But Lindemans Framboise has a regular place in my beer refrigerator. It is indeed purple and it's our Beer of the Week. This beer is controversial, and not because of its color or the fruit, but because it can be quite sweet. More on that in a minute.
It's a Belgian Lambic fruit beer, made in a style that was old when Europe was a frontier. It's brewed with wild yeast the little creatures floating through the air everywhere. The Belgians call it "spontaneous fermentation." All beer was brewed with wild yeast until modern science identified yeast as the "magic ingredient" that caused beer to ferment. The trouble with wild yeast is there are many wild yeasts and one never knows which one will dominate the fermentation.
The yeasts that dominate in Lambic beers, Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces lambicus, turn the beer quite sour. The Belgians, who regard beer the way the French regard wine, have made Lambic an appellation, exactly like wine-growing regions. To be called Lambic, a beer must be brewed in the Senne River Valley around Brussels, where these particular wild yeasts dominate. Brouwerij Lindemans is in Vlezenbeek, just outside Brussels.
To offset the characteristic Lambic sourness, Belgian brewers add fruit, sour cherries (kriek) and raspberries (framboise), among others. Lindemans is a traditional Lambic brewer. The beer is brewed with a blend of pale malted barley and 30 percent unmalted wheat. The hops are deliberately aged, so they add a preservative quality but little hop bitterness. After the boil, instead of transferring the wort (the boiled water, hops, barley and wheat) to a closed fermenter and adding yeast, the wort goes into shallow containers open to the air, called coolships. The Senne Valley wild yeast lands on the liquid and goes to work.
Finally, the sour new beer is aged in oak barrels and a second fermentation continues to refine the beer. Before bottling, fresh, whole fruit in this case, raspberries, is added to the beer, launching a third fermentation as the remaining yeast acts on the fermentables in the berries. At the end, you've got purple beer and pinkish foam. It's got a heady, raspberry nose. The taste is fairly sweet with a background sourness on the side of the tongue and a strong hit of raspberry flavor.
Here's the controversy: People who love Lambic beer as a style honestly believe Lindemans is way too sweet. In my opinion, if you like things sweet with a tiny bit of sourness, go for Lindemans. Being American I was raised on Pepsi, Coke and, back home in Nebraska, Big Chief Soda I often lean toward sweet. Also, Lindemans is popular in the U.S. It's in all Trader Joe's stores and can even be found in some Safeways.
But there are other fruit Lambics, mostly hard to find, that are quite different: Lots of fruit taste and aroma, but ranging from bone dry Frank Boon Kriek, for example to very sour such as Cantillon Kriek.
Beer ratings are based on a star system. world classic; outstanding; excellent; good; average.
Staff writer William Brand publishes What's On Tap, a consumer craft beer and hard cider newsletter. He can be reached at (510) 915-1180. Fax: (510) 841-6023. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.