Hello Sour Beer Friends!
This past Friday night, two close friends and myself celebrated the beginning of spring with a night of sour beers culminating with the opening of a bottle of the limited edition Drie Fonteinen Armand 4 Lente Gueuze. This gueuze is part of a four bottle set, with each bottle being blended specifically to match the four seasons. Over the next week I will be posting detailed reviews of all of the sour beers we drank that night, ending with a side by side tasting of the Armand 4 Lente (Spring) Gueuze with a bottle of Drie Fonteinen Golden Label Gueuze. The first bottle of the night is one of my favorite gueuzes, and the beer that first hooked me on sours, Hanssens Artisanaal Oude Gueuze.
Hanssen’s Artisanaal is the definition of a craft operation. The small gueuze blendery is operated by just two people, husband and wife Sidy and John Matthys, who inherited the business from Sidy’s father, Jean Hanssens, in 1988. The lambic blendery is a second job for both Sidy and John, with the pair producing about 400 hectoliters (586 kegs) in volume per year.
In my opinion, their flagship product, Oude Gueuze, is the definition of funky. Upon pouring the beer one will immediately notice the beer’s high carbonation, producing a thick off-white head on top of an orange colored beer. The aroma on this gueuze is strong, with high levels of Brettanomyces funk layered over the sharp aroma of lactic acid. The funkiness in the aroma takes the form of earthy wood, wet leather, barnyard, and cut hay / grass.
When tasting the beer, flavors of oak, grass, and wheat crackers, are balanced with an assertive sourness. This is one of the few gueuzes where the malt presence is clearly noticeable and tastes like lightly toasted wheat crackers. The souring is strong and is primarily lactic with a small background of acetic (vinegar). The sour flavors are reminiscent of lemon citrus and sour apples and are fairly sharp with a slight metallic bite. Brettanomyces attributes are strong within the flavor profile as well as the aroma. The flavors of doughy yeast and leather predominate here with more subtle notes of tropical fruit in the background. The high carbonation adds to the body and mouthfeel which is relatively moderate for a gueuze. Oak flavors of neutral wood are present as well.
There is a larger volume of Brettanomyces (and potentially other yeast strains as well) in these bottles when compared to many gueuzes, so be careful when pouring the beer. This larger volume of yeast may be the source of some savory (umami) flavors of yeast breakdown present in the beer and noticeable in the aftertaste. The beer is very dry overall and like all gueuzes has a refreshing profile like that of tart lemonade. There is some slight astringency in the finish possibly from oak tannins or aged hops.
For myself, this gueuze defines the higher end of sour and funky flavors in a beer. The profile is sharper and more intense than many gueuzes. At first, this intensity may even come across as abrasive. Despite this, Hanssens’ products are some of my favorites among sour beers. After drinking many wonderful products with subtle and delicately blended flavors, it can be equally refreshing to drink a beer that pushes the boundaries of intensity. This gueuze certainly fits that bill and for this reason it is a product I always keep stocked in my cellar. Hanssens’ Oude Gueuze leaves one’s mouth puckered and one’s mind trying to understand why so many flavors, which alone could be off-putting, can come together to be so delicious. I highly recommend that you try the next bottle you can find.