Sunday, 26 January 2020

A British brewer describes Belgian beers in the 1880s

I love those descriptions of British brewers' and drinkers' encounters with Belgian beer. They're unanimous in their views: they taste dreadful.

To be fair, their opinions mirror my own on first encountering Belgian beer. Many years ago at a Great British Beer Festival in the late 1970s. "Is it supposed to taste like this?" was my reaction to Lambic. It just tasted like beer which had gone incredibly off.

While we're on the topic of Lambic, let's see what the authore thought of it:

"A beverage in great demand in the neighbourhood of Brussels, and which is also regarded in a very favourable light in Antwerp, and more especially at the Salon de degustation in the Exhibition is known as Lambic. The chief peculiarity, but certainly not the principal recommendation of this very remarkable ale, is to be found in the fact that not less than three and and sometimes as many as five years are required for its preparation. It is very low in gravity, and in that respect its consumption is possible to be commended; no yeast is added to the wort after it has been boiled, but it is allowed to undergo a spontaneous fermentation by storage iu unbuuged casks, in a cellar probably more remarkable for the number and variety of fortuitous germs floating about it, than for its cleanliness. That some stray yeast-cells find their way into the casks, and alighting upon a favourable medium, multiply with rapidity, is easily conceivable; but it will scarcely be urged, that the fermentation is purely alcoholic. Indeed, the difficulty, from an English brewer's point of view, will probably be to decide as to whether the aroma be attributable to casks winch have grown musty in the service, to butyric acid, to acetic acid, or to genuine putrefactive fermentation. In any case the combination is nasty; and it would be easier to induce an English farmer to cultivate a taste for olives than for lambic."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Wednesday 01 July 1885, page 13.
Not exactly a ringing recommendation. Interesting that he says it's very low gravity. I've only a couple of analyses of 19th-century Lambic and one is 6.5% ABV.

Now he takes his axe to Faro:

"The second runnings of lambic wort are probably designed to develop a liking for this extraordinary article, for they are retained for the preparation of a beer known as Faro, which is practically intermediate between the running ale of the estaminets and lampic. Faro is not entirely fermented spontaneously, but has a small quantity of yeast added to it. When finished, it very much resembles a weak solution of hydrochloric acid. It may be tonic, but is not palatable, at least from our point of view."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Wednesday 01 July 1885, page 13.
Not sure I've ever seen it mentioned before that some yeast was added to Faro. I don't think comparing Faro to hydrochloric acid is meant to be a compliment.

"A still more extraordinary product is that known as Biere Blanche. To the uninitiated it is not unlike workhoouse gruel in appearance, and, if one may judge by reports, there is not such a very great dissimilarity between the flavour of the two articles. If white beer be bright it is considered worth the drinking; but so long as it remains thick, it is consumed with evident relish. Your readers will not be surprised to learn that white beer is not adapted for store purposes, when they are told that it is with scarcely any hops, and that only half the wort is boiled, the remainder being conveyed direct from the mash-tun to the cooler preparatory to fermentation. Before pitching, it is mixed with the half that has been boiled, and to which a few hops have been added. This unique beverage has the colour of ginger beer, but is somewhat thicker in consistency. It is no exaggeration to state that the teetotal party might render good service to their cause by introducing white beer into England."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Wednesday 01 July 1885, page 13.
Fair to say that he wasn't impressed with Witbier. Workhouse gruel: what a lovely description.

Amazing to think that some of these beers are so highly regarded nowadays.


Johann Renner said...

That's a funny description, to say the least. What is interesting to me, is the use of half raw wort on a Biere Blanche, since I suppose he is talking about Witbier and not about another lost beer style / recipe.

Anonymous said...

This seems even more interesting since quite a bit of British beer in the 1880s would have had Brett and other funkier characteristics. It wouldn't be like trying to introduce Belgian beer to an American in the 1970s who was only used to light lagers.

Rob said...

What is the deal with the anti-olive comment? I get being anti-lambic, even if I dont agree.

Olives and lambic are two of my favorite pleasures.