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This is the final installment in a three-part series on lambics. Part one is an article on home brewer Doug Brainard, and his award-winning raspberry lambic. Part two is a guest post from Doug on the life stages of his first framboise. Those two posts give a fairly detailed account of what goes into brewing a framboise, but don’t really get into what lambic tastes like.
Since Doug has actually visited Brouwerij Boon at Frank Boon’s express invitation, it seems appropriate to feature a taste comparison between Doug’s version, Waiting for Framboise, and Framboise Boon. In order to provide a decently well-rounded description, we’ve also reviewed a couple other Boon lambics. That we’re having fun with this unusual ale style didn’t influence the decision at all. *Wink, wink.*
Though Brouwerij Boon is definitely not the sole producer of lambics, they get some extra points for being an old brewery based in Lembeek, where the style originates (Lembeek, lambic; it’s not too hard to see what happened there). Incidentally, they’re one of only two or three brands we could find locally, and unlike some of the Lindemans examples, theirs aren’t back sweetened.
Lambic is spontaneously fermented,† and the highly regional collection of ‘bugs’ that make it what it is—see part one for a few notes on how brewers achieve a similar effect outside of the Senne Valley—contribute a difficult-to-define combination of flavors. The adjectives “Horse blanket. Barnyard. Old Leather. Musty. Cheesy. Cidery. Fruity. Tart. Acidic. Lactic. Dry”† are common in lambic tasting notes. If you’ve ever smelled a real barnyard, complete with cow manure and chicken shit, or handled an actual horse blanket, you might recoil at the thought of using those terms to describe something you’d actually drink. I do, anyway.
However, there is something in the nose, particularly of a straight lambic or even saison, that hints at real, worn-in leather. And there’s something else, an almost sweaty character, which probably accounts for the use of horse blanket as a descriptor. But in my generally less-than-humble opinion, those terms (and most others, really) fall short in describing the unique complexity of a good lambic.
Pour/Appearance: There’s no fruit in this one. The color is a clover honey, with pale cream head.
Nose: “Meyer lemon and citron”; Lemon, sweet herbal notes, Ben gets rose hips. I think I do, too.
Taste: Strikingly tart, of course. Citrus, slightly smoky note, with faint whiff of salt, and oak. Lots of funk, but still light, “bright and citrusy” as Ben put it.
Mouthfeel: Very effervescent, light and refreshing, sharp bite on the tip of my tongue, and a peculiar acid on the back of tongue that I’ve never tasted before.
Ben said the first bottle of Doug’s Waiting for Framboise that we tried “tasted like this, plus raspberries.”
Pour/appearance: Red that is so deep it’s almost purple, with short lived, pink head.
Nose: Cherry. Real cherries; no cough syrup hints here. Honey.
Taste: First impression was R.W. Knudsen cherry juice. This is a delightful, mild lambic. Sweeter by far than Doug’s framboise, with, as Ben said, “hints of chewable vitamin C.” Less complex than geuze, but easier drinking.
Body/Mouthfeel: Thin, bubbly, juicy. Goes down easily.
Poured at 56.4 degrees F.
Pour/Appearance: (Ben) Rich, red appearance. No question that this contains raspberries. Very short-lived head.
(Meagan) Dark raspberry, with pale pink/purple head.
Aroma: (Ben) Ripe berries. No hint of funk at first, but it does open up a bit for some funk. Minerals in the nose; maybe a bit of calcium.
(Meagan) I’m never quite sure what the term “jammy” means when applied to wine, but it really seems to fit this framboise. The smell is almost straight raspberry, with a hint of tartness.
Flavor: (Ben) Tastes like raspberry leaves and a hint of fruit. Very clean. Dry; no sweetness. Not at all like Kriek Boon. Slight bitter; also notes of rose hips and yuzu. When I exhale over the liquor I get a hint of paresthesia (tingling).
(Meagan) If I didn’t know that berry wines are sweet, and lambic is a beer, I’d think this is what raspberry wine was supposed to be. For a “100% spontaneously fermented ale”—the bottle says so—there’s a surprising lack of funk.
Mouthfeel: (Ben) The mouthfeel is thicker than I expected; this could be a result of the carbonation, but as this isn’t a highly carbonated style I’m left to assume that there must be some concentration of mouthfeel-enhancing something in there, like unmalted wheat or some such.
(Meagan) More viscous than I expected; juicy, even. Not as thick as juice, though. Unlike the kriek, it’s not particularly effervescent.
Overall: (Ben) A very clean, tasty framboise. Funk is light to none, and it’s an amazing example of a great beer.
(Meagan) Delicious raspberry lambic. I feel like sipping this all day, and at 5.5% ABV, I probably could. Light and refreshing. In comparison with Doug’s framboise, Boon is a deeper red, almost Merlot or Syrah color. Both framboise have a similar level of tartness, though Boon is juicier. Their emphasis is “very much”‡ on the raspberries, whereas more of the lambic complexity comes through in Doug’s version. Boon still has a good, traditional lambic tartness to it, though.
Unknown pour temp.
(Ben) Appearance: Very similar in appearance. Doug’s rendition has a hint of a caramel color to it. Clarity is identical to the Boon example. Very short lived head.
Aroma: Raspberries and a hint of geuze-y funk. Very clean, with a touch of wild-ish scent.
Flavor: light, spritzy raspberries. It has a ripe raspberry flavor with the barest hints of leather and cherry tobacco. Not a strong funk, but present nonetheless. Minerals in the finish. More berry in the flavor, less plant than Framboise Boon. Very clean.
Mouthfeel/Body: Mouthfeel is thin and refreshing. There is some viscosity, but not thick like juice.
Overall: Every time I’ve had this it reminds me of a sparkling raspberry spritzer or something. Not to say that this beer is effete; on the contrary, it is a very well executed rendition of a style that truly isn’t made often enough. I really enjoy this one, and from the look of the ribbons, most qualified judges feel the same way. Clean, fruity, crisp, hint of funk, aromatic, refreshing and accurate.
Doug’s Lemon Ginger Mead
For the last two weeks, I’ve been promising notes on the mead Doug let us try when we interviewed him for the first article in this series. It’s not the same batch that took Best of Show in the UNYHA competition some years ago, but as I understand it, the recipe is much the same, except for the specific honey. Sorry, I don’t have a picture of the mead. Which is sad, because it’s a beauty.
Pour/appearance: Poured a light golden yellow, clear and sparkling.
Aroma: (Ben) Spicy floral fragrant nose. When it approached my mouth I got a vaporous lemon tinge along with ginger flower notes and something like verbena.
Flavor: (Ben) In the mouth it was spicy, drier than expected. Superbly drinkable; just enough warmth to make my buds tingle.
Mouthfeel: Lightly effervescent, coats the mouth smoothly; no cloying, sticky feeling.
Overall: Honey can be difficult to ferment; it doesn’t have what yeast wants, so it usually needs yeast nutrient. But if you can get it going, it dries out really well. Something about being sugar, maybe. All that said, Doug’s mead is the easiest drinking and most delicious that I’ve had. It’s not overly sweet, like a few examples I’ve tasted. The effervescence adds a pleasant dimension, and the lemon and ginger give it a subtle complexity that is nearly divine. In short, I freaking love the stuff.
‡ “Framboise Boon • Boon Brewery.” Our Beers. Brouwerij Boon. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
† Glaser, Gregg. “In Search of Lambic.” All About Beer Magazine 1 July 2001: 1. Print.