Monday, May 23, 2005

Tasting notes - Oudbeitje Lambic

Years ago, a friend of mine was preparing for his first trip to Europe, and our conversation naturally turned to regional specialties of the beer world, and of those, which ones were still uncommon here in the states. Upon hearing he'd be stopping through Berlin, my thoughts immediately turned to the classic Berliner Weisse. What could be more anomalous in the great German brewing tradition than a cloudy wheat beer tinged with lactic sourness typically served with raspberry or woodruff syrup? Oh, but how clouded was I by my fascination of all things beery in suggesting such a drink to a boy on his Fitzgeraldian travels towards manhood? How could I have suggested to a young, heterosexual man roaming through Berlin to enter a bar, cast a knowing glance about the room, and proudly order a pink drink? I have yet to live down the shame of my misguided advice.
One might feel the same way upon purchasing a bottle of Hanssen's Oudbeitje Lambic, what with its frilly script and lovingly detailed strawberries on the label. But they would be wrong in assuming they had acquired a beer in the ranks of a Bartles & James wine cooler. There's a very simple maxim in Belgian beer label typography: The cuter the label, the freakier the beer. Opening up this beer, you're quickly struck by a deeply true strawberry aroma, but that's where the cuteness ends. The friendly strawberry aroma is slowly replaced by the brew's more honest core - cheese, "farm", and funk - which only intensifies upon your first sip. The berry never returns to calm the proceedings as you continue to taste, which are instead dominated by a sharp, acetic sourness which isn't even cleared off your palate with a refreshing dose of carbonation. Disregard its appearance in the photo - this beer is almost dead flat. [And yes, I do occasionally enjoy a beer without first propping it up on my kitchen counter for a photo shoot.]
However, contrary to how it might seem from the above description, this isn't an entirely unpleasant tipple. It's a vividly complex appetite-rouser with that crisp, dry finish that blended lambics so excel at. And for those on the road of lambic discovery, it's a worthwhile side excursion from the more popular, overly sweet options. And who knows? Perhaps the lack of carbonation was due to age (2000) or cork or handling. Either way, if you come across a bottle, give it some consideration. Just don't order one in public if you're trying to be macho - the puckering face you'll make will ruin the image.



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