Botanical Lambics

Like many other lambic connoisseurs, my first acquaintance with lambic was through a fruit lambic of dubious merit (retrospectively). But it was  Monk’s Cafe’s Flemish’s Sour Ale in 2007 that revealed the potential of a true sour beer and prompted me to research related beers and, of course, the lambics from Belgium such as Cantillon.

Traditional fruit lambics are great but something of a black art. Fruit lambics do not age well, they can turn out one-dimensionally sour, and acidic acid can show up where it should not. As a general rule, I have become more partial to (aged) unblended lambic and gueuze. When it comes to adding things to the lambic I am more intrigued by adding herbs and vegetables. I think my first true experience was Cantillon’s Zwanze 2008, a rhubarb beer. The idea of a botanical lambic evokes the image of some kind of medieval, mind-altering concoction – as ancient as time. Adding herbs and spices to wild ales and lambics has become a lot more common since then but I was still determined to taste all the Lindemans “botanical lambic” releases after having reviewed their SpontanBasil bottling.

Lindemans’s BlossomGueuze, a “2 to 3 year old lambic aged in wood, blended with 12 month old lambic and elderflower” is the second release in their botanical lambic series. Elderflower is no a stranger to lambics as it was used by Cantillon for their Zwanze 2009 experiment, which was so well received that this elderflower lambic was revived as Cantillon Mamouche, and became a part of their regular line-up. When I still dabbled with wild beer homebrewing myself I made an elderflower sour once by adding a lot of elderflower during secondary fermentation. This produced such strong elderflower notes that I have become quite adapt in recognizing its aroma in beers.

BlossomGueuze pours is a clear amber-colored beer. So clear that some might identify it as a different beer style. It has a soft aroma of elderflower (a lot more subtle than my homebrew!), stone fruit, and oak.  My tasting notes read green apple, elderflower, bitter lemon, and grass. This is a very dry beer and there is a lingering bitter aftertaste with a little bit of tannin.  Quite effervescent and refreshing.

The GingerGueuze is blend of 2 to 3 year old lambics and 1 year old lambic to which ginger was added. Strinctly speaking, the “ginger” used in this beer is galangal, a closely related spice in the rhizome family. Galangal is also called “Thai Ginger” and is somewhat different from the ginger that most people know. I cannot claim to recognize all the subtleties involved here but I have consumed enough ginger tea and ginger kombucha to recognize the basic flavor well.

After sampling all the Lindemans botanical lambics it seems to me that their base beer for the botanicals series is the same (clear, amber, slightly tannic, effervescent)  which makes it a little easier to focus on the added herbs. There is a distinct ginger aroma but not too pungent. In fact, there is a little sweetness to the nose. Quite mild and pleasant. There is definitely ginger in the taste and I would say that it is more pronounced than the basil and elderflower in their other botanical lambics.  But is not too hot or sharp which would have overwhelmed the other lambic qualities. Other things I pick up are gin & tonic, bitter orange, and the slightly bitter note that seems to be present in all the base beers of this series. The GingerGueuze has a thinner mouthfeel in my experience. What positively set it apart from the other two is that the added ginger carried over in a longer finish. This beer, or any of their botanicals, did not strike me as particularly complex or deep (“geuze plus ginger” is an apt characterization) but  I am not sure whether one can ask for a lot more for experimental brews such as this.

One can only hope that Lindemans continues its series of botanical lambics. Fortunately, the “style” as such is not dependent on this project. Other lambic brewers (Cantillon in particular) have established a sound track record for brewing with herbs, flowers, spices etc. In the United States, adding botanicals to Wild Ales is quite common and the practice is routinely used at breweries such as De Garde and Upright. At some point this style will persist long enough to converge on issues such as optimal concentrations, exposure time, botanical combinations, and aging potential.

As I write this, my favorite “green sour” style remains a juniper-forward wild ale aged in gin barrels. Some years ago I even played with the idea of starting my own botanical (nano) brewery to focus on archaic spontaneously fermented gruits. I think it is fair to say that the vision behind this idea has been independently recognized by others and has culminated in some rather interesting experiments coming to the market.