On Friday, March 21st, several friends and myself decided to celebrate the beginning of spring with a night of sour beers and the opening of a special edition bottle of gueuze from one of the most talented lambic blenders in the industry, Armand Debelder of Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen. Several years ago Armand released a collection of 4 gueuzes with each uniquely blended to represent one of the four seasons. Throughout this year, I will be opening each of these rare gueuzes at the change of each new season. Up first, the spring gueuze Armand 4 Lente. To help describe the differences between this and a standard Drie Fonteinen gueuze, I will be reviewing the beer side by side with a bottle of Drie Fonteinen Golden Label Gueuze.
When we poured the two gueuzes there was immediately a noticeable difference between the two. As can be seen in the photos the Lente is a darker orange beer when compared to the more yellowish straw colored Golden Label. The Lente was somewhat less carbonated and produced a thinner head than the Golden Label which was highly carbonated. When smelling the Lente, a bigtime funky barnyard presence is right in the foreground. The Lente has pungent aromas of horse-blanket, bleu cheese, a slight spiciness, and hints of 2-stroke gasoline (the kind with oil blended into it). The aromas of the Golden Label are much more restrained in intensity. Many similar notes are present in this blend but also present is a big lemony citrus aroma. The Golden Label has more subtle smells of lactic acid and vinegar as well.
During our tasting, we tried these two beers side by side and discussed their similarities and differences at length. As a group when we smelled the Golden Label we were reminded of earthy wet tanbark after a rain. Layered over this was a clean lactic smell which had definite lemon citrus notes as well as notes of dried roses / flowers. On the other hand, the Lente reminded us of driving by a field being mowed for the first time in the spring. The subtle aroma of fuel added to this impression. This gueuze has some serious funk going on… Wet grass, manure, pepper, leather, and stinky cheese aromas are all present.
When tasting the beers, the differences between the two become even more pronounced. The Lente reminded us very much of an even funkier and more intense version of Hanssens Artisanaal Oude Gueuze. In fact this is the only other gueuze I’ve ever tasted with a flavor profile similar to Hanssens. The sour profile is primarily lactic with some noticeable acetic (vinegar) presence. The carbonation is moderate and the mouthfeel is medium bodied. There is also some slickness in the mouthfeel. In this gueuze Brettanomyces takes the center stage. There are strong flavors of leather, wood, oatmeal, and grass. More reserved in intensity are notes of diesel fuel , bandaid, and wet earth. When drinking the Armand 4 Lente, the sourness hits your palette first and is then followed by the funky Brettanomyces laden flavors described here. The finish on the this gueuze is a balance of sour dryness with malt sweetness, and a dandelion-like bitterness with some astringency.
In comparison to the Lente, the Golden Label is an all-around softer and more delicate gueuze. This bottle was much more in-line with other Drie Fonteinen gueuzes which I have drank. I would say that, in general, I have always known Drie Fonteinen for achieving a soft, delicate, and creamy balance in their standard gueuze blends. When drinking the Golden Label, the sour acidity was slightly more intense than in the Lente, but the Brettanomyces characteristics were far more reserved. The most striking characteristic of the Golden Label gueuze, which set it instantly apart from the Lente, was a rich creamy mouthfeel. The flavors in the foreground are a creamy, soft, and delicate malt sweetness which reminded us of a malty, fruity, soda. The sour profile of this beer is almost entirely lactic, with only a tiny acetic note. Also, the sour flavors are almost entirely towards the end of a sip and in the aftertaste when drinking this gueuze. The Brettanomyces characteristics in this beer are more towards the spectrum of tropical fruits and doughy bread notes that this yeast can produce. The Golden Label also had lower intensity wood and leather flavors than the Lente. When drinking the Golden Label, there is a creamy sweetness up front, followed by a more classic gueuze sourness in the middle with tropical fruit notes and grass, followed by a mixture of both in the aftertaste.
“Funky” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the world of sour beers, and, in my opinion, is generally is applied to a lot of beers that I would consider to be rather “clean” when compared only to other sours. In this case however, the Armand 4 Lente does warrant the strong use of this word. Very few sour beers ever reach the level of funky Brettanomyces complexity achieved in this gueuze. On the other hand, “creamy” is the keyword for the Golden Label gueuze. Once your palate is already adjusted for intense sour flavors, this gueuze drinks almost like a soft and clean cream ale. Its worth noting that at the time of opening these bottles, the Golden Label was 2 years old while the Armand 4 Lente was 4 years old. It is very likely that the Lente’s Brettanomyces characteristics have become somewhat more intense since the original blending and bottling.
Overall these were two fantastic sour beers that really show off the variety possible within the gueuze style. I have come to expect nothing but delicious gueuzes and krieks from Drie Fonteinen and these two bottles were no exception. When I first started collecting sour beers for my cellar several years ago, I randomly happened to find Drie Fonteinen products at several bottle shops which gave me the mistaken impression that they were easier to find than some of the other lambic brands such as Cantillon. This, unfortunately, is not the case as demand for Drie Fonteinen products makes them very difficult to find within the US. I highly recommend that if you find any of their gueuzes or krieks on your beer adventures, that you don’t pass up the opportunity to try these wonderful lambics.
Stay tuned throughout the year for articles about the other 3 gueuzes in the Armand 4 Seasons collection!