1. The wait is over! Download the BeerAdvocate app on iTunes or Google Play now.
  2. Get 12 issues / year of BeerAdvocate magazine for only $9.99!

Differences between Lambics, Wilds and Sours?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by pschie1, Dec 28, 2012.

  1. What exactly is the difference in a Lambic, an American Wild ale, and a Sour?

    Thanks!
  2. Location of production, type of bacteria/yeast used, etc.
  3. And remember, not all Wilds are sour!!!
  4. Porkhustle

    Porkhustle Initiate (0) Dec 6, 2012

    And some Wilds are not wild! (Lil' Sumthin Wild).
  5. definitely the truth! was on a big sour kick over the summer, and was so pumped for Sierra Nevade/RR Brux cuz i saw the American Wild Ale. Totally thought it was gonna be a sour. Bought two bottles. While I didn't think it was bad beer, I was definitely let down a bit, haha.
    ggfunk and OneBeertoRTA like this.
  6. brikelly

    brikelly Savant (405) New Hampshire Apr 11, 2010

    Lambic: made from lamb
    American Wild Ale: ale grown from wild ale seeds
    Sour: blend of the above
    sacrelicio, Dagsy, jglowe77 and 16 others like this.
  7. ShemRahBoo

    ShemRahBoo Savant (495) New Jersey Jan 28, 2010

    Lambic is sour. Wild ale can be sour. Something about lambic being made in Belgium using spontaneous fermentation.
  8. champ103

    champ103 Champion (860) Texas Sep 3, 2007

    Lambics: A Belgian style of beer that undergoes spontaneous fermentation.
    American Wild Ales: Beers typically made by American breweries inoculated with a wild yeast strain, and often bacteria.
    Sours: A catch all phrase that does not mean much. Usually people use it when describing any style of Lambic, American Wild Ale, Gueuze, Flanders Oud Bruin, Flanders Red, or any other beer that might be "sour."
    Onenote81, Tut and PaulQuinn like this.
  9. Biffster

    Biffster Savant (365) Michigan Mar 29, 2004

    Lambic is "technically" to be from the Senne Valley, around Lambeek, in Belgium. The wort is made using fairly standard techniques, then it is traditionally pumped into the attic of the brew house into shallow pans, open to the air, and the louvered windows are opened, and the local flora and fauna are invited in. Nowadays, more spontaneously fermented beers are often called lambics (or lambic style), but as I'm sure you can imagine by the technique, I'm not going to get the same result here in the Upper Midwest as they do in Lambeek. The critter profile is always geographically unique.

    Other similar beers are considered Wild ales. Often they are not necessarily pumped into coolships, but allowed to spontaneously ferment in a variety of ways. (Trust me, there are plenty of ways to infect a beer you've brewed...) The method I most often hear of is the wort being allowed to cool (even allowed to go through a controlled primary fermentation, and then put into oak. The oak barrels used are often used as the de facto yeast culture and used over and over to give the brewery specifc wild ale profile. My personal favorite using that method is Jolly Pumpkin, FWIW.

    Sour Ales are beers that have sour characteristics from the use of (most often) lactobacillus, but also acetobacter and bretannomyces. They are sour, but not necessarily funky.

    The fundamental differences are that Lambic is technically an appellation (not so firmly enforced), but it also alludes to a technique. Wild Ale can be made anywhere and in a whole bunch of different ways. They are similar in one important way - they are spontaneously fermented using a broad indigenous spectrum of wild yeasts and bacteria.

    Sour Ales can be every bit as sour, but they are brewed and inoculated with controlled cultures of brewer's yeast and various souring bacteria.

    To geek out even more, most Lambics are blends of young and old lambics, and are technically called a Gueze (you almost never hear it). Straight unblended lambic can often be, shall we say, an acquired taste...
  10. Dennoman

    Dennoman Savant (495) Belgium Aug 20, 2011

    Lembeek ;) but big tick on the rest of it!
    JxExM likes this.
  11. Momar42

    Momar42 Savant (360) Maryland Sep 19, 2010

    And most pure lambics themselves are still if I recall. Had a glass pulled from a cask at the Cantillon brewery that was 14 months old. They were not sure yet if it would be blended at the 2 or 3 year mark to make Gueuze. Was still, faintly tart and if angels peed, I am sure it would taste that good. Just sayin. (Sorry for the huge quote, I can never manage to isolate a part to quote without screwing it up.)
  12. Thanks for the lesson. I did not know thats how true Lambics were made. Pretty disgusting actually (although I am certainly going to continue drinking them).
  13. stealth

    stealth Advocate (545) Minnesota Dec 16, 2011

    Awesome info in here.

