Think of how few flavour additives are ever added to Belgian beer – rarely anything other than fruit, of course, and the odd spice such as coriander and Curaçao. Then think of what lengths brewers go to in order to inject flavours into their beers using different sorts of malt, special yeast and, especially nowadays, all kinds of exotic hops.
Isn’t it odd that you would try to create fruity, spicy or herbal flavours without using fruit, spice or herbs? Not any more. Thanks to a new collaboration between lambic brewers Lindemans and Danish beer firm Mikkeller, you can now sample a lambic beer made with the addition of fresh basil leaves – if you’ve ever wondered what the best beer is to go with pizza, wonder no longer.
Lindemans reckons, and few would disagree, that the new trend worldwide is towards sour beers, even if the hype surrounding bitter-hopped beers is not yet played out. Mikkeller, known for its desire always to test boundaries, agrees.
“The Belgian Lambics have something mysterious about them,” says Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, co-founder of Mikkeller. “The spontaneous fermentation process adds to that mystery. We have been experimenting with pretty much all beer styles, and finally we got to work with Lindemans lambic!”
The result is SpontanBasil, which was recently launched in a limited edition of 25,000 75cl bottles.
“SpontanBasil has become exactly what we had in mind at our first exploratory talks,” says Geert Lindemans, general manager of Lindemans. “It is a complex but surprisingly refreshing lambic, perfect as an aperitif or as a companion to a delicious (summer) dish.”
BB&F wrote about Vincent Florizoone, chef of Grand Cabaret in Nieuwpoort and committed beer chef, in Issue Two. “As a Belgian I am particularly proud of our beer culture, and that is also reflected in my extensive beer menu and experimental cuisine,” he said. “When Lindemans asked me to create some dishes that perfectly fit with their SpontanBasil, I did not hesitate for a second to get to work.”
The results were on show at the launch of the beer in Lindemans’ new visitor centre adjacent to the extended brewery.
The beer tastes exactly as you would expect: basil macerated in lambic. The flavour of the herb is pungent and green, yet the lambic’s character still comes through. Geert declined to answer questions about the dosage of basil, but a better question might have been, how did the herb’s essential oils, normally so volatile, remain virtually unchanged? Jan Verzelen, brewing and quality engineer at Lindemans, gives the answer.
“When we had the idea to make a gueuze with basil, one of the questions was indeed whether it was possible to create a stable beer with a fresh basil taste. As this hasn’t been done before, as far as we know, the only way to answer was to try it. Not only different basil varieties were tested but also different methods of addition, different contact times, different temperatures and many other parameters. Of course, the presence of alcohol and the low pH of the lambic also help improve the solubility of the essential oils of the basil to give the beer its fresh taste. And there’s more than essential oils. Water soluble aromas from the basil give taste to the Spontanbasil. But no other ingredients than fresh basil and lambic are used to make this beer.”
In fresh basil, he explains, there’s a loss of aroma caused by the oxidation of certain aroma components by enzymes present in the leaves of the basil. Again, the low pH of the lambic, the absence of oxygen and the removal of the basil at a crucial moment are the main reasons for the beer’s aroma stability.
The innovation went down well with the invited audience, helped by the accompaniment of three courses from Vincent Florizoone:
• Tartar of mackerel with SpontanBasil dressing, foccacia, caviar of SpontanBasil, tomato and paprika
• Beer-fed saddleback pork with herb crust, mousseline of SpontanBasil, broth of basil, nettles and SpontanBasil
• Chocolate moëlleux, sorbet of raspberry and SpontanBasil, white chocolate with basil and fleur de sel.