A weekend at Ang’s
Beers of spontaneous fermentation are ales that use wild yeasts, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococus amongst others, rather than cultivated ones. All beer was once brewed this way, but by the Middle Ages brewers had learned to crop the yeast from one brew and use it in the next. Only in a few isolated regions were wild yeasts still used. The best-known region where spontaneous fermentation is still used is the Senne Valley in Belgium, where lambic is produced.
These are extraordinary beers, unlike any others you will encounter. If you do not know them then first taste will probably appal you. But with knowledge we hope you will become as enthralled as we are.
Lambic, the precursor of Gueuze, the epitomy of a gestalt, is something of a hedonistic brew that a real hardcore fanbase has sprung up around over the last 20 or so years. One such organised group the Opstalse Bierpallieters, have maintained an event celebrating the diversity and heritage of this stunning beverage. Books by the incredibly charming and pleasant Joris Pattyn, along with Jeff Van Steen and many many affectionally termed “beergeeks” around the world, fueling demand for this incredible beverage. There is an organisation that promotes this called HORAL – The High council for artisanal lambik style beers (acronym in Dutch for Hoge raad voor ambachtelijke lambikbieren) is a council of lambic breweries and lambic blenders.
Heading to Belgium is never a chore, especially when there is beer at the end of the rainbow. Ang, (@Terry_tibbs), came down to Kent to meet me and head to Belgium on the Eurotunnel. I hate in-jokes, but this was just about to turn into “a weekend at Ang’s…” as much as, he forgot his passport again. I headed off to Belgium, solo, with Ang heading back to london to find said passport and then jump a EuroStar to Brussels. A detour around westvleteren is always a fine place to start a day. I left there heading to Brussels to retrieve Ang from Midi, with a little stop into Drie Fonteinen’s new Lambic-O-Droom.
The recent 2005 Vintage Gueuze a really nice start to the lambic trip, and there are few finer places to wait for a text telling you that a friend is getting close. Such was this horrendous delay to our trip, I decided to go have a steak and a nice glass of Lambic. Sat in glorious sunshine, reading my beaten copy of Webb