Monday, April 25, 2005

Tasting notes - Geuze Boon

I have to hand it to the beer buyer (or "team leader" or whatever they call them) for San Francisco's downtown Whole Foods. Say what you will about the store in general, it's prices, etc., but the fact that you can find specialties there that don't even show up at Toronado during Belgian beer month is quite the feat of beer conjuring. Just how many bottles of Boon Geuze do they expect to sell, anyway?
Ask for it by name: Goat's Bone.
Maybe, just maybe, to make the buyer (leader, swami, shaman) feel loved for their efforts, I'll just go ahead and buy the whole damn lot of them.
In the wonderfully weird world of lambics, Frank Boon (bōn) is widely credited for sustaining, if not expanding, the style's acceptance and appreciation around Belgium and the rest of the world. That's no small matter, either, when you consider the product he's selling is a wildly fermented, purposefully sour beer that involves one of the most complicated, time-consuming brewing techniques in the world, when most people would be happy kicking back with a bottle of MGD.
Nevertheless, his success - on top of the current faddishness of farmhouse ales and other imported curiosities - means that a guy like me doesn't have to settle for a fruit lambic when he wants something uniquely refreshing anymore. While the more popular members of the lambic family - framboise, kriek, peche, etc. - consist of old and new lambic ales blended with fruit in the aging process, geuze is an exercise in balance, blending an aged, flat lambic with a young, sweet lambic to referment in the bottle until it's characteristics warrant the comparison: the champagne of the beer world.
Bill Metzger writes of the geuze :"It is as if (Boon) stuffed a piece of the Belgian countryside into a bottle and shipped it overseas." Which is a good way to begin reviewing the drink, since even before you've poured a glass (but after you've opened the bottle, thank you very much), you're presented with some seriously earthy, mushroomy, dare I say funky aromas. Once the smoke clears, however, you're in for quite a special drink. For anyone who's experienced a seriously tart, super dry lambic like Cantillon's Bruocsella or the balsamic vinegar terror that is the Duchesse de Bourgogne Flemish red ale, you can relax: this isn't even in the same ballpark as some of those monstrously acidic ales. The comparisons to champagne are warranted in that it's bone dry, extremely effervescent, with the fine taste of grape skins and a truly winey finish.
And the smell of mushrooms and sherry filled the room.
We enjoyed it as an aperitif before dinner, and I think that's its rightful place. I imagine it as being as crisp and refreshing with almonds and charcuterie as a glass of prosecco, but since we're not quite in that social echelon, it went quite splendidly with a bag of sea salt & vinegar potato chips. Whereas you're likely to find the die-hard geuze drinkers complaining that the Boon version is too soft or too delicate, I would advise the amateur lambic enthusiast to ignore those lemon-faced masochists. There ought to be no shame in brewing a delicate, refreshing, and altogether drinkable version of a beer that the average drinker is often warned to avoid. Don't let either camp fool you: it's delicious stuff. They're just worried that we're going to get the last bottles off the shelf.



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