Belgian Brewers Object to 'Methode Gueuze' Name on American Beers
Instead, "Méthode Traditionelle" has been suggested as a way to label Lambic and Gueuze-inspired beers in the U.S.
Systems like the European Union's protected designation of origin (PDO) and traditional specialties guaranteed (TSG), which ensure that a product is produced in a specific area or by a specific method respectively, can serve as important protections to both consumers and producers. However, the required reverence for a product's name isn't always black and white. For instance, if a beer is labeled as a Czech beer, you'd expect it to come from the Czech Republic; but even though pilsner beers are named after the Czech city of Pilsen, the pilsner style is so ubiquitous, it would be extremely tricky to put that cat back in the bag. However, when it comes to the word "Gueuze," Austin, Texas's Jester King Brewery has agreed that, despite recreating the Belgian style on American shores, the word itself should be reserved for Belgium.
Gueuze (also spelled "Geuze") is funky tasting style of beer created by blending multiple Lambics, which are spontaneously-fermented sours. Traditionally, Gueuzes have been produced specifically in Belgium, and two decades ago, the styles of Lambic and Gueuze received TSG status from the EU. But in the past decade, renewed American interest in unique beer styles has led to an increase in the amount of sour beers being produced here—including a number of breweries, such as Jester King, making very authentic tasting Gueuze-inspired brews. Eventually, Jester King found itself wondering, how the heck do we label these things?
In 2016, the Austin brewery released a blended, spontaneously fermented beer and decided to label it as "Méthode Gueuze" in the hope that this would distinguish the brew as being made in the method of a Gueuze but one that does not actually come from the region. The distinction was supported by Jean Van Roy, the famous brewer behind the renowned Belgian Lambic producer Cantillion, and Jester King believed it might be on its way to establishing "Méthode Gueuze" as its own beer style in the U.S..
However, the High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beers (HORAL) wasn't as accepting of the concept. According to Jester King, the brewery received a letter from the Belgian association this past March—essentially a polite kind of cease and desist. "When we got the letter, we went through a gamut of different emotions and seriously considered telling HORAL to 'get lost' in so many words," Jester King's founder Jeffrey Stuffings wrote in a post on the brewery's blog yesterday. "However, in the end, we came back to the principle that our efforts will have failed if they result in a significant portion of the Lambic community being at odds with us." Instead, the brewery set up a meeting with HORAL in Belgium.
In the end, HORAL—despite their support of making Belgian-inspired beers in the US and their "great hospitality"—made it clear that the terms "Lambic" and "Gueuze" should be off limits in the name of the actual style outside of their region. "We can empathize with their position," Stuffings continued, "as it is their tradition, and we can see how in their eyes we might come across as interlopers trying to profit off of what they've been doing for ages." Instead, the two parties came to an agreement on the style name of "Méthode Traditionelle"—and that breweries could use additional exposition on the label, leaving them "free to expound or elaborate on the fact that the traditional method comes from authentic Lambic and G(u)euze," using those words specifically.
"What good is a new style description if a significant portion of the traditional producers are at odds with it?" Stuffings decided. Instead, his brewery's next Gueuze-inspired release will be labeled as "Méthode Traditionelle," and he hopes that other US breweries might to do the same, in essence creating the same "new" style distinction but with a slightly altered name.