Cellar Review: Rivertown Lambic

Again, it’s time to dip into the growing beer cellar and grab a bottle of something to review. This weekend, during the Oscars, I decided to dull the pain of Billy Crystal and the less than stellar best picture nominees with a little taste of Lambic, and from a local brewer no less. I’m based in the Cincinnati area, and among the local breweries to crop up in recent years, Rivertown was one that I was mixed on. Every now and then I would find something from them I really loved (Hop Baron) and every now and then I would find something totally forgettable.

Let me just say upfront that their Lambic is not forgettable. First of all though, if you aren’t sure or think you know, what is a Lambic? To be very specific, it’s a very distinctive type of beer brewed only in the Pajottenland region of Belgium (southwest of Brussels) and in Brussels itself at the Cantillon Brewery and museum. Lambic is now mainly consumed after refermentation, resulting in derived beers such as Geuze or Kriek. Unlike conventional ales and lagers, which are fermented by carefully cultivated strains of brewer’s yeasts, lambic beer is produced by spontaneous fermentation: it is exposed to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Senne valley, in which Brussels lies. It is this unusual process which gives the beer its distinctive flavour: dry, vinous, and cidery, usually with a sour aftertaste.

But if I’m gonna be less clinical about the definition, I’d say a Lambic is a entry level sour beer. Not sour in a ‘oh this milk smells nasty’ kinda way, but sour in a tart and refreshing way. Following?

So some of our Midwestern audience might be asking right now, how does Rivertown, who is based in the Cincinnati area, brew a beer that is only brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium? Well, it’s actually simple to explain. The brewers expose the lambic beer to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are native to the region, rather than traveling there in order to make this a reality. Alright, so is this one any good?

I’m not a Lambic expert, and have only sampled a handful of Cantillon beers (they are harder to come by around here). But I do trust my evolving palette, and this didn’t let me down. I’ve read some other reviews and agree that the biggest downside of this beer might be trying to open the thing. The cheap cork took me almost ten minutes to pry open and broke in half before I could fully extract it. Thankfully, none of it ended up in the bottle though, and thats when things really got good.

Rivertown’s Lambic is a 2010 Vintage, and is of the unblended variety, which means no fruit was added. I don’t think they have brewed it up and bottled any since then, so if you see a bottle on store shelves, or can acquire one via trade, snap it up. They aged it in oak wine barrels, as documented here by our friends at Hoperatives.

It pours a golden yellow color with a solid amount of carbonation. I let it breathe for a few minutes before tasting and once I did I had a hard time putting it down. The sour lemon finish was really nice but the beer is maltier than most other sours I’ve had and that really makes it a smooth drinkable beer. I had no problem taking down the 750ml bottle myself thanks to a ABV of just 6%.

When it’s all said and done, if you haven’t had your palette favorably wrecked by loads of Cantillon, but want to see what all the fuss is about with sours, you should give Rivertown’s Lambic a shot. And other than the cork, I’d say this one will hold up for another year or two as well in your cellar, but is drinking really nice right now as well.

Have you tried many sours or Lambics? Have a favorite?

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