Style Details

Euro­pean Sour Ale
BJCP Style Code
23 D
Pale yel­low to deep gol­den in color; age tends to dar­ken the beer. Cla­ri­ty is hazy to good. Youn­ger ver­si­ons are often clou­dy, while older ones are gene­ral­ly clear. White colo­red head gene­ral­ly has poor retention.
A deci­dedly sour aro­ma is often domi­nant in young examp­les, but may beco­me more sub­dued with age as it blends with aro­mas descri­bed as bar­n­yard, ear­thy, goa­ty, hay, hor­sey, and hor­se blan­ket. A mild citrus-frui­ty aro­ma is con­side­red favorable. An ente­ric, smo­ky, cigar-like, or chee­sy aro­ma is unfa­vorable. Older ver­si­ons are com­mon­ly frui­ty with aro­mas of app­les or even honey. No hop aroma. 
Young examp­les are often noti­ce­ab­ly lac­tic-sour, but aging can bring this cha­rac­ter more in balan­ce with the malt, wheat and bar­n­yard cha­rac­te­ristics. Frui­ty fla­vors are simp­ler in young lam­bics and more com­plex in the older examp­les, whe­re they are remi­nis­cent of app­les or other light fruits, rhub­arb, or honey. Some citrus fla­vor (often grape­fruit) is occa­sio­nal­ly noti­ceable, and is desi­ra­ble. The malt and wheat cha­rac­ter are typi­cal­ly low with some brea­dy-grai­ny notes. An ente­ric, smo­ky or cigar-like cha­rac­ter is unde­si­ra­ble. Hop bit­ter­ness is low to none, and gene­ral­ly unde­tec­ta­ble; sourness pro­vi­des the balan­ce. Typi­cal­ly has a dry finish. No hop flavor.
Light to medi­um-light body. In spi­te of the low finis­hing gra­vi­ty, the many mouth-fil­ling fla­vors pre­vent the beer from fee­ling like water. As a rule of thumb, lam­bic dries with age, which makes dry­ness a reasonable indi­ca­tor of age. Has a medi­um to high tart, pucke­ring qua­li­ty wit­hout being shar­ply astrin­gent. Tra­di­tio­nal ver­si­ons are vir­tual­ly to com­ple­te­ly uncar­bo­na­ted, but bot­t­led examp­les can pick up mode­ra­te car­bo­na­ti­on with age.
Over­all Impression
A fair­ly sour, often modera­te­ly fun­ky wild Bel­gi­an wheat beer with sourness taking the place of hop bit­ter­ness in the balan­ce. Tra­di­tio­nal­ly spon­ta­neous­ly fer­men­ted in the Brussels area and ser­ved uncar­bo­na­ted, the refres­hing aci­di­ty makes for a very plea­sant café drink. 
Typi­cal Ingredients
Unmal­ted wheat (30-40%), Pils­ner malt and aged hops (3 years) are used. The aged hops are used more for pre­ser­va­ti­ve effects than bit­ter­ness, and makes actu­al bit­ter­ness levels dif­fi­cult to esti­ma­te. Tra­di­tio­nal­ly the­se beers are spon­ta­neous­ly fer­men­ted with natu­ral­ly occur­ring yeast and bac­te­ria in pre­do­mi­na­te­ly oaken bar­rels. The bar­rels used are neu­tral with litt­le oak cha­rac­ter, so don’t expect a fresh or for­ward oak cha­rac­ter – more neu­tral is typi­cal. Home-bre­wed and craft-bre­wed ver­si­ons are more typi­cal­ly made with pure cul­tures of yeast com­mon­ly inclu­ding Sac­ch­aro­my­ces, Brett­anomy­ces, Pedio­coc­cus and Lac­to­ba­cil­lus in an attempt to recrea­te the effects of the domi­nant micro­bio­ta of Brussels and the sur­roun­ding coun­try­si­de of the Sen­ne River val­ley. Cul­tures taken from bot­t­les are some­ti­mes used but the­re is no simp­le way of kno­wing what orga­nisms are still viable.
Spon­ta­neous­ly fer­men­ted wild ales from the area in and around Brussels (the Sen­ne Val­ley) stem from a farm­house bre­wing tra­di­ti­on seve­ral cen­tu­ries old. The num­ber of pro­du­cers is con­stant­ly dwindling.
Straight lam­bics are sin­gle-batch, unblen­ded beers. Sin­ce they are unblen­ded, the straight lam­bic is often a true pro­duct of the “house cha­rac­ter” of a bre­wery and will be more varia­ble than a gueu­ze. They are gene­ral­ly ser­ved young (6 months) and on tap as cheap, easy-drin­king beers wit­hout any fil­ling car­bo­na­ti­on. Youn­ger ver­si­ons tend to be one-dimen­sio­nal­ly sour sin­ce a com­plex Brett cha­rac­ter often takes upwards of a year to deve­lop. An ente­ric cha­rac­ter is often indi­ca­ti­ve of a lam­bic that is too young. A noti­ceable vin­ega­ry or cidery cha­rac­ter is con­side­red a fault by Bel­gi­an bre­wers. Sin­ce the wild yeast and bac­te­ria will fer­ment ALL sug­ars, they are typi­cal­ly bot­t­led only when they have com­ple­te­ly fermented. 
Com­mer­cial Examples
The only bot­t­led ver­si­on rea­di­ly available is Can­til­lon Grand Cru Bru­oc­sel­la of wha­te­ver sin­gle batch vin­ta­ge the bre­wer deems wort­hy to bot­t­le. De Cam some­ti­mes bot­t­les their very old (5 years) lam­bic. In and around Brussels the­re are spe­cial­ty cafes that often have draught lam­bics from tra­di­tio­nal bre­wers or blen­ders such as Boon, De Cam, Can­til­lon, Drie Font­ei­nen, Lin­dem­ans, Tim­mer­mans and Girardin.
Ori­gi­nal Gravity
1.040 - 1.054 SG
Final Gra­vi­ty
1.001 - 1.010 SG
3 - 7 SRM
5.0 - 6.0 %vol
0 - 10 IBU