Oude Gueuze Tilquin Made a Believer Out of Me

I’ve been kinda orbiting sour beers for the past couple years. Like the scared apes at the beginning of 2001, I’ll cautiously approach the sour beer monolith and give it a tap every now and again. Sometimes I come away disappointed, but lately, I’ve been having more revelatory experiences than not. The first sour beer I ever had was Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René, a beer that nearly puckered me into oblivion. As it turns out, gueuze is one of the more intense, harsh sour styles, so that beer set a strange reference point for me. It almost certainly should not have been my first sour beer, but I’m older and wiser now, and I thought it was time to revisit the style.

Gueuzerie Tilquin opened its doors a little over a year ago, when it became the first new Belgian lambic blendery in nearly 15 years. You might be tempted to ask: So what? But this is a pretty big occasion, as opening a brewery specializing in lambics is a very long, cost prohibitive venture. Tradtional lambics are spontaneously fermented (meaning none of them cultivated strains of brewer’s yeasts are used, instead relying on wild yeasts and bacteria that live in the air all around us) and aged in oak barrels. And gueuze is an even trickier business, as it requires a blending of young lambic (about 1 year old) with old lambic (2 and/or 3 years old). So we’ve got a large initial investment, a tricky, uncertain process of fermentation, and no revenue for at least 2 years? This is pretty much a miracle.

So Pierre Tilqiun is a visionary. A patient one too. But he knows what he’s doing, having done tours of duty at Drie Fonteinen and Cantillon (for the uninitiated: these are legendary lambic breweries). I’m a little unclear on the distinctions, but I’m guessing that the reason it’s called a “Gueuzerie” is because Tilquin doesn’t actually make any of the wort they use to make their lambic, instead buying it from Boon, Cantillon, Girardin, and Lindemans. Apparently Tilquin is the only gueuze blender that Cantillon will sell their wort too, so good on them. Anyways, this beer was fantastic, and I think I’m now a full born believer in sour beer.

Oude Gueuze Tilquin

Oude Gueuze Tilquin à L’Ancienne – Pours a golden color with half a finger of bubbly white head. Smells strongly of musty funk and twangy, sour fruit. Taste has a more sugary component than expected, though still lots of tart fruit flavors, a little earthy funk, and a well rounded sourness that intensifies through the finish (but never reaches the gargantuan puckering levels I feared). Definitely picking up an oak aged vibe, though that may be more of a mouthfeel thing. Speaking of which, mouthfeel is well carbonated but smooth, not quite as effervescent as champagne and better for it, and there’s a richness to it that I associate with oak aged beers. Overall, this is fantastic stuff and makes me want to go out and buy every damn sour beer I can find. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/26/12. Label sez: 2010/2011 Best before: 15/04/2021.

The lament of the sour beer nerd: doesn’t it seem like it’s much harder to find Cantillon these days that it was a few years ago? For crying out loud, I saw Cantillon at Total Wine a couple years ago, but I can’t find any of it anywhere these days (except for $60 a pop for old bottles at a few local bars). But this is only a matter of time, expect to see some Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen stuff reviewed, uh, as soon as I can find it. In the meantime I’ll have to settle for some Rodenbach vintage and Bruery sours. I know, poor me.

Elitism and Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René

There’s been some discussions in the beer blogosphere lately about Elitism and Approachability. The question posed by Zak Avery (in the first link) is what constitutes elitism in beer? Now, I’m relatively new to the whole beer blogging word, but I get the impression that Zak takes some gruff for seeking out, drinking, and writing about obscure or hard-to-find beers.

I see this sort of thing a lot. Many beer bloggers seem to write about things that are only available in limited quantities or in a certain region of the country or whatnot. This can be frustrating in that the beers sound great and yet are not easily available to me. However, I certainly don’t find that sort of thing “elitist”. Drink what you like. Even if it’s something I don’t care for, I won’t hold it against you. And I think that’s the rub. Elitism isn’t about what you drink or write about, it’s about how you perceive others. If ever get my hands on a bottle of, say, Westy 12, that might make me a big beer nerd, but it doesn’t make me “better” than anyone, nor does it qualify me to make judgements on others based on their not having had such a rare beer.

