Into the summer months, there is nothing like a beer to cool us down when the weather gets a little warmer – except maybe an ice-cream! To-day, Beer Sommelier Dean McGuinness has brought in some fresh and fruity beers for us to taste – with a twist. As well as tasting some Fruit Lambic beers, we will also be making and tasting beer floats – beer mixed with ice-cream!
Balance in Beer –
Just as is the case with food recipes, balance is important in beers. We are going to be looking at flavour balance in beer in two ways. First, we will be looking at the balance of flavours in a particular style of beer – Fruit Lambic. Next, we will be looking at another way to achieve a balance of flavours with beer – through food matching, and specifically by matching (and mixing) beer with ice-cream in a ‘Beer Float’.
Sweetness is a key dimension of flavour in beer. The most common source of sweetness in beer is malted barley. During mashing, starch in malted barley is converted into sugars, and some of these sugars will survive fermentation to provide a sweet flavour in the final beer. Sweetness can also come from ‘unusual’ ingredients – brewing ingredients outside of the classic four of malted barley, hops, yeast and water. While the Germans established the Rheinheitsgebot – the German Purity Laws – for beer, Belgian brewers like to break the rules. Sometimes, Belgian brewers will use ingredients such as fruit or sugars (such as honey or candi sugar). These ‘unusual’ ingredients can be another source of sweetness in beer flavour.
Too much of a good thing is never good. If beer only had sweet flavours with nothing to balance it, it would be cloying and ‘out of balance’. Brewers will seek to balance the sweetness in beer in different ways – how they achieve this balance will depend on the style of beer. Bitterness (most usually from hops) is how balance is achieved in many styles such as IPA’s, stouts and pale ales. Some Belgian styles (such as Tripels or witbiers) and some German styles (such as Hefeweiss) can balance sweetness with spicy or herbal flavours – for example pepper, allspice, clove – achieved through flavours generated in fermentation and/or through flavours achieved from hops and/or herbs used in brewing the beer.
The style of beer that we are tasting today is a fruit lambic. With this particular style of beer, sour or acidic flavours are used to balance sweetness. The result is an incredibly tart, mouth watering taste experience which can be surprising (or even shocking) to some, but can be wonderfully refreshing. We will be pairing (combining) this with ice-cream – the result being that the creamy and sweet texture/flavour of the ice-cream is balanced against the sour and fruity flavour of the fruit lambic.
Fruit Lambics –
A ‘Fruit Lambic’ is a sub-style by itself, but it can be broken down in two – it is a combination of a lambic beer and a fruit beer.
Lambics can technically only be brewed in an area of Belgium around and to the south of Brussels. This is where lambics originated, and this area has a natural environment of wild yeasts that allow lambics to be brewed. It is possible to cultivate these yeasts and brew a similar beer in another place, and it is also feasible that other areas would have comparable wild yeasts in their bio-environment. However, due to tradition, where a beer is brewed using lambic methods away from this area of Brussels / Belgium, convention suggests that such beers should be called ‘lambic-style’ beers.
Lambics are beers that are possibly closest to the way beer would have been brewed thousands of years ago. Yeast is a micro-organism used in brewing that is responsible for fermentation. With modern brewing, and with knowledge of microbiology, brewers can manage yeast in a very precise manner. They can isolate individual yeast strains, and ensure that a given beer is fermented with a very specific type of yeast.
Contrast this with brewing only three hundred years ago. Before Louis Pasteur, scientists did not even know that micro-organisms existed. They knew that certain ‘tricks’ or brewing methods would result in an unfermented liquid fermenting, but they did not know why or what exactly was happening. The ‘Brewer’s Stick’ was a stick that some brewers would use to stir the unfermented beer – without knowing it, the brewer was introducing yeast (attached to the stick) to the unfermented beer, and triggering fermentation. In other instances, brewers would take a little of the previous batch of beer (the ‘lees’) and blend it into the unfermented beer of the next batch – again, without realising it, they were carrying forward yeast to allow for fermentation.
