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What is Gueuze Beer?

Gueuze: The Champagne of Craft Beer

Everyone is familiar with Miller High Life’s classic marketing axiom claiming it as “The Champagne of Beers.” While most suds-swilling consumers of mass-market macro lagers are happy to guzzle down pint after pint of a beer that features this rather bold claim (especially for a flavorless American Lager), true connoisseurs of craft beer know there’s a far better exemplar to hold the mantle of “champagne of beers” than Miller High Life: the ancient and fascinating Gueuze style.

Created from a centuries-old farmhouse brewing and blending recipe from Brussels’ Senne Valley area, Gueuze is a lambic-style that is made by blending young (usually around a year old) and old (2-3 years old) lambics then bottle-conditioning them for their secondary fermentation. Gueuze are known for being extraordinarily effervescent, betraying an impressive carbonic profile – one of the reasons why they serve as the perfect craft beer replacement for actual champagne, or the unspeakable Miller High Life.

As a lambic-style beer, the sour profile of Gueuze is one of its crowning features other than its spritzy carbonation. While other sour styles smack you in the face with massively tart, lip-puckering sourness, Gueuze’s sourness is far more reserved and subtle – highlighting a wide range of flavors and aromas consisting of barnyard, horse blanket, and leather intermingling with hints of citrus fruit all topped with a solid slap of acidity.

The wide array of aromas found in Gueuze is another reason this complex beer serves as an excellent replacement for a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve. Upon first whiff, Gueuze will evince a wide array of funky, fruity and musty aromas highlighted by barnyard, leather, earthy, goaty, hay, horsey, and horse blanket elements. After letting the beer settle and warm, even more complex aromas of citrus fruits, apples or other light fruits become apparent. Mild rhubarb, honey and oaky traces are considered favorable aroma elements as well.

When it comes to flavor, Gueuze is all about balance. While numerous aforementioned funky, sour and barnyard characteristics should be present, no one element should overshadow the rest – allowing for a broad of range of flavors to blanket the palate. Gueuze is a beer that should feature cascading layers of complexity that continually envelop drinkers’ taste buds.

Because Gueuze is a blended lambic, the elements of each individual lambic should also be apparent. According to the 2015 BJCP style guidelines, “a good Gueuze is not the most pungent, but possesses a full and tantalizing bouquet, a sharp aroma, and a soft, velvety flavor.” The young, one-year-old lambic should provide a nice sweetness to the brew, and the old, two- or three-year-old lambic should provide a characteristic wild taste.

And don’t worry about the beer going bad. Frank Boon, founder of Brouwerij Boon (makers of world-class lambic and Gueuze), claims that his Oude Geuze Boon can age for more than 20 years!

Of course, while aroma and flavor are important, when it comes to champagne, appearance is given equal footing. If Gueuze were to act as a true replacement to champagne, it must also look very similar to that spritzy spirit. Luckily, Gueuze succeeds in the looks department. While a Flanders Red or an Oud Bruin would look out of place in a New Year’s Eve champagne flute, Gueuze fits right in with a bright golden color, crystal clarity and a rocky, mousse-like head that seems to last indefinitely. As already discussed, Gueuze’s natural carbonation further adds to the champagne similarity.

While people might continue to purchase overly sweet, flavorless champagne for special occasions and watery, flavorless Miller High Life for a macro-themed celebration, there is only one perfect replacement for both in the craft beer world. The interesting flavor profile, striking appearance and subtle complexity of the Gueuze style make it a perfect way to ring in a new year (or any important event).

So raise a glass and let’s toast to the future with Gueuze: The Champagne of Craft Beer.

Header Photo by Chris Guest


EvDu's picture
Cheers to Gueuze!