If it quacks like a canard . . .

In anticipation of Eric Asimov’s article on lambic in the New York Times – which is undoubtedly the first, and probably the last, story about lambic that millions of ordinary beer-loving people will ever read in their lives – we here at the Shelton Brothers Blog have been letting the subject of lambic lie at anchor for bit. There seemed to be no point in continuing to paddle our little dinghy until the Queen Mary had docked. Mr. Asimov’s article arrived on Wednesday, safe and sound, and, fortunately for us, bearing lots of good Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen beers. We will be very interested in pursuing in more depth some of the themes he developed in this excellent article in other blog posts here.

But first, as always, we’ll start with this week’s vocabulary word. And this week’s word is: ‘canard.’ The word ‘canard’ is most commonly used to signify a broken-down and completely defective argument, idea, or rumor, often repeated but not particularly true or useful. To me the word refers to an old saw – one that is handed around a lot, but that just won’t cut any wood. There are an awful lot of canards to contend with when you’re talking about lambic. A lot of people have opinions, it seems, but very few seem concerned about finding any factual support for them. The standard lambic-related canards are already flying about since the New York Times article arrived.

And I do mean flying about. The word ‘canard’ comes from the French word for duck, and it alludes, apparently, to the quacking noise for which ducks are rightly famous. In the next couple of weeks I’d like to relax by spending some time shooting down some of these great quacking lambic canards in a few short scatter-shot blasts, just as if we were quail-hunting on a Texas ranch. Remember to stay behind me. Ready? Let ‘em loose!

Let’s start with Joe Lipa, who’s been waiting so patiently for a response since he posted here a few weeks back. Mr. Lipa was pre-emptively reacting to slights against Lindemans lambics that hadn’t actually been delivered yet. Here is his now frayed and yellowed post – with food stains on it, sorry – in its entirety, with no corrections or changes:

Let’s set the facts straight;

1. Drie Fonteinen is a high quality and respected blender. And guess who’s lambic is a major ingredient in Drie Fonteinen process? It’s Lindemans traditional lambic. I know this first hand because I have recently visited Dre Fonteinen with the Lindeman’s family.

2. Lindemans, together with eight other traditional lambic brweries have set up a committee named “HORAL” (Hoge Raad van Ambachtelijke Lambikbrouwers = translated in English, the high council of traditional lambic brewers). The counsel is goverened by several officers. Dirk Lindeman and Armand DeBelder, owner of Dre Fonteinen are two of the officers on this council. The mission of this council is to defend the traditional values of lambic and old gueuze.

In the future let’s all stick to the facts and build the specialty beer business together.

Joe Lipa
National Sales Manager
Merchant Du Vin Corp.

Not surprisingly, as canards go, these are particularly slow-moving. Sticking to the facts? Yeah, we can do that.

Notre Premier Canard

We import the Drie Fonteinen beers into the U.S., and it’s not news that Armand Debelder blends lambic beers from the nearby Girardin, Boon, and Lindemans breweries – as his father did, beginning in 1953. (Armand is also brewing his own lambic now, but that’s another story.) Here’s how it works: those other breweries make a standard lambic wort – about 60% malted barley and 40% unmalted wheat, with aged flavorless hops in the boil – and pump it into a coolship for an overnight stay. The coolship is a wide, shallow, open tank that allows the hot wort contact with the cool air. That famous air carries the classic wild yeasts of the Payottenland. When the morning comes, the wort – which is impregnated with the wild yeasts and other ambient bacteria – is immediately sent in stainless steel tanks to Armand Debelder. By the end of the day, it is all bunged up in oak barrels of various descriptions, where it will stay for years, carefully tended by Armand. Only then does fermentation begin.

To put it plainly, Armand Debelder is not buying lambic from Lindemans. He is buying wort, the raw stuff of which lambic is made. It takes several weeks of fermentation before this wort can be considered lambic beer, according to Armand, and most of two years before he would consider using it to make Geuze.

Meanwhile, back at Lindemans, what is happening to the rest of the wort that they’ve cooked up? We’ll get to that in a later posting here, but for now let’s just say that it’s something dramatically different from what happens at Drie Fonteinen, with radically different results. Reading Mr. Lipa’s post, one might almost get the impression that Armand Debelder is pouring fresh Lindemans Kriek into his blending tank. But the fact is that what Lindemans is selling to consumers is a completely different product from what Armand is making. Unfortunately, consumers here have no idea how different it is because the Lindemans and Merchant du Vin websites talk misleadingly about the traditional lambic process — the process that Armand Debelder follows — evidently aiming to convince those consumers that it’s all exactly the same stuff.

(By the way, this is the kind of information that only interests beer geeks, but it’s not exactly right to say that Lindemans’ wort is ‘a major ingredient in Drie Fonteinen process.’ Armand uses considerably more Boon and Girardin than Lindemans to make his beers, and only uses the Lindemans in Geuze blendings, not in his fruit beers. In case you’re wondering, lambic originating at Girardin is used to make Drie Fonteinen Kriek, and Armand’s own lambic is the starting point for his rare raspberry lambic.)

In the end, it’s quite telling that Mr. Lipa wants to use Armand Debelder’s reputation for quality and integrity to bolster Lindemans’ standing in those categories. Anyway, the effect is to suggest the opposite of what he wants to prove: Lindemans could do what Armand does with the wort they make, but they simply don’t, and Mr. Lipa doesn’t say a word about that. Talking about what Armand does – which we are more than happy to do – doesn’t exactly put a glow on Lindemans by association.

Wow, mes amis, it looks like we’ve already bagged our first canard. Bon! Perhaps we should pause here for a beer.

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