Gueuze and Lambic Character

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This is an outline/round-up from a MTF discussion.

Initial Question/Statements

What the Funk makes a gueuze so.... "gueuzey"?

I've wanted to make this post several times now, but every time I typed it up I never hit "Post" because I thought it may be a useless conversation or embarrassed to ask - Yet I keep wondering and trying to understand more and more.

Whether it's 3F, Boon, Cantillon, Tilquin or any of the Belgian lambic/gueuze blenders - upon the first scent and before taste, you know it is a Gueuze.

I'm seeing most American sours and solera projects lack the complexity and are too "bright" to deliver such aromas and flavors. It's going to take more than what we've been doing to deliver anything that rivals any of the traditional Belgian gueuze examples. I know there's not 1 nail in the coffin to get there, but surely there are some things that have bigger impacts that others. Sour is easy. It's the other characters that are lacking.

So, what is it? hops, less focus on lactobacillus, wort production, barrel microbes/sherry, etc... Without even going as far as 3 years out, what do you guys think we can do in 1 to 2 years in order to accomplish sours that more closely resemble the complexity and balance of a gueuze? What would you consider the least common denominator?


  • regional flora
  • blending
  • microbial diversity
  • terroir
  • the barrels
  • temperatures
  • aging
  • main lactic acid producer is pediococcus
  • turbid mashing
  • high level of aged hops
  • enteric bacteria
  • complexity and depth
  • 1 year straight lambic from Cantillon is distinctly Cantillon lambic, but rough and oaky

For the first half of the discussion, there were several thoughts cited that didn’t really get into the details of anything more than what was known. There was one exception of a member tasting a 1 year straight Cantillon Lambic stating that it represented a distinctive character of the style. I did find that interesting considering the age and lack of blending.

Dan Pixley followed up with a reply that added more substance to the original post trying to delve into what is “that character”. This lead us into several posts that seemed more specific to what that character may come from.

  • indirect or uncontrolled inoculating with more than just open air
    • hanging used barrel staves over coolship
    • spraying walls with lambic
  • ambient cooling
    • more spice and possibly off flavors of things like “burnt rubber”
      • ages out with time - JVR and Friendship Blend Sour Hour
  • aged hops and how brett reacts with them
    • 3-4 oz of aged hops per 5 gal is traditional hopping rate (1.5-2 ounces per 5 gal might be more suitable for homebrew batches, particularly with American sources of aged hops which might contain more acids; see Hops in Lambic).
    • high levels of well aged hops is typical limiting lactobacillus
    • aged hops in the boil = massive levels of caffeic and p-coumaric acids.
    • much of what people think is yeast flavor in Lambic is aged hop flavor
    • The Bruery analysis of Cantillon Gueuze measured ~30 ibus
      • aged hops appear to contain about ½ the alpha acids as fresh.
      • maybe this is backed up from a different post: Jester King interview with Sour Hour they added aged hops and said they had high IBU in their first spontaneous. Common belief that aged hops have no IBU appears to be false.
      • 3oz of fresh willamette 5.5% alpha acid hops in 5.5g of 1.050 wort for 60 minutes is 64 ibus. This calculates to the hopping rate of Cantillon, Bruery findings, and the thought that aged hops appear to contain ½ the alpha acids as fresh
    • aged hops can be cheesy/isovaleric character, but will age out in at least 6 months
  • don't overlook Saccharomyces as part of the mix
    • what is the “right” kind of sacc? Maybe something with belgian character brett can react with like Ardennes?
  • barrels take on terroir
    • again, Cantillon spraying walls with lambic to recreate a microclimate in new location
  • Belgian lambics have a higher FG than American Sours
    • gueuze blends go into bottles around 1.012-1.014 to get carb
    • longer bottle aging times
    • The Bruery analysis of Cantillon Gueuze measured FG to be ~1.010
  • various characters
    • mineraly
      • speculative contribution is a combination of mouthfeel from residual beta glucan from ropiness, light acid, and high carbonation
      • possibly water contributions - very hard water in Belgium - possibly still hard even with softeners - Not lambic brewers, but brewers in Belgium and France use water softeners per Bob Sylvester.
  • acid
  • mustiness
  • unique bitterness
    • very bitter taste in young lambic
    • maybe from brett phenols or oxidized beta acids
    • tannic or tea-like bitterness
    • alpha acids fade with time, but when beta acid oxidizes it transforms into a bitter-tasting compound

See Also

Additional Articles on MTF Wiki

External Resources