The 11 Best Traditional Lambics of 2022
Could Belgian beers finally be making a dent in the American craft consumers' playbook?
In 2022, the "Lambic - Traditional" style landed in the number ten spot on our list of "The Top 10 Highest-Average Rated Beer Styles of 2022," with a 4.09 rating in the community.
A style with hundreds of years of heritage, lambics also carry a bit of mystery and intrigue because they're beers
What Is a Lambic Beer?
Defining a lambic has become like the existential and philosophical debate of craft beer. It's murky territory with differing opinions as to what actually exactly constitutes a lambic.
For some, geography is the defining factor.
"First and foremost, it is most important to say that lambic is tied to place," says Brandon Boldt, co-founder of Primitive Beer, Colorado's first exclusively spontaneous-, barrel-fermented beer blendery, in Hop Culture's "A Beginner's Guide to Lambic-Style Beer." Specifically the area of Belgium that includes Brussels, southwest of Brussels, and the Zenne River valley.
"For someone who doesn't know the style, it is good to make a comparison to champagne," says Jason Perkins, brewmaster at Allagash Brewing Co. in Portland, ME, in that same Hop Culture piece. According to strict laws, the name champagne can only be used if the product is made within the Champagne region of France. If the liquid is from anywhere else, it is only considered sparkling wine. "Because of the name and association with place specifically, lambic should refer to beer made in Belgium, really within greater Brussels. But lambic doesn't have the same control over the word," continues Perkins.
A problem that has left the style open to interpretation.
For others, it's the method and traditional practices that truly define the style.
How Do You Make a Lambic?
Take everything you knew about making beer—and throw it out the window. Making a lambic strays from every method of brewing a traditional ale or lager.
While traditional beers go through a gentle mashing process, lambics need a vigorous mash.
Most beers feature fresh hops, lambics use aged hops.
Many beers undergo an hour boil, lambics boil for three hours and up.
While traditional beers use a single strain of yeast, lambics undergo a signature process called spontaneous fermentation, where a brewer exposes the wort, or steeped grain liquid, to the open air often using a coolship, essentially a big brownie pan vessel, to cool down the beer.
See, throw it all out the window.
If you're interested in learning more about brewing lambics, we highly recommend you check out Hop Culture's in-depth guide.
What Do Lambics Taste Like?
The topic of lambic beer is complicated and convoluted, so it's important to remember that all these brewing techniques ultimately create a unique-tasting beer.
"You can get as deep into the weeds about the process as you want, but if you just like how it tastes and don't want to go down the deep rabbit hole, it's Spon Spon Bing Bong," says Lisa, referring to a phrase that she and Brandon came up with to remind people that you can still appreciate the taste of lambics without understanding the intricate process. "We take it seriously," explains Brandon. "But we don't expect everyone else to take it seriously to enjoy it."
Just like its nontraditional brewing methods, lambics have very untraditional and exceedingly complex flavors.
"It's complex, just like everything else about this beer," says Perkins. "You'll get different flavors at different times of aging, so an eight- to twelve-month-old lambic can taste like a rough-around-the-edges hefeweizen while a two-to three-year-old lambic starts to develop more tartness and you get that barnyard funk, horse blanket, but also some nice fruity components."
There is a sense of unique, umami qualities to a lambic that can really only be understood if you try a few yourself.
Starting with Untappds highest-rated versions of the year is probably a good place to get your feet wet.
Editor's Notes: Please keep in mind these beers are only those that fall under the category of "Lambic - Traditional," meaning you won't find any krieks (aged with cherries) or framboise (aged with raspberries) here. We'll do a whole separate piece on fruited lambics later in the year!
Untappd's 11 Highest-Rated Traditional Lambics of 2022
Powered by Untappd Data (minimum of 1,000 check-ins)