A Belgian nonprofit group founded to protect the traditional techniques of brewing Lambic beers has taken umbrage with a Stateside brewery’s effort to do the same.
The High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beers (HORAL, translated from Dutch) says Jester King, of Austin, TX, has shown “a lack of respect for the origins of true” Lambic and Gueuze beers in its decision to brand a product as “Méthode Gueuze.” But Jester King says it chose the name for the express purpose of making clear the beer in question “is NOT ‘Lambic’ or Gueuze,’” but rather was inspired by the style and was brewed in complete accordance with traditional methods, albeit in Texas. “Méthode Gueuze,” the company says, is simply a “more artful way” of saying "Gueuze-style" or "Gueuze-inspired."
Lambics, by definition, are Belgian specialty beers, spontaneously fermented by wild yeasts and bacteria completely unique to the Zenne River Valley near Brussels.
WHY IT MATTERS
The conflict—outlined in two corresponding letters between HORAL and Jester King, given to GBH by a source we agreed not to identify—underscores what both sides see as a much broader issue of breweries capitalizing on trends in a way that betrays brewing history, tradition, and preservation.
For its part, HORAL says it has the utmost respect for Jester King, but also has concerns.
“There will always be money chasers that will be looking to shortcut the process and flood the market with a pseudo-Méthode Gueuze,” HORAL writes in its letter, dated Feb. 21, sent seemingly in response to samples it had received. “In such a case, we will all lose.”
And Jester King empathizes. Says company founder Jeffrey Stuffings, when reached by GBH, “I’ve grown to cringe a little bit when an American brewer hands me their ‘Lambic’ or ‘Gueuze,’ and I come to learn that it is not 100% spontaneously fermented and has only loose connections to the traditional method.”
At issue, then, is the language employed.
“I believe the heart of the matter is the actual use of the word ‘Gueuze’ (or ‘Geuze’), regardless of context. What we’re struggling with, I believe, is how to say a beer was inspired by Gueuze, and followed the traditional method of making Gueuze, without actually using the word itself,” Stuffings tells GBH. “Puns and contractions have been a way to do this so far, which is fine. Personally, I’m a little pun adverse and would rather have a term, if possible.”
Examples of domestic workarounds, pun-focused or otherwise, include Lost Abbey’s Duck Duck Gooze (the top rated “Gueuze” on BeerAdvocate), Upland’s Sour Reserve, and The Bruery’s Rueuze.
It should be noted: this inner turmoil was top of mind for Jester King even before HORAL voiced its concern. The company says the beer came to be out of an experiment to see if “the traditional method of making Gueuze would work in Texas.”
In a blog post first introducing the beer (a 2016 entry to Jester King’s SPON series, three years in the making), Stuffings conceded the company had “struggled mightily” with what to call it. “We knew we would not claim that it was an authentic ‘Lambic’ or ‘Gueuze,’” he wrote at the time. “Our beer was made in Texas. Lambic and Gueuze come from Brussels and the Pajottenland. End of story.”
With input from Jean Van Roy of Brasserie Cantillon (one of the world’s most celebrated breweries and a real deal Belgian producer of lambic beers), Jester King landed on “Méthode Gueuze” as an artful, succinct distillation of a “73 word description where I've already lost the listener's attention half way through,” as Stuffings says.
As for the beer itself, Van Roy purportedly told the company, “Your blend deserves even more to be called ‘Lambic’ or ‘Gueuze’ than a lot of fake Belgian Gueuze.” Van Roy did not respond to GBH’s request for comment. It's also worth noting that not all HORAL-approved beers would meet the certification criteria for Méthode Gueuze.
Jester King didn’t stop there, though. The company said, in turn, it planned to work with Van Roy—and other producers of genuine Lambic beer—to establish “Méthode Gueuze” as a certification mark for other brewers to use to “verify that a certain set of standards and criteria are met during the making of” such beers outside of Zenne Valley.
Despite Jester King’s best intentions to pay proper homage to the style’s Belgian forbearers, however, HORAL claims that designating an American made product “Gueuze” is inherently “very opportunistic” and an “outspoken mercantile move.”
“We don’t understand why, ultimately, Jester King has chosen the specific use of Gueuze in ‘Méthode Gueuze,’” HORAL writes. “Given the vast history and heritage of the original style, the socio-cultural gravity and its clear link with the terroir of the Zenne Valley, the concepts of ‘lambic’ and ‘gueuze’ are very powerful.”
It continues: “Defining a label like ‘Méthode Gueuze’ is easy, but controlling all producers and products adhering this name, is a far more difficult task. If the controlling mechanism is lacking, misconduct and abuse will be common, while the value of the principles will be lost. We hope that you have considered that.”
As an alternative, the organization proposed something like "Méthode Traditionelle," but added it it doesn’t have the “time or money to make a court case” out of the ordeal.
In a responding letter, dated March 17, Stuffings writes that he appreciates the organization’s concerns and that he, too, feels a responsibility to protect the heritage of the style.
“I do believe, however, that Méthode Gueuze actually serves to help and protect your business,” he writes. “Myself and my peers have a desire for the terms Lambic and G(u)euze to still mean something ten years from now and beyond, as obviously you do too.”
Stuffings goes on in his letter: “My fear is that the ship is leaving or has left the dock when it comes to preventing abuse, confusion, and a muddled picture of what Lambic and G(u)euze really are.”
Stuffings says the two sides are currently negotiating the matter further, but did not elaborate.