Exploring the Long History — and Unlikely Comeback — of Lambics

A distinctive beer comes into its own

Making lambics
Belgium: Brussels, the Cantillon brewery, a family brewery.
Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

If you have a penchant for both craft beer and obscure corners of history, it’s a good time to be alive. Recent archaeological findings have helped trace the ways in which brewing has made an impact on different cultures over hundreds, and even thousands, of years. Food writers and historians alike have found fascinating ways to revisit older brewing methods, with some breweries finding new ways to bring ancient styles into the present day.

But what about brewing styles that have simply endured for hundreds of years? There’s plenty of history there as well. Literary Hub recently published an excerpt from Dan Saladino’s recent book Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them. At the heart of the piece are lambics, the traditional style of beer from Belgium that’s beloved by many a beer expert.

As Saladino observes, the legendary beer writer Michael Jackson was a huge proponent of lambics. “What made these beers so compelling was that, although each barrel was the product of years of meticulous work, much was left to nature and therefore, from the brewer’s point of view, to chance,” Saladino writes.

Saladino notes that the 20th century saw a decline in the consumption of lambics. Some of that came from the wars in the first half of the century causing breweries to close; some came from local drinkers developing a taste for pilsners and lagers. He notes that lambics now have a dedicated following, which has afforded the industry some stability.

Of course, that stability might be less assured than many beer drinkers would hope. In 2018, The Guardian reported that the conditions under which lambics thrive were under threat from climate change. This isn’t necessarily shocking — is there anything good that climate change doesn’t threaten? — but it might make you savor your next glass of lambic that much more.


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