Don’t fear the Geuze

D.C. is full of bars dedicated to the craft beer revolution. Birch and Barley on Logan Circle as well as its upstairs sister Church Key are both excellent outposts for the bold and thirsty.

Had a Geuze beer, my new go to for Belgian Lambics. Most people, especially in the U.S., associate Lambics with big fruity carbonated beverages more similar to champagne than any beer style. We are a country of I.P.A. drinkers through and through. The northwest especially seems to be on an ever accelerating hops race to see who can push the limits of IBU’s. The Geuze however is a gem that every true beer lover should try. It’s an unapologetically funky, earthy, sour Belgian ale with the intense carbonation of a champagne. When paired with a good ripe cheese like Stilton this beer evokes an experience rather than just an amazing taste. I am getting aromatic fresh cut grass, and barnyardy ripeness. The pungent cheese coats the mouth, followed by a carbonated earthy blend of hay, green apples, and fresh bread. I know this imagery may seem strange or unpleasant to the uninitiated, wary drinkers of mild light lagers. This however is something you want.

The joy of drinking a beer like Geuze, backed by a complex terroir, is the same people get from strong pungent cheeses or fermented vegetables, such as kimchi or natto. Why are we attracted to these particularly strong odiferous foods? Certain strong French cheeses have been compared to the smell of feet or body odor. Or, as in the instance of my Geuze, strongly reminiscent of grass or wet wool.

I think the answer to this question is complex and not completely explainable. There are absolutely cultural elements present. I personally find natto disgusting, however there is an entire country who have this fermented delight with breakfast every morning. Michael Pollen in “cooked” explains how some culturally specific foods work to reinforce cultural identity. By separating individuals from the rest of the world based on food preference you are in effect pledging allegiance to your identity as a member of a specific culture. “We are the people who like this taste.” There is a certain pride and inclusiveness in eating these foods.

I also believe that unique tastes are tantalizing to human curiosity. The smells and tastes that are brought forth through these foods are captivating. We are presented with the question of how a food can taste not like food at all, but rather like a region or a specific place.This is called terroir. The French speak of terroir in wine and cheese. Essentially the local elements, conditions of fermentation, and the very land itself being infused in the food through fermentation. This can also happen with beer.

Lambics are especially apt to this phenomenon because of the fact that they are exposed to natural yeast. This is against everything modern, pasteurian science has taught us. Most brewers try their very hardest to keep any yeast strain except the one they have chosen away from the beer. Lambic brewers on the other hand leave their wort open to the night air the day after brewing. Whichever local strain decides to come along is the one that will ferment the brew. This is the heart of terroir. And it makes for excellent beer. Join the history of ancient fermentation science and beer strangeness with a nice Geuze.

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6 thoughts on “Don’t fear the Geuze

  1. Hi Chris, I just got back home from a week in Lake Tahoe. It sounds like you are having a ball on your trip. I wish I could have been with you in DC, it’s my favorite vacation spot. Did you make to the Old Ebbets Grill? Hope you enjoy your stay in Chicago, it’s a place I have only passed through. Can’t wait to see you! Papa

  2. I was coaxed into trying a local delicacy in Australia once, Vegemite! Good on ya it was one of the most awful tastes I’ve ever had! Tell me the Geuze does not taste like Vegemite; however, do like some good stinky cheeses!!!
    I’m getting thirsty reading your blog, keep them coming!

    • I agree Vegemite is definitely an acquired taste. Geuze beer isn’t quite that entrenched in local specific tastes. Anyone can enjoy a Geuze. You have to get the right mindset though. Think earthy from the very first sip and I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. If you think sweet Belgian Lambic the beer is lost.

      Prost!

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