Lambics are brewed with a relatively specific blend of grains (malted barley, wheat and oats) and aged hops. Aged hops are used because the brewer wants the preservative power of the hops in the beer, but wants the bittering power of the hops to be diminished – the balance in lambics comes from sourness, not bitterness. The start of the brewing process – up to just before fermentation – is comparable to that for other styles. However, the fermentation and later treatment of lambics is what makes them stand out as a particularly distinctive style.
After the boil, lambics are cooled in a ‘coolship’. A coolship is a broad, flat container with a large surface area that allows the unfermented wort to cool naturally with contact with the air. The brewer of a lambic will encourage an airflow through the brewery to allow natural yeasts in the air above the coolship to settle into the beer. This triggers a ‘spontaneous fermentation’ – fermentation as a result of natural wild yeasts instead of fermentation that results from yeast being specifically pitched (added) into the unfermented beer. Spontaneous fermentation can take many months. It is very much a natural process and, as with any natural process, it is less controlled than would be the case in a ‘modern’ brewing process. The result can be an array of unusual and distinctive flavours being generated in the beer – with sourness being a cornerstone characteristic of the final beer.
After fermentation, the lambic is aged in barrels – allowing for the further development of unusual flavours. Microorganisms in the wood of the barrels further contribute to the unusual balance of flavours in lambics. When ready, lambics are blended to achieve the flavour balance that the brewer is looking for.
With fruit lambics, fruits are macerated in the beer after fermentation has been completed. Real fruits and/or real fruit juices are used in this process – with the result that the fruit flavours that are achieved in fruit lambics are distinctively fresh, with the fruit flavour being clearly evident – in fact the cornerstone flavour of the beer. All fruits have their own natural sugar, and this contributes to the sweet side of the balance in a fruit lambic. With some fruits (such as raspberry) a natural fruit acidity is present in the flavour of the beer – this can further enhance and accentuate the acidity or sourness of the lambic. With other fruits – for example, strawberry or peach – the balance of fruit flavour tends towards sweetness, and this sweetness contributes to the sweet balancing flavour that counterpoints the sourness of the lambic.
With any lambic, the first thing that one notices with the flavour is the sourness or acidity. Sourness is a flavour that people would associate with lemon juice or vinegar, and is detected primarily along the sides of the tongue. When one tastes something sour, it triggers a mouth-watering reaction – it can be an incredibly refreshing flavour experience, but also can be surprising and is not to everybody’s (initial) taste. Brewers joke that if you want to understand whether you like sour beers (such as lambics), you need to drink at least three litres of them – people can develop an appreciation for sourness.
Alcohol by Volume
€3.69 per 330ml bottle
Fruit Lambic (Raspberry)
Timmerman’s Framboise is a fruit lambic made with raspberries – ‘framboise’ is French for ‘raspberry’. In some areas of Belgium, this fruit lambic will be described as ‘frambozen’ – Flemish for ‘raspberry.
The first thing that one will notice about Timmerman’s raspberry is its colour. Timmerman’s Framboise is distinctively red – almost pink – in colour. The head that forms on Timmerman’s Framboise is white, but is also distinctively tinged with pink from the base beer. The beer itself presents bright (not cloudy). Raspberry, which is responsible for the beer’s colour, is markedly present in the aroma of the beer.
The raspberry flavour of Timmerman’s Framboise follows through into the beer’s flavour. Raspberry has a natural acidity, and this enhances the lambic sourness of the beer. Raspberry also has its own sweetness. This sweet, fruit flavour balanced with lambic sourness forms the backbone of the beer
Alcohol by Volume
€3.69 per 330ml bottle
Fruit Lambic (Raspberry)
Timmerman’s Peche is the peach fruit lambic beer from Timmerman’s. Given the colour of peach, this beer presents with a colour that is more comparable to what one might expect from a beer – Timmerman’s Peche is bright gold in colour. As a lambic, the sour character is in evidence in the flavour.
