Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze: Good to be Bad

driefonteinenoudegeuze.jpg
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Beer: Oude Geuze
Brewery: Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen
Style: Gueuze
ABV: 6 percent

Acidic. Funky. Skunky. Barnyard. Vinegar. Cat pee. Horse blanket. Usually, these are not words you want associated with your food. But beer, as we know, is a magical nectar in which even the most unexpected, obnoxious flavors can work. Drie Fonteinen's Oude Gueuze is a prime example of bad being good.

Two things you should know about gueuze as a beer style. First, it's pronounced "goo-zah" or "gur-zah," depending on which part of Belgium you'd like to pretend you're from. Second, it's not really a style, per se, but rather a combination of versions of another style, lambic. This sour, funky type of beer is fermented with wild yeast and bacteria -- those that live and breed naturally in the wilderness, rather than in a sterile lab. They impart a cidery, musty, sour flavor to beer -- but only after a long time. A lambic that's been fermenting for a year might actually be fairly sweet and inoffensive; one that's been sitting for three years will slap your face with acidity. Brewers found that by blending young and old versions of lambic, they got the best of both worlds -- the young beer tempered the crotchety old version's acidity while providing some sugar for the aged beer to ferment, giving the new blend a sparkling carbonation.

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So it is with Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze, a funky blend of young and old brews. As the cork slides out with a soft pop, you'll be immediately hit with a skunky, funky aroma. Try to get past that to view the beer -- the color is a lovely light tangerine that melds with notes of pale sunlight and reddish clay. The white, fizzy, audible head snaps and crackles as it quickly recedes, though a tiny ring and stubborn film linger. The lack of a head is disappointing, though watching these effervescent bubbles struggle slowly to the surface makes up for it somewhat.

Now, back to that aroma. Acidic, funky, skunky, interesting. White grapes, granny smith apples, a prominent oakiness shine throughout. Only a touch of tartness is detectable here, with subtle undertones of barnyard funk, hay and moldy crackers -- but in a good way.

The flavor, however: holy sour, batman! From the get-go, the tongue is enveloped in puckering, tangy tartness. However, it doesn't linger too much after the finish, and there's an apple-juice sweetness there that balances it out somewhat. The horsey funk is more prominent, pairing with flavors of white wine, wet wheat and lime, with a teeny bit of oak peeking through the back. It almost reminds of dry gin.

Drei Fonteinen are sour masters, and Oude Gueuze is their most available and true-to-style brew. A lot of flavor is packed into these bottle, and you can taste the effort and time that went into crafting it. You can also taste the barnyard, horse blanket and cat pee, but trust me -- you'll learn to love it.

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.

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