Thursday, May 04, 2006

lambics and losers

NY Times covers lambics. I think it's generally pretty good, but there are a couple things I disagree with. (1) Traditional 'dry' lambics (as Mr.Asimov calls them) are very agressive beers. Some of them are almost undrinkably sour and funky, I mean like eat the epidermal layer off the insides of your cheek sour and funky. Battery acid sour and funky. Some more so than others. But the article describes them as "a dry, almost sour beer with a fresh, lively acidity and an appealing funkiness". To each their own I guess. But this is particularly problematic when you take into account my second issue, (2) the article's constant comparison of lambics to wines. It's like physics envy amongst biologists and philosophers. Listen people: beer is beer and wine is wine. Lambics are no more like wine than a fucking Coors light is, ok? "Take the time to seek out and try a few lambic beers from Belgium and tell me if these are not as complex and distinctive as many fine wines." Yeah, they're distinctive, but so's a pint glass full of rotten milk.

Now it's not that I have anything against lambics. I love lambics and I love sour, funky beers in general. But Asimov argues that it is the use of spontaneous fermentation (I almost wrote generation) and aging in oak barrels that make lambics so "complex" and "Like a good red Burgundy, it seemed to change continually in the glass."

"Modern breweries today are generally antiseptic environments in which brewers seek absolute control over the chemistry of fermentation. You can imagine them in their lab coats, selecting the proper strains of scientifically prepared yeasts to create the precise flavors and aromas they desire. But lambic beers are made as they were centuries before Pasteur, when the process of fermentation seemed to be a miracle rather than a controlled reaction. Instead of managing fermentation, the lambic brewer leaves it to nature. Wild yeasts, along with just about anything else in the air, shepherd the brew on its path to beerhood, converting barley and wheat sugars into alcohol, producing fascinating and, dare I say, wine-like beers."

Firstly, it is certainly not the case that fermentation was "uncontrolled" and "a miracle" before Pasteur. This is one of the biggest myths in the public history of science and in the history of brewing: Pasteur changed everything! A revolutionary! Yeah, Pasteur was important, but the vast majority of brewers were not practicing spontaneous fermentation before Pasteur, let alone even in, say, 1400 in England. Brewers realized that the glumps of slimy white stuff was really important to getting a good beer and you had better add handfuls of it to your wort and if you had a bad batch it was probably that so you better go to your neighbors and borrow some of theirs. Anyway, the bottom here is that so-called controlled fermentations can make some pretty damn good beer. I think lambics are great and complex etc. etc., but there are a lot of good, complex beers out there that don't involve a bunch of weird microorganisms. Barley wines, big Belgian beers like Abbey style dark ales, wheat beers, big American IPAs, these can all be very complex beers and I think much "closer" to wine than lambic, whatever that may mean.

Also, check out this rant by PZ Myers:

"The only reason to read any of their work is not because it's the honest thing to do—if we carried that reasoning to its logical conclusion, I've got a library of stuff you need to read first—but because it will prepare you better to deal with their arguments. It takes the edge off that first moment of shock, when they say something so awesomely stupid that you find it incredible that anyone would even suggest such a thing. I've experienced that moment: your eyes focus on infinity, your lips move involuntarily as you try to parse the absurdity, your brain spins its wheels for a while as you mentally downshift, trying to get yourself in the proper frame of mind to handle the curious words of the deranged person in front of you. Otherwise, though, there isn't much point to wading through the dreck."


Anonymous said...

Take a deep breath and calm down Los Papas.

Anonymous said...

you tell them Matt Dunn, those jerks at the New York Times should be honored to elicit a rant of such breadth from you. Screw you Asimov.

Ryan (Beer) said...

Even in the spirit of expanding the wine drinkers' sphere of influence to experience the treasures to be had in the beer world, I still feel that in some of the NYT beer articles there exists a backdrop of “If you feel like slumming, try this beer”. So I am very glad to see that Asimov has cut straight to the shit from the get go and gives the so-called wine sophisticate a big O bitch slap.

However, the first thing I noticed in that article was the picture of the Lindemans Cuvee Rene. What the hell are they doing presenting that fine beer like it was poured from a macro-brew tap and slid to the other end of the bar!?! That ain’t cool.

But yeah, you’re right, the language used for some of these beers doesn’t do the true aggressiveness of these beers any justice. You really have to know what you’re in for when you pour yourself an Oude Gueuze for the first time. His description that reads: “An older gueuze develops a mild, almost transparent dry fruitiness like what you might find in a fine blanc de noirs Champagne” and “…refreshing, younger lambic element to it, detectable in its citrus edge” makes me wonder if he sampled these beers after a root canal. Mild fruitiness, detectable in its citrus edge?!? When I had my first sample of a gueuze I think my comment was: “JEEESUSSS CHRIST this is FUCKING BRUTAL!”

They are fun-to-experience beers but I don’t think I could sit down and drink a cold 750ml of guezue as suggested by that big ass 22 oz weizen glass.

All this piss and vinegar about lambics has gotten me thirsty for the funk.


erika said...

enough with the beer talk! there is more to you than this Mr. Dunn. put it on your beer blog!

Matthew D Dunn said...

Pell: it's good to get something from you and not Glen Rank.

Ryan (wine): you're right, I may have gone a little far here.

Ryan (beer): well said all around; if it wasn't 8:45am I'd want some funk too.

Erika: you are my queen, but unfortunately there is neither rhyme, rhythm, nor rationality to my blog.

Anonymous said...

I tasted some champagne yesterday from a producer called Pierre Gimmonet who makes his wine without any malolactic fermentation and it really reminded me of lambics that I have had in the past. Really bright acidity, sour lemon rind notes, a little funky but really good stuff. I'm pouring it by the glass, you should check it out