As a peach beer, it is no surprise that peach is present in both the aroma and flavour. Peach as the basis for the fruit character of the beer is also in evidence in the mouthfeel – while the sourness and carbonation cuts through to give a refreshing character, the base fruit is luscious on the palate, and the flavour is distinctly sweet. The finish of this fruit lambic is relatively quick, and distinctly clean, making the beer very drinkable.
Beer Floats –
Beer and food matching involves identifying situations where the flavours in a beer and a food work well together and allow the drinker (/eater) to enjoy a wonderful taste experience. Most beer and food matching involves identifying a beer to drink with your meal. Just as with wine, beer can be used as an ingredient in a recipe – in this instance, the beer either integrates with the food, or becomes one dimension of the flavour in the final dish. It is slightly more unusual to seek to combine food with beer to give a drink – this is what a beer float is.
In terms of flavour, the combination of ice cream with fruit lambic beers works incredibly well. While both the beer and the ice-cream have a sweetness associated with them, the different types of sweetness complement eachother well, and the ice-cream gives an alternative foundation for the fruit flavour of the lambic.
The most distinctive aspect of this pairing is the way in which the ice-cream fundamentally alters the texture and balance of flavour in the beer. While fruit lambics are distinctly acidic – a sour character underpins the fruit flavour – the combination with ice-cream softens and rounds this flavour. Just as a fruit coulis works well with an ice-cream in an ice-cream dessert, so too does this idea work in reverse. The creaminess of the ice-cream combines with the fruit character of the beer, softening the acidity, and converting the beer from a crisp and refreshing drink to a rich, soft and luscious fruit ice-cream. Varying the base lambic beer gives the person the option to change the fruit base for the beer float.
Making a Beer Float –
In terms of procedure –
Use an appropriate glass – a ridged shaker glass (the type used for milkshakes or in some American bars for cocktails) can work well. The glass should have a wide enough opening to allow the ice-cream to be dropped in, and should be deep enough to allow for the extra head that will form when the ice-cream is deposited into the beer.
Pour the beer into the glass first, half filling the glass with beer.
Add a scoop of ice-cream equivalent to about half or a little more of the amount of beer in the glass. The ice-cream will sink into the beer, and the carbonation of the beer will start to work on the ice cream, melting it into the beer and starting the process of combining the beer with the ice-cream.
Note – it is important that the ice-cream goes in second – when ice-cream is added to beer, this provides ‘nucleation sites’ for the carbon dioxide (gas bubbles) dissolved in the beer. The beer starts to foam and, if one makes the mistake of agitating the beer significantly after the ice-cream has been added, this foaming can go out of control.
Swirl the glass gently. As you swirl the glass, the milky creaminess of the ice-cream will slowly blend into the clear, bright beer liquid. Little by little, the ice-cream will take over the entire glass, and the result will look for all the world like a milkshake.
One has the option of partially blending the ice-cream into the beer (by stopping swirling the glass before all of the ice-cream has combined with the beer). The liquid will naturally layer, and the result is a slightly different drinking experience where one gets to taste the crisper beer liquid in conjunction with the creamy beer float. However, a few sips of the drink will finish off the combination of the beer with the ice-cream.
Sip and enjoy the beer float. There may be some undissolved ice-cream that is swallowed as part of the ‘head’ of the beer float – yummy!
When it comes to making a beer float, the ingredients used are important. It works well with a high quality ice-cream (I use Haagen Daaz Vanilla, but any equivalent high quality ice-cream would work). The reason for this is that sometimes gelling agents used in less expensive ice-creams can interact with the beer, causing the beer to go a little ‘gummy’ in a beer float. With a good quality ice-cream, the desired rich, creamy texture is achieved.
Likewise with the beer, the use of a fruit lambic works best (as compared to some other fruit beers). With fruit lambics, the brewer is using real fruit and fruit juices in the brewing process. In some cases with fruit beers, the fruit flavour is achieved with a fruit concentrate flavouring. The difference between concentrate fruit flavouring and real fruit in the beer is accentuated when one makes a beer float – a side-by-side comparison highlights this difference.