Style Details

Euro­pean Sour Ale
BJCP Style Code
23 E
Gol­den color, with excel­lent cla­ri­ty and a thick, rocky, mousse-like, white head that seems to last fore­ver. Always effervescent.
A moder­ate­ly sour aro­ma blends with aro­mas descri­bed as barn­y­ard, lea­ther, ear­thy, goa­ty, hay, hor­sey, and hor­se blan­ket. While some may be more domi­nant­ly sour, balan­ce is the key and deno­tes a bet­ter gueu­ze. Com­mon­ly frui­ty with aro­mas of citrus fruits (often grape­fruit), app­les or other light fruits, rhubarb, or honey. A very mild oak aro­ma is con­si­de­red favor­able. An ente­ric, smo­ky, cigar-like, or chee­sy aro­ma is unfa­vor­able. No hop aroma.
A moder­ate­ly sour cha­rac­ter is clas­si­cal­ly in balan­ce with the malt, wheat and barn­y­ard cha­rac­te­ris­tics. A low, com­ple­men­ta­ry sweet­ness may be pre­sent but hig­her levels are not tra­di­tio­nal. While some may be more domi­nant­ly sour, balan­ce is the key and deno­tes a bet­ter gueu­ze. A varied fruit fla­vor is com­mon, and can have a honey-like cha­rac­ter. A mild vanil­la and/or oak fla­vor is occa­sio­nal­ly noti­ce­ab­le. The malt is gene­ral­ly low and brea­dy-grai­ny. An ente­ric, smo­ky or cigar-like cha­rac­ter is unde­s­i­ra­ble. Hop bit­ter­ness is gene­ral­ly absent but a very low hop bit­ter­ness may occa­sio­nal­ly be per­cei­ved; sour­ness pro­vi­des most of the balan­ce. Crisp, dry, and tart 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. Has a low to high tart, pucke­ring qua­li­ty without being shar­ply astrin­gent. Some ver­si­ons have a light war­ming cha­rac­ter. High­ly carbonated.
Over­all Impression
A com­plex, plea­s­ant­ly sour but balan­ced wild Bel­gi­an wheat beer that is high­ly car­bo­na­ted and very refres­hing. The spon­ta­ne­ous fer­men­ta­ti­on cha­rac­ter can pro­vi­de a very inte­res­ting com­ple­xi­ty, with a wide ran­ge of wild barn­y­ard, hor­se blan­ket, or lea­ther cha­rac­te­ris­tics inter­ming­ling with citru­sy-frui­ty fla­vors and acidity.
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 old and have 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 and blen­ding tra­di­ti­on several cen­tu­ries old. The num­ber of pro­du­cers is con­stant­ly dwind­ling and some pro­du­cers are untra­di­tio­nal­ly swee­tening their pro­ducts (post-fer­men­ta­ti­on) to make them more pala­ta­ble to a wider audi­ence. The­se gui­de­li­nes descri­be the tra­di­tio­nal dry product.
Gueu­ze is tra­di­tio­nal­ly pro­du­ced by mixing one, two, and three-year old lam­bic. “Young” lam­bic con­tains fer­men­ta­ble sug­ars while old lam­bic has the cha­rac­te­ris­tic “wild” tas­te of the Sen­ne River val­ley. A noti­ce­ab­le vine­ga­ry or cide­ry cha­rac­ter is con­si­de­red a fault by Bel­gi­an bre­wers. A good gueu­ze is not the most pun­gent, but pos­ses­ses a full and tan­ta­li­zing bou­quet, a sharp aro­ma, and a soft, vel­ve­ty fla­vor. Lam­bic is ser­ved uncar­bo­na­ted, while gueu­ze is ser­ved efferve­scent. Pro­ducts mar­ked oude or vil­le are con­si­de­red most traditional.
Com­mer­cial Examples
Boon Oude Gueu­ze, Boon Oude Gueu­ze Maria­ge Par­fait, Can­til­lon Gueu­ze, De Cam Gueu­ze, De Cam/Drei Font­ei­nen Mill­en­ni­um Gueu­ze, Drie Font­ei­nen Oud Gueu­ze, Girar­din Gueu­ze (Black Label), Hans­sens Oude Gueu­ze, Lin­de­m­ans Gueu­ze Cuvée René, Mort Subi­te (Unfil­te­red) Gueu­ze, Oud Beer­sel Oude Gueuze
Ori­gi­nal Gravity
1.040 - 1.060 SG
Final Gra­vi­ty
1.000 - 1.006 SG
3 - 7 SRM
5.0 - 8.0 %vol
0 - 10 IBU