    Can someone touch upon how, this going from what I've heard/read before so I might be wrong/misinformed, that many breweries that do lambics do not brew their own base brews, but get the brew from other breweries, then do their things with them?
  14. akakii

    akakii Aficionado (125) Virginia Jun 18, 2009

    An alternative to fermenting in open vats is using a strain of brettanomyces yeast and/or lactobacillus. I'm about to make a cherry Berliner Weisse in a (probably vain) attempt to come up with something similar to New Glarus Wisconsin Red Belgian. It will use lactobacillus to give it the tartness.
  15. 3F started brewing their own wort at the turn of the century but still ferments wort from breweries like Lindemans and Girardin. Cantillon makes all their own lambic. Tilquin and DeCam are strictly thought of as blenders.
    stealth likes this.
  16. evilcatfish

    evilcatfish Advocate (505) Missouri May 11, 2012

    I thought Brux was a huge let down. There was a lot of hype but once people tried it its been sitting on shelves
  17. Tut

    Tut Savant (390) New York Sep 23, 2004

    "sour ales" are not a recognized beer style and, therefore, should not be capitalized.
  18. TomTwanks

    TomTwanks Initiate (0) Ohio Apr 5, 2011

    May not technically be a category, but you know they should. Is this English class anyways?!?!
    pschie1 and JG-90 like this.
  19. JrGtr

    JrGtr Savant (365) Massachusetts Apr 13, 2006

    A friend of mine was in Belgium and visited the Cantillon brewery. When he was up in the Coolship room, he looked around at the dust and bugs and stuff up there, and swore he wouldn't drink it again. Then he got back downstairs to the tasting session. Yeah, that vow lasted a long time.
    Avangion, zac16125, RyanMM and 2 others like this.
  20. I'm not saying it is good or bad. I actually enjoyed it and layed two down to see how it matures. I'm just saying I think a lot of people went into that beer with a preconceived notion of what they thought the beer should/would taste like and that is the reason it gets the bad press it does.
    NickyDee21 likes this.
  21. CASK1

    CASK1 Savant (345) Florida Jan 7, 2010

    A traditional Lambic wort is made by a complicated, time consuming, unique "turbid" mash schedule that leaves starch and dextrins not fermentable by common ale yeast. This provides the food for the wild yeast and bacteria that would otherwise not be able to compete with the common brewing yeast. Here's one description.

    Cheers!
  22. Biffster

    Biffster Savant (365) Michigan Mar 29, 2004

    Well, technically, in the original Flemish....aw screw it, you got me. :)
  23. Tut

    Tut Savant (390) New York Sep 23, 2004

    No, they shouldn't. There are several different styles of beer that have a sour taste, but are otherwise quite different, such as Lambics and Flemish Red Ales. Capitalizing sour ales indicates to others the person thinks it's a real beer style and lacks knowledge in that area. Also, I'm a newly retired teacher and haven't given up my red pen yet.
    j47paco likes this.
  24. TomTwanks

    TomTwanks Initiate (0) Ohio Apr 5, 2011

    True, but not when your referring to his comment. A sour beer to a Brett beer is way different if not containing lacto/pedio mix. Also, maybe he commented from a phone which autocorrects like mine in which capitalizes words such as Brett in my response. Though I don't totally agree with his response ( mostly the second half), he makes some valid point in which anyone who has enjoyed a soured beer to a Brett beer understands.
    I'm not retired nor a teacher but I know a soured beer from a bretted beer.
  25. So should sweet beers, bitter beers, salty beers, and umami beers also be styles?
    Tut likes this.
  26. TomTwanks

    TomTwanks Initiate (0) Ohio Apr 5, 2011

    As in sweet stouts, ipas, and gose? They have categories...?
  27. (the umami beer is sam adams triple bock, btw ;) )
    Avangion and paulys55 like this.
  28. They don't. Much like sour, they're flavors, where a range of completely different beers all fall under. "Sour Beer" doesn't work as a style, because its only a flavor. An Oud Bruin and a Gueuze both are sour, but taste next to nothing alike.
    Tut likes this.
  29. Tut

    Tut Savant (390) New York Sep 23, 2004

    Gose?? That's a new one. What's it like? - oh, wait a minute, you mean Gueuze, don't you?
  30. wait, is this sarcasm in response to perceived sarcasm? or sarcasm in response to perceived sincerity...? o_O
    Schwantz likes this.
  31. They are made using an open vat so the beer is exposed to all the yeast in the air. There actually is a great article that was in the New York Times about Crooked Stave and their use of brett...

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/02/d...-funky-yeast-makes-flavorful-beers.html?_r=2&

    Cliff notes from Wiki:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambic
    There are tons of different yeast strains. They typically produce funky, barnyard flavors. Something most winemakers typically try to avoid...however it is becoming more and more popular with beer. In Belgium, they have been using open-vat fermentation for hundreds of years. While the wort is cooling it is exposed. A typical lambic takes about 3 years to make depending on how long they decide to age in casks. They are made in and around Brussels and are unblended. There are also Gueuzes that are a blend of 1, 2 and 3 year lambics.