Approachability is a different beast altogether. In his post, Tandleman shares his anecdotal experience at a pub that serves a low ABV pale ale and a higher ABV hop-bomb. Most “ordinary” drinkers aren’t looking to have their mouth set on fire by a hop bomb, they just want something that tastes good. In my own anecdotal experience, I’ve found hoppy beers to be a hard sell most of the time. My brother, for instance, doesn’t even like the standard Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Even among my beer loving friends, some aren’t big fans of hoppy beers.

I can see how this could lead to some confusion about elitism though. If a beer geek like myself tells someone that they might not like HopDevil (or whatever) because it’s quite bitter, they might think me a bit of an elitist, depending on how I worded it. I suppose the sensitive among us would feel a bit awkward about drinking what they like when I’m trying to find the most interesting beer on the menu. Does that make me a snob? Maybe, but so long as I’m not belittling you for drinking a Lager, I’m probably not elitist either.

I’d wager that the same confusion exists in other fields. Take, for instance, movies. Elitism certainly exists there, but only because there are a lot of high-falutin movie-nerds that think that anyone who likes Hollywood movies are sheep. And the more you dig into the world, the more obscure and weird things get. After a while, liking Kurosawa isn’t good enough for some people, you have to be a full fledged Ozu addict if you want to be considered a movie lover. This isn’t to say that Ozu is bad or anything – indeed most film lovers probably should check out some of his work – but the notion that you can’t be a film lover if you haven’t seen Tokyo Story or Floating Weeds is kinda silly.

Stan Hieronymus has an interesting post on the subject, where he references categories in the wine world. Stan notes that it’s probably not a direct translation to beer, but there are some things to be learned about. The first four categories are pretty straightforward:

Overwhelmed, 23%, buy wine but don’t know anything about it

Satisfied sippers, 14%, buy the same brand

Savvy shoppers, 15%, look for discounts

Traditionalists, 16%, like old wineries and are brand-loyal

That leaves two categories: Image seekers (20%), and Enthusiasts (12%). The former spend the most money on wine; the latter expend the most verbiage on it. These are the only two who care enough about wine to read articles or blog posts about it.

Image Seekers are obsessed with quality and will pay through the nose to get even a minor increase in quality. Enthusiasts are all about “interesting” and experimental offerings. And apparently those two groups are at each others throats in the wine world. As Stan notes, things are a bit more relaxed in the beer world, which is a good thing (and perhaps the worries about elitism aren’t as big a deal as everyone’s saying).

I suppose, technically, I fall under the Enthusiast category, though I certainly have leanings towards the Image/Quality seeker as well. I suspect that is mostly because I’m relatively new to this whole thing and thus am a little comfortable spending a lot on beer. I still hesitate to spend more than $20 on a single bottle, but for now, I’m ok dropping some money on something as interesting as The Bruery’s Coton, for instance. I suspect I will settle into a more strict Enthusiast in a couple of years. My guess is that if you graph quality versus cost, you’ll get an asymptote. Assuming that my idea of quality could be quantified (which it probably can’t), there’d be a limit to what is practically achievable from a cost standpoint. At a certain point, moving up the curve becomes so costly that the minute gains wouldn’t be worth it.

Until then, I’m going to seek out and try new and novel beers. Of course, what is new and novel to me might be old hat to someone else, but that’s ok. We’re not elitists here, right? Anyway, last weekend I tried my first sour since starting the blog. I suppose I’ve had some others before (does Fantome count?), but I’ve never had a Gueuze before:

Lindemans Gueuze Cuvee Rene

Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René – Pours a golden orange color with a good sized, light colored head. Smell is kinda like a musty white wine. There’s some typical belgian yeastiness in the nose, but it’s overpowered by the white wine character. The taste starts off sweet, but that quickly yields to an intense sourness. The finish is dry and tart. As I drink, it strikes me as a more intense version of champagne. The carbonated mouthfeel is probably a big part of that. It’s not something I’m particularly a huge fan of, but I would like to explore various sour styles as well. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass.

Sometimes I worry about my beer tastes becoming too reliant on novelty. It’s certainly fun trying something new all the time, but at some point, this has to run out right? That, or I’ll end up playing with Lemerchand’s Box and disappearing or something (hopefully not).