Is this possible to make a lambic in the United States? This depends on the definition of what constitutes a lambic (brewing process or location) but the ongoing attempt by Allagash to use the usual ingredients, a cool ship, and real spontaneous fermentation could do it. In the meantime, some of the beers made by Russian River are coming closer in terms of brewing process and taste. Few, if any, American wild ales have come as close to the smell and taste of an actual Belgian Geuze as Russian River’s Beatification.
Beatification is a blend of two vintages of a base beer called “Sonambic,” which are further blended with “a couple of other orphan beers” to change the mouthfeel of barrel aged beers or enhance its acidity. Beatification was aged for 8 to 15 months in old Oak Barrels (at least 5 years according to Russian River’s website) which impart little wine or oak notes to the beer. Its “spontaneous” character lies in the wild yeasts and bacteria which inhabit the barrels. This method comes a lot closer to traditional lambic brewing than just adding a lambic or Flanders Red culture to the beer. Like traditional Geuze, Beatification undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which, as all the Russian River wild ale bottles, feature restrained and beautiful labels.
Because we did not have an opportunity to try this until a family member from California visited us, the beer that we tasted may have benefited from further aging after it was purchased in 2008.
The following notes were taken on Thursday, August 27, 2009:
Batch 003. 750 ml. Poured into a Cantillon Geuze glass.
Upon uncorking — lots of carbonation, foam came over the lip of the bottle.
Appearance: When pouring, half a finger of head which dissipated quickly. Blond / yellow beer, opaque.
Smell: Smells like a traditional Geuze. Cannot recall any American beer that smells so much like a lambic/Geuze. Brett, citrus (lemon), wheat.
Taste: Very tart, with a smooth finish. One of the strongest lemon notes I have ever tasted in a beer. Wheat. Alcohol is not very noticeable. A slight grapefruit note develops as it gets warmer.
Mouthfeel: Light. Moderate carbonation (just the right amount). Some astringency.
Drinkability: Extremely drinkable. Perhaps it is a good thing that the price prevents excessive consumption! A perfect beer to drink outside in warm weather.
One difference between Beatification and Geuze lambic that I detected is the reduced complexity in taste. In this case I am wondering whether this should be considered a defect because the bone dry and lemon-like taste is exceptional. There are more complex Russian River wild ales but Beatification simply blows them away. There is something to be said for alcoholic beverages that simply feature flawless execution of a specific flavor. More than one reviewer has compared Beatification to a very dry, tart white wine.
Since this beer was so close in taste to a traditional Geuze it would be interesting to use an analytical chemistry technique like chromatography on this beer to determine its chemical profile and compare it to traditional lambics and other wild ales.
After tasting Beatification there is no doubt in my mind that Americans can compete with the best traditional Lambic brewers if instant gratification is suppressed and the temptation to sweeten the beer, the use of new oak , and excessive carbonation is discouraged. All these pitfalls have been avoided in Beatification.
Of all the wild ales that are currently available in the United States, Beatification ranks among the best.