A little bit of science, a little bit of art, or a little bit of old wood and spiders? Even Belgian brewers don’t completely know—or won’t say—what combination of factors produce their world-class lambics. But Beachwood Brewing owner Gabe Gordon intends to find out… on American soil.
Beachwood Blendery, his newly announced sour beer project in Long Beach, Calif., is the culmination of a long fascination with Belgian lambics and gueuzes. “The original [Beachwood] Sour Fest was put on as an excuse to showcase the pallet of Cantillon that I had split with my friends from San Diego,” Gordon says. “I just thoroughly adored and loved drinking sour beer and specifically traditional lambics. Now that it was time for another project, it was time to just go ahead and start toying with the sour side of things myself.”
Gordon, along with Beachwood brewmaster Julian Shrago and barrelmaster Ryan Fields (formerly of Lost Abbey and Port Brewing), will soon have an entire sour beer playground at their disposal. Construction should wrap up in early January on the 100-year-old Long Beach building, which will house a temperature- and humidity-controlled barrel room capable of replicating the conditions of a Belgian aging room.
“There’s lots of old wives tales about how lambics are made. Why is lambic different than American sour beer? Maybe it’s the magic air of the Senne River Valley or the wood. Everybody has different theories,” Gordon says. “If we want to make something as interesting as lambic, we should build a place that has all the individual parts of what a lambic brewery has.”
That also includes a copper-lined koelschip (a sort of shallow tub traditionally used to cool wort) located in the building’s rafters. Though even Gordon doesn’t know whether details like copper lining or a building with 100-year-old wood is the magic “it” factor that produces a delicious lambic-style beer, he’s wants to cover all his bases.
“We really want to be able to start categorizing all the methods that we use and find out what makes for a similar flavor profile that you find in lambic and gueuze. That’s the whole goal.”
While his inspiration and methods are traditional, don’t expect to see kriek or framboise from Beachwood. Instead, Gordon plans to make use of exotic fruits and experiment with yeast and bacteria strains to produce something that’s close to—but not exactly—a lambic or gueuze. Technically, Beachwood can’t call its sour beer lambic or gueuze, as those are geographically protected terms, but Gordon says he wouldn’t refer to his beers that way regardless.
“Out of pure respect, whether it was a designation or not, I would never even suppose to call it something like that,” he said. “The goal is to produce something as interesting and complex as gueuze. What will we call it? I don’t know.”
He expects the first batches of beer from this time-intensive project to be ready for consumption in six months to a year, and Gordon admits they’ll be a work in progress. “For the first year, we’ll just be doing a lot of super-experimental beer, toying with recipes and different strains of bacteria and yeast. We’re putting out a series of fun, interesting beers for us as well as for our customer base to grow with the project. It’s going to be really cool to have more than it just be myself and Julian and Ryan dictating the way things go.”