Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hanssens Artisanaal - Oude Gueuze

Heya, how is everyone? Today I've got a fresh new beer up for review and to most, this style will be a complete mystery; It's called: Gueuze (pronounced: Hoze-uh). In order to fully explain what a Gueuze is, we'll first need to discuss a different type of beer called a Lambic (maybe you've heard of this style before?). I do apologize as this entry grows rather long. But I can assure you it provides a step-by-step description of the process (something I had no substantial knowledge of before this). Hope you'll enjoy.

Alright so rolling up our sleeves now let's get to the bottom of Gueuze's and Lambic's. A Lambic is the base component of a Gueuze. A Gueuze contains at least 2 different Lambic's. So what's a Lambic? Glad you asked. Let's find out...

Lambic's were first produced in Belgium (more specifically in the Senne Valley) located just south of Bruxelles along the Senne River. This region is widely known for its wild strains of unique seasonal yeasts that make Lambic's and Gueuze's what they are. These beers depend on spontaneous fermentation, this is fermentation that occurs when yeast floating in the air starts fermenting the sugars we find in wort (the sugary malty mixture we call beer before fermentation). Unlike the brewing I've done at home where you're instructed to cool the wort as quickly as possible and seal it up without allowing any potentially hazardous contaminants to fall in, brewers of Lambic's allow the beer to cool slowly in large, shallow open-air vats (this goes against everything I've learned about making beer, because cleanliness and good sanitation is king when it comes to brewing, or so I thought). As you can imagine, not only is there yeast floating around in the air but lots of other micro-organisms and goodies I won't delve into, but just know that this is what lends a Lambic such a unique flavor, everything is spontaneous. If you remember my mention of the famous Senne Valley and its seasonal yeasts, we'll note here that traditional brewing of Lambic beers takes place between the months of October to April. The temperature during the winter months lends itself to Lambic production because bacteria and other microbes can't thrive in cooler temperatures. It's a win win situation. Ok so now that's out of the way, continuing on with the Lambic process; the wort is allowed to cool in large shallow open-air vats and is then transferred to large tubs. Eventually the unfermented wort finds its way into oaken casks where primary fermentation from the airborne yeasts is allowed to take place. The initial vigorous fermentation of the easily fermentable sugars is over within approximately 2 weeks.

Now from there, these young beers will be allowed to lager (or age/mature) in these casks at cooler, most likely cellar temperature (about 55 - 58ºF or 13 - 15ºC). These Lambic's will remain in cask for at least one year, other's will remain in cask for two or three years. Now this is where we bring the term Gueuze back into the light. As I stated earlier Lambic's and Gueuze's are directly related. You can think of a Lambic as the father of the Gueuze because what the brewers then do is take Lambic's of different vintages (as I was saying: one, two, or three years old) and blend them together. I've no idea in what proportion a brewer will do this at; I'm assuming according to a recipe or some kind of strict code, something unique to that particular brewery or maybe even to taste, given the fact that wild yeast is unpredictable and will produce beers that vary in flavour year to year. But the journey of the Gueuze does not stop here. As some of you already know fermenting a beer is only the first step in beer production. Beer must be carbonated. And so to carbonate the Gueuze brewers will utilize the unfermented sugars still present in the young (one year old) Lambic. When they combine the other vintages the yeasts still present will consume the sugars from the young Lambic. Thanks to the bottle-cap (or in this case the cork) the CO2 remains in solution and ready to dance upon your tongue when you crack it open. Post-bottling, the beer will be kept on location for a period of approximately seven to eight months to allow for full carbonation and further development of flavour. Long process eh? And an even longer entry. What was my aim when I started? Oh that's right to explain the process of making Lambic and Gueuze, which is incredibly complicated, not to mention painstakingly long.

The flavour profile on Gueuze is quite unique and unlike any other beer you've ever tasted. Flavours will range from cidery to musty, from very sour and vinegar-like to woody, reedy, and even old barnyard-like flavours (If you have yet to taste this barnyard flavour in a beer, let me tell you, you'll know when you do). And as for the name: Gueuze, its origin remains a mystery. The most plausible theory suggests that it comes from the old Norman word for wheat, which ironically enough is gueuze. Lambic's are known to contain a fair amount of wheat in their grist (the grain that will later be boiled to produce wort). And now, if you're still with me and haven't completely lost interest or fallen asleep, we have the beer. The actual living form, embodiment and culmination of this long age-old process: the Gueuze. And this one is from Hanssens Artisanaal.

Quick background on Hanssens, only because I found this bit of information quite interesting. They first opened in their present location in 1896 and can be found in the small city of Dworp, Belgium down in the Senne River Valley. Hanssens Artisanaal does not actually brew the Lambic's necessary for a Gueuze. Instead they "assemble" a Gueuze (they are called Lambic blenders). They actually purchase the Lambic from outside sources and then blend it to produce a Gueuze. Thirty to forty years ago the art of blending Lambic was more popular and done by nearly forty independent blenders. But flashforward to present day and there is only one independent blender left, and that is Hanssens Artisanaal. It has been done the same way in their family for the past one-hundred years; using almost the same material, which as I've just outlined, requires a massive amount of skill, knowledge and effort. Hanssens is directed by Sidy Hanssens, the fourth generation in this family's tradition. Kind of incredible. Still with me? First off, allow me to applaude you for making it to the end of this entry. Like the neverending entry, sheesh. I hope you're still reading and I hope I was able to shed a bit of light on a lesser-known style of beer. Alright then, onto the tasting notes of Oude (old) Gueuze....

Name: Oude Gueuze
Category/Style: Gueuze
ABV: 6.00%
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Wild Belgian Yeast, Brettanomyces
Special Additives: Unknown
Bottled: Unknown
Bottle Size: 375 mL corked
Location Purchased: de Bierkoning, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Pour: Pale golden yellow, a very quickly dissipating fizzy
head. No lacing. Looks like low carbonation to me.

The Nose: Sour, acidic, wood, and vinegar. A bit of sulfur and dust.
Is that a slight hint of malt? Some spicy sour funk. Kind of sweet and beguiling. Champagne. White grapes, and white wine. A little green apple and lemony citrus. Maybe some floral hops...swirling the glass releases some hidden aromas. Guess they had to be shaken free. More of the same beguiling nose. Sweet and light but dense and heavy at the same time. This one has many layers. Fruity and attractive. Time for a taste...

The Taste: Initially sweet, fruity and very inviting, but deceptive and the facade falls away and the sour character comes to the forefront. Sour, spicy, a very nice bite that surprises you a bit. Very acidic and lots of vinegar. Carbonation hits all at once, in one nice explosion, then it's gone and midway through near the end I'm hit with a nice mouth filling bitterness. Body is light and airy. It finishes very clean and leaves me wanting more. Wow this one is really quite something. Sweet, sour, bitter, and clean. Nice woody reedy notes distributed throughout as well. A slight warming of the back of the throat. Quite surprising for a 6%. Finish is very dry. Leaves your mouth devoid of any moisture.

The Verdict: This beer really is something else. Complexity-wise, this one is on another level. Each sip is very clearly defined as sweet, sour, bitter, clean. This beer is a combination of apple and white grape juice, sparkling wine, sweet tarts and IPA. It really does make your lips pucker. It's crazy also that the side of the bottle says it is preferable to consume this before 2030. I'll be bald and over the hill by the time 2030 rolls around. Maybe I'll buy a bottle,
and keep it until 2030 and drink it when I hit 45. This one is definitely top notch. Really so many layers, I'm sure I didn't even scratch the surface. The flavor on this one is very unique and distinct and I feel that it's got a little bit to offer each kind of beer lover out there. Distribuation-wise I hear this one is difficult to come by outside of the region, so best bet is to call around to the specialty beer shops in your area and see if they're carrying it.

Thanks so much for reading this one all the way through!


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