    Back to your original question though...the difference between lambic, sour and American wild...Well not all American wild's are sour. An American wild would quite simply be described as a beer that actively implements wild yeast in the brew making process. The brewer wants the yeast strains to influence the flavor of the beer. With lambics that have fruit, a secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle. This is from the yeast that is on the skin of the fruit. Remember, yeast eats sugar and the by-product is CO2.

    I think if you are trying to be able to distinguish the differences of style you should start with Flanders vs. Lambic. Rodenbach opened in 1836. These breweries have been making a specific style for a very long time and even though your end result is extremely wide...they know how to produce the beer they want. A great brewer knows how to tame the yeast so to speak...or let it run a little wild.
  32. MarioM

    MarioM Advocate (515) California Sep 13, 2009

    All this talk is making me want a sour ale... Something from Jolly Pumpkin sounds pretty damn good.
  33. Tut

    Tut Savant (390) New York Sep 23, 2004

    Sarcasm is constantly used by many on this site, no reason to make a big deal of it - or were you just being sarcastic?
    TomTwanks and tai4ji2x like this.
  34. PaulQuinn

    PaulQuinn Savant (260) Brazil May 27, 2011

    There actually is a Gose style you know.
    Avangion likes this.
  35. It needs a few words of history to understand Lambic and Gueuze (Lambiek, Geuze in Dutch).
    Until the 14th century no beer was able to be kept longer than 8 days, as it went sour. All beers head to be consumed in the few days after the main fermentation. After 10 or more days, the sometimes extremely sour beers were prohibited an had to be destroyed or they were sold for further acidification to vinegar. To avoid sourness, brewers started to brew in the cold months (from October until April), they performed the brewing system and developped the "turbid mash" system and they started to use aged hops and to boil the beer for a long time. This resulted in a beer with a winy taste (like chardonnay with some odd bitterness) that keeps for up to 3, even 4 years.
    Lembeek was a "free town", it was independent and tax-free until 1794, so the beer had to keep well to trade it.

    So, if you compare "sour beer" to Lambic, the difference is that a brewer of sour beer is looking for a lot of sourness in his beer and that the traditional Lambic brewer is trying to limit the sourness to obtain a beer with a winy taste.

    Wild yeasts, like Brett. count for extraordinary flavors, but also some off-flavors (the so-called barnyard...). It is the art to enhance the Brett. character and to avoid and mask the off-flavors. That's how a fine refermented Lambic (called Gueuze) is made. It takes average 18 months in the casks and 2 years in the bottle to get top quality.
    There are 3 category's of Gueuze:
    1) "Malse" Gueuze (Dutch for "mellow", "moelleux" in French), delicate with a discreet winy sourness, this is the top
    2) Lactic Gueuze, where lactic acid has not enough been transformed to esters, nice in hot summers
    3) Acetic Gueuze, where acetic acid (vinegar) is dominating. This beer is not fit for consumption, it is sold as 'Gueuze cuisine', perfect for a marinade of "carbonade flamande" or german "sourbraten".

    Sometimes these 3th quality extremely sour beers are branded as "extremely complex" and to have a "strong taste", but if a fine Californian red wine acquires this taste, it will be sold as wine vinegar.

    I hope you understand my 'english'... Kind regards, Frank Boon
  36. The fruits go in the barrel, and a fermentation takes place there. At least that is what I have seen in Belgium.

    For anyone who is interested in these beers, they should read Wild Brews by Sparrow.

    Edit - I see that is what the Wiki says. If that is the case, where is the fruit residue in the bottle? There would be a lot.
  37. TomTwanks

    TomTwanks Initiate (0) Ohio Apr 5, 2011

    Extravadanza likes this.
  38. There are two fermentation processes. The second one occurs in the bottle when the yeast from the skin of the fruit is in the bottle. The actual skin is not in the bottle. In wine its called ageing on its lees. So it stays in the barrel with the skins and is "strained" before going in the bottle. The skin contact though provided the necessary yeast for the secondary fermentation along with sugar.
  39. knucks999

    knucks999 Aficionado (180) Colorado Sep 30, 2008

    Mr. Boon, what do you think of American brewers making lambic style beer and calling it Lambic? Thanks for that great post.
  40. A couple edits here, but Lambic does not require standard brewing, as was mentioned earlier in the thread. There is about 30 to 40% unmalted wheat that goes into the grain bill, and the use of low AA hops from Poperinge that have been aged for at least three years. The brewing process uses a decoction method and/or a stepped infusion method, and the boil may last for up to as long as six hours, which aids in removing the "cheesy" notes from the stale hops.

    Also it would be more appropriate to use microflora instead of flora and fauna.
    Callmecoon likes this.

Share This Page