As it turned out, I did end up blowing off the Spring Beer Fest (I may have a guest correspondent with some reax, though). Instead, I pulled a bottle of Bone Geuze out of the fridge and had it instead. Originally intended as a yeast-culturing project, I got busy, six months went by, and I finally decided to bag the culture and drink the beer. I don't report back all the non-Oregon beers I try, but some, like this one, are worth a mention.
Gueuze (Bone's spelling is idiosyncratic) is generally a blend of young and old lambic. It goes through a secondary fermentation in the bottle and, unlike some lambics, is extremely lively. This is perhaps the origin of the name, for "geyser," or maybe not. (Pronunciations vary, depending on who's speaking, but the Flemish is gerz or gerz-ah. Oh, and incidentally, Boon is pronounced "bone.") As with other lambics, gueuze is made with a partly-wheat malt bill, is originally spontaneously fermented, is mostly absent hop flavor, and is characterized by a flavor spectrum ranging from sour and tart to dry and sherrylike. Since they are spontaneously fermented, these characteristics are uncontrollable and variable not only brewery to brewery but year to year.
As proof that the microbrewing phenomenon was international, in Belgium a wave swept the country that was roughly contemporaneous with the US's. Frank Boon founded his traditional brewery in Lembeek on the River Zenne in 1982--in the town lambics were originally born.
There are two versions of Geuze: one featuring his best lambics ("Mariage Parfait," 8%) and the standard version, which is milder (6.5%) but still one of the most complex lambic-family beers I've ever tasted. It is corked, and true to the "geyser" of possibly apocryphal fame, the cork rockets off in the manner of champagne. The beer doesn't bubble out of the bottle, but it does have an almost violent bead that roils off the bottom of the glass, feeding a fluffy white cloud of sustained head.
The aroma was dominated by grapefruit and sourness at first pour. When it opened up with warmth, I found elements of coriander, lavender, and a wheat-breadiness. The palate was remarkable: aggressively sour and acidic on the first taste, so that I expected it to overwhelm any other note. But like a grapefruit, it gave fairly quickly away to bitterness. As it continues to evolve on the tongue, there's a soft, bready middle, and a long, dry, sherry-like finish. There's also a salty quality, sort of like bicarbonate, that combines with the wheat to taste a little like Irish soda bread. In passing, I also discovered some pepper and that lavender note from the nose.
It is a little beyond rating in its singularity, but I would strongly recommend it for anyone who likes the sour ales of Belgium.
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