And now for something completely different. Because gueuze beers are different in a staggering and mind-bending way. Some people are entirely horrified by them, despite otherwise being big beer nerds. Other people would drink them all day and all night and go a bit kittens-with-catnip at the mere sight of one. Myself, I’m somewhere in the middle. (Though it’s the latter people who freak me out more than the former. By quite a margin.)
Brewing is a delightful mix of Bucket Science and Rocket Science — it calls for meticulousness roughly as often as it demands a healthy dose of “fuck it; biff that in and see what happens”. And so while you’ve got brews that call for very-particular strains of yeast, carefully cultured over decades and gently prodded in some desirable direction, genetically speaking — you’ve also got beers that are basically made by quite-literally leaving the windows open and just running with whatever-the-Hell drifts in on the breeze. Then these beers, the lambics, go out of their way to emphasise their oddness by using older, dried (and so less-potent) hops and usually fairly easy-going malts; a subtler canvas upon which the Jackson-Pollock-y crazypants of their random yeasts can shine. Lambics often have fruit (or fruit syrup) added, but a “gueuze” is an unsweetened blend of young and old lambic, and they get a bit… eccentric.
It’s one of those Belgian styles which quickly calls for the word funk. Surprising adjectives flow from people who are praising these things: musty, sour, medicinal, cheesy. The blessed subjectivity is in sharp relief; devotees and detractors will describe them almost identically, really differing only on whether on not they personally find those characters appealing. Tim and I probably enjoyed drinking this more than we enjoyed it, if that makes any sense. It was a hell of a ride: an enjoyably confusing and confronting barrage of sensory assaults clanging around and in a strangely fascinating way, like when forgotten change works its way out of the pocket of your jeans as they go around in the tumble-drier. It’s baffling, but never quite enough to make you give up. Each sip put a pained and alarmed look on our faces, but it was never very long before we went back for more; you just can’t not, somehow. The sheer weirdness of it prompted some hilarious conversation.
Sticking with obviously-positive descriptors for a moment, this had the sharp tartness of a cleansingly-acidic white wine. The fruit flavour in the forefront of my mind was crabapples — and I’m a sucker for crabapples, since I grew up with a tree full of them in the front yard. But there’s just no denying the scarier flavours: an imperfectly-made homebrew cider, the too-clean chemical smell of hospital disinfectant, the spiky aroma of a bowl of lemons just about to start rotting, and the dried-sweat stench of a gym towel that sat neglected in a corner somewhere and missed last week’s round of laundry.
But like I say, people who love them love them. Try one when you’re feeling brave — or give one to someone who foolishly says something like “just get me a beer, anything, I don’t mind; beer’s beer”, if you’re feeling particularly bastardly.
Verbatim: Lindeman’s ‘Cuvée René’ Gueuze 11/4/11 $16 ÷ 2 with Tim @ MH. He had an embarrassing run-in with a Lambic, way back; threw it out, thinking it was off. Ah, our pre-geek days. Lovely hazy gold. Turning-fruit, hospitally nose. Amy freaked out: nappies with lemons growing in. The sterile-chemically-ness is in there. Along with the usual crabapples I like. It is confronting. Hard to imagine the people who’d casually drink it. Tim: homebrew cider. Totally. A glass of gym-towel; dry and sweaty.