Origin: Sint-Ulriks-Kapelle, Vlaams-Brabant, Vlaanderen
Girardin is arguably the most consistently and rootedly traditional of all the lambic breweries. The others were either founded since the self conscious revivalism of the 1970s or, like Cantillon, heavily influenced by it – or at the other extreme pursued the commercial path towards the fruit syrup bottle and the aspartame jar.
Instead what we have at Sint-Ulriks-Kapelle is something pretty close to the traditional independent farmhouse lambic brewery the Girardin family first took over in 1882 – the date that still appears on the bottles. The family remains in charge, still producing a simple and limited range: a filtered and unfiltered geuze, a faro, a kriek and a framboise.
Throughout, the brewery has also continued to make its unblended lambic widely available to pubs, geuzestekerijen (independent blenders) and other brewers. This policy alone has got many a revivalist out of a difficult spot, and in the process made a major contribution to the continued health of lambic culture.
Girardin’s unfiltered geuze doesn’t carry the recent Oude Gueuze appelation, though this is nonetheless what it is. Instead it’s identified by the black colour of the simple, classic label (zwart etiket or étiquette noire), as opposed to the white label of the filtered version. It’s the sort of beer that I don’t drink often enough, but I picked up a 375ml bottle at the London Drinker beer festival in March 2012 and reminded myself of how great it is.
This pale gold beer has a warm orange glow, topped by an unusually persistent fine white head. The characteristic pippy, funky lambic aroma has fruit and citrus peel, with hints of mastic.
The fine and very well integrated palate yields grapefruit pith and lemon marmalade, with slight sweetness offsetting a thick, petrolly lambic smack. There are elusive herbal notes on an apple core and marmalade finish.
Tim Webb, the leading writer on Belgian beer, says he uses this geuze to demonstrate to the unitiated what lambic is all about. You can see why – the beer is properly, authentically tart, but not severely so, and an excellent example of its kind.