Friday 6 March 2015

The strange tale of English Lambic

One of the more interesting set of taps I spotted at Craft Beer Rising was on the Elgood's bar – as well as a couple of fruit-infused Weissbiers, they included one for its English Lambic-style beer, which I never got to try when it originally came out. Seeing as Lambic is a sour beer speciality of Belgium, and more specifically of the Pajottenland area, more than a few eyebrows were raised when a 220-year old English family brewer announced that it was going to brew one.

Coolship #2
For a start, Lambic beers are traditionally cooled in open vessels where they are innoculated with wild yeasts, in a process that's remarkably hard to manage – if you want something drinkable at the end of it, that is. And yet Elgood's managed it, and Coolship – named after the fermenting vessels – got a very good response. Well, apart from a pub which sent its cask back, complaining that it had gone sour...

“That one pub sent it back, but they reordered it two months later when they realised!” said Elgoods sales manager Marcus Beecher. He added that the response had been so good that the CBR offering was actually the second brew of Coolship, and that there's a third in the process – it takes at least nine months to ferment, Marcus said, and around 18 months in total, so it is something of a labour of love.

Of course, being naturally fermented, Coolship #2 is subtly different from the original (and no doubt Coolship #3 will be a little different again). For a start it came out at 6% alcohol rather than 6.8%. It too is a hit though – it won silver in the speciality beers category at this year's International Brewing Awards, and now it's being launched in bottled form.

“A lot of our area's wild yeast is from fruit – we're surrounded by fruit farms,” Marcus said, and yes, there was indeed a faint strawberry note to the beer. Otherwise it was dry, tart and refreshingly sour, with notes of sour lemons and green apples.

Perhaps more exciting still was a tap promising Coolship Dark – yes, a dark Lambic, and perhaps the only one in the world, according to Marcus. “We've always been good at dark beers [Elgood's Black Dog mild has won many awards] so we thought we would combine the two,” he explained. “The Belgians never made a dark Lambic, so as far as we know it's a world first.” The result is an interesting blend of sourness and dark aromas and flavours – burnt toffee, a little treacle and a hint of something like Marmite.

He added, “We will do a Geueze once we have enough beer held back and aged.” Interesting beers ahead indeed.

This is my third in a series of write-ups from London's Craft Beer Rising, which took place on 19th-22nd February 2015 at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. There's a couple more to come, as soon as time permits!


  1. Dark Lambic - Brouwerij Eanske in the Netherlands may well have beaten them to it:

  2. The piece of equipment is called a cooler in English. And it isn't a fermenting vessel but a device for cooling wort. It's a totally impractical for fermenting as it's way too shallow.

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  3. Thanks both! I clearly need to visit more Lambic breweries... (-: I've been reading up on coolships, and Ron's right, it's an open wort cooler that picks up wild yeast which then goes into the FVs.

    I've also found references to the name being used in more recent times though to refer to open FVs in general, and especially the shallow wide type used by the likes of Anchor, eg.

    1. It's really irritating the way the word is misused. I balme the Yanks, as usual. They don't seem to understand open fermentation very well.