Lambic is a unique and increasingly rare beer, the result of bacteria and wild yeasts found in the air and produced only in Belgium’s Pajottenland, in the valley of the Senne River. The first traces of the recipe date back to 1516 and a document from 1559, written by Remy Le Mercier, an administrator in the town of Halle, gives the proportions of the various grains used. Further evidence of the beverage can be seen in numerous paintings by Bruegel, many of which depict Pajottenland churches, bridges and mills that still exist today.
Lambic as we know it today has been made for around 200 years, and has evolved over time due to changing ingredients and mechanization. These days, traditional production is limited and survives thanks to the tenacity of a few artisans.
The traditional recipe is based on a single batch and involves a series of very specific rules. The ingredients are raw wheat (around 35%), malted barley (around 65%) and hops that have been dried for at least two years. After the grains have been ground and mixed with hot water, the hops are added and everything is boiled for no less than three hours. The wort is left to cool overnight in a large open copper tank, where it comes directly into contact with the air. This contact ensures that the wort is naturally inoculated with bacteria and wild yeasts. Afterwards, the wort is pumped into oak or chestnut barrels, where it ferments for up to three years. After one year of fermentation it is known as young lambic, while after two or three years it becomes drier and more complex, and may be called “old”.
The finished product is a flat beer, as during the fermentation the carbon dioxide is released from the wooden barrels and therefore does not saturate the beer. The traditional preparation does not allow for pasteurization, the use of chemical substances or the addition of sugar, artificial flavorings or colorings.
At the table, lambic is very versatile. It can be paired with a simple plate of bread and local cheeses or brawn, but also lends itself to serving with more elaborate dishes based on white meats like rabbit, chicken, guinea hen and veal or red meats like beef or wild boar, as well as fatty fish, especially salmon.
Brussels, Pajottenland and surroundings
Rue Gheude, 56
Armand Debelder and Michaël Blancquaert
Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen
1651 Lot (Beersel)
Chaussée Maïeur Habils, 110
1430 Bierghes (Rebecq)