For a certain set of beer enthusiasts, lambics, traditional Belgian-style beers created by spontaneous fermentation and built to age, are more revered than most. When it comes time to serve these ales, a simple pop of a cork and pour simply will not do. No, to do it right and with respect to tradition, a drinker needs a basket.
A familiar sight at famed Belgian breweries like 3 Fonteinen and Cantillon and at select bars and breweries across the United States where tradition and aesthetics matter, the humble lambic basket is gaining more attention—and you might even call it trendy, despite being around for hundreds of years.
It’s believed that the idea to use a basket comes from an era when beer and wine contained copious amounts of natural sediment. Bottles were often stored on their sides, and the sediment typically aggregated there as they rested. Using a basket left the detritus largely undisturbed, leading to a cleaner pour upon service. A basket also kept hands mostly clean from bottles stored in a dusty cellar.
Today, for well-aged beers, the question of sediment and how to get around it when ready to pop a mature bottle remains. With the continued respect for traditional Belgian styles, as well as increased appreciation for domestic interpretations that can also withstand the tests of time, lambic baskets continue to be a desirable component to achieve optimal enjoyment.
James Tweed, a weaver who owns TheLambicBasket.com, took up the craft in 2018 and has been making and selling lambic baskets since 2019. He says the majority of baskets available are designed to hold 750-ml bottles, although 375-ml and magnum sizes exist as well. He has found that creating baskets, often made from rattan reed or willow, where the bottle fits snugly between a 20–23° angle, prevents rolling and facilitates opening a bottle in the basket without spilling.
Tweed and other specialty lambic basket makers have also taken to adding artistic flair to baskets, such as utilizing different styles. Baskets can have a tight and secure weave or wooden plank as a base. Some baskets will also have a spoke or ring loop at the mouth to secure bottle necks.
A secure handle is also paramount. Some baskets may feature a rear handle and require a second-hand placed underneath or a side handle for stability while pouring, while others have over-the-top or hoop handles.
“Function-wise, those are the main components,” says Tweed. “The shape, the angle and a handle that actually works and holds time and time again.”
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
Last Updated: May 22, 2023