Belgian Lambics: The Ancient Art of Spontaneous Fermentation in Modern Brewing
Lambics are traditional Belgian beers originating in the Pajottenland region, southwest of Brussels, and in the city itself. With production tracing back hundreds of years, they are among the world’s oldest beers still being made. The name “Lambic” derives from the town of Lembeek, once a major brewing hub in Europe.
What sets Lambics apart is their method of spontaneous fermentation. While this might not seem groundbreaking in today’s craft beer renaissance, just 15 years ago, in a market dominated by industrial brands like Beck and Heineken, Lambics stood out as a craft beer touchstone. They continue to occupy a unique and captivating niche.
Instead of introducing cultured yeasts, Lambics rely on the wild yeasts and bacteria naturally present in the air for fermentation. This occurs in open cooling vats known as koelschips, where the beer wort is left exposed overnight.
The result is a beer with acidic, complex flavors that defy easy categorization. Notes of cider, green apple, hay, and even cheese can appear, offering a multifaceted tasting experience. Younger Lambics tend to be sweeter and less acidic, while aged versions are drier, more acidic, and intricately complex.
How Lambic is Produced
The beer is made from a blend of malted barley and raw wheat, usually in near-equal proportions. After boiling, the wort is cooled in open vats under the night sky, where ambient yeasts like Brettanomyces initiate fermentation. The brew is then aged in wooden barrels for one to three years.
True Lambics are produced solely in the Pajottenland region and in Brussels, an area rich in the specific wild yeasts that give these beers their unique flavor.
Lambic Producers We Love
Notable Lambic brewers include Brasserie Cantillon, one of the oldest operational Lambic breweries; Brouwerij Boon, famous for its high-quality Geuze; and Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen, renowned for its balanced and complex Lambics.
A standard 330ml bottle of Lambic contains approximately:
- Calories: 150
- Protein: 1g
- Fat: 0g
- Carbohydrates: 13g
- Alcohol: 15g
How to Serve Lambic
Lambics are best enjoyed chilled, but not ice-cold, ideally between 10° and 15°C. They pair exceptionally well with fish, seafood, and goat cheese. Their acidity also makes them suitable companions for fatty or fried foods. Fruity versions like Kriek or Framboise go splendidly with fruit or chocolate-based desserts such as tiramisu and chocolate salami.