We could not come to the Pajottenland and not visit at least one brewery and learn more about the most famous regional products aka Lambic beers like Geuze or Kriek (cherry beer). Visiting only one brewery knowing we came from far would have been sad… that’s why we visited 2 breweries 😉
We visited 3 fonteinen and Boon that on size are very different as Boon is maybe 6 times bigger (at least) than 3 fonteinen . But when it comes to passion they are just alike, both owners have THE sparkle in their eyes when they can talk about Lambic beers and on top of that they are both great guys! If you want to learn what there is to learn on making Lambic beers, they are definitely the guys to contact!
Something important to know before I continue talking about the breweries is the difference between making of regular beer and Lambic beers. A very big difference can already be found in the fermentation process! Lambic beers have something called a spontaneous fermentation, because they make use of “wild” or “natural” yeast that comes basically from the air around us… did you know there are 86 kinds of wild yeasts in the air? Well there are! So you can imagine how long it must take before a Lambic beer can be made. Normally this takes between 3 and 8 months. An essential ingredient in beer is hop. Hop is actually used against the acidification of the beer. For Lambic beers the brewers will only be using “old” hop (2-3 years old) because if they would use young hop the beer would be to bitter and the beer won’t last as long (for ageing). So depending on the amount of Old hop the brewer use the Lambic beers will be sourer or bitterer. (Sourness is typical for the Lambic beers). The last thing you should know about the lambic beer making is that after cooling down the beer is put in old oak wine barrels to ferment for a few more years which gives yet another typical taste to Lambic beers.
What makes Geuze extra special is that to make Geuze the brewer will be mixing (or blending) young and old lambic beer. The reason for this is because the young lambics are not fully fermented, the blended (so after mixing) beer contains fermentable sugars, which allow a second fermentation to occur. This is also the reason why the Geuze bottles are always closed with the same cork as a champagne bottle as the ,in our case beer, will keep fermenting in the bottle.
Ok, now I’ve explained a few important “must know” facts from Lambic beer I can tell you more about the two breweries we’ve visited. I’ll start with Armand de Belder’s story aka the man and passion behind the 3 fonteinen Brewery. For some Flemish people the name 3 fonteinen might ring a bell as this is one of the favorite beers of the Belgian celeb chef Jeroen Meus (Restaurant Luzine) who used it in a few recipes that I think almost every Flemish family already make around the Christmas period 🙂 (Guilty as charged). Anyhow what is important to know about this brewery is that they initially (the current owner’s parents)used to be “geuzenstekers”, which is the name for a brewery that will mix young and old Lambic beer from other breweries (so they don’t make their own beer from scratch). Back in the day the only used to make beer to serve in their own restaurant, but as. It was not until 1999 that Armand and his brother (after taking over business) started making their own Lambic beer from scratch which they then blended with “Lambic” from other breweries. 2009 was a catastrophic year for the 3 fonteinen brewery as due to a defect in the warehouse thermostat 5000 bottles of beer exploded and beer to fill over 80000 bottles was ruined. I’m sure I don’t have to draw a picture of the financial disaster this caused. But Armand it a fighter and didn’t thrown in the towel yet, he continued blending beers (without his own Lambic) and as of this year he slowly started making his own Lambic beer again. A truly remarkable story!
The second brewery, Boon, we visited has a totally different story. This brewery was originally founded around 1860 and mostly produced “Kriek” or better known as cherry beer in English. In 1978 the very small brewery got taken over by the current owners aka Boon family that made it one of the biggest breweries in the region and since 1989 has a partnership with Palm Breweries which made them an even bigger player on the beer market around the world. I must say it is quite impressive walking through this brewery and seeing the process how a Lambic beer gets made from scratch and I’m not even talking about the incredible and enormous barrel chambers where the Lambic rests…
What to do when you don’t want to break down the original factory but still want to enlarge your company? That’s write just build over it and keep the original inside in its original state :-). Unless that’s how Frank Boon did it with his factory.
I did indeed enjoy to hear all about their breweries, but at some point standing still and listening gave a dry throat 🙂 luckily we were in breweries so moooooooore than enough to solve that problem.
The biggest difference between the beers of the 2 breweries to me is the sourness as the beers made by Boon are easier to drink and for a wider public. This doesn’t mean I didn’t like the 3 fonteinen beers because I did like them, especially the cherry beer as this one of the few ones where you can actually taste the actual cherries. I’m just saying that you’d serve a Lambic bier/Geuze to somebody who didn’t every drink this type of beer before you’d better start with Boon as 3 fonteinen is more for the ones used of drinking this type of beer. This is my impression of the beers, it is like the French say “les goûts et les couleurs, ça ne se discute pas”. One of my personal favorites was th eGeuze “Mariage Parfait” from Boon.
One thing is for sure that both beers are made with passion and I’ve also learned there is a lot of mutual respect amongst the Lambic brewers!
You guys should really visit this beautiful region and taste its products! Enjoy