s reputation for sweetened strawberry lambic. Sour lemon grabs the palate and leads the way, straight-up, with sour grape the secondary flavor component. There’s some leather, wood, and cheese here, but the lemon is really the driver with the vinous character along for the ride. I get some residual sweetness on the tip of the tongue, but it finishes dry. Some gueuzes are dank, musty, and funky, while some are “bright.” This one falls into the bright category for now. Aging the bottle several years may well tame the lemon, ferment out all residual sweetness, and bring out “darker” flavors if that’s what is desired.
Fresh or aged, either way gueuze is a fine food accompaniment. Shellfish will work extremely well here, especially the Belgian staple moules frites. I could see it working with a buttery lobster, too – the acidity and carbonation here are going to have superior fat cutting-and-lifting qualities, refreshing the palate after each bite while not overwhelming the delicate lobster. The acidity and carbonation also make gueuze an ideal companion to cheese – I’m liking the match even more with buttery cheeses like triple cream, Gouda, Brie, Camembert.
In limited quantities, this one is available in 750ml bottles in some of the better South Florida liquor stores and beer bars – I’m pretty sure Abraxas and Cervezas both carry it currently. Other examples that may or may not be available include the following:
Oud Beersel Oude Geuze Vieille (I see this one at Whole Foods CG)
Girardin Gueuze Black Label
Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze
Cantillon Classic Gueuze