Unless you’re a beer connoisseur, chances are you’ve never tried a lambic. It’s a style of beer that’s been brewed in an area of Belgium the same way for thousands of years, long before anyone knew anything about yeast or fermentation or sterilization. To make lambic, brewers expose the wort to the open air, which will allow wild yeast to settle into the brew before its put into barrels to ferment. It creates a sour-tasting beer, which is delicious on a hot summer day.
While the style went out of favor during the 20th century, the increased interest in small-batch craft beer has caused it to regain some of its former glory. Bottles of traditional Belgian lambics are now prized possessions beer geeks collect in their cellars. A scarcity of Cantillon, perhaps the most well-known lambic, at the local beer store now sparks conspiracy theories about hoarding on beer-related Internet forums. Shelton Brothers, the importer of Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen, another popular brand, can’t import enough to meet demand.
Enter Rob Tod and the crew at Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. Tod decided to build a traditional coolship, the container that holds the hot wort while its exposed to the open air, at his Portland brewery in 2008. The fermentation process takes several years, and the beers were only ready this year, though only a small batch has been released to the public. I had the pleasure of visiting Tod at his brewery earlier this year to taste three styles of his new spontaneously fermented ale (he doesn’t call it lambic out of respect for his Belgian contemporaries). My story about the visit, the rise of the lambics and Allagash’s pioneering the American interpretation of the style recentlywas published by All About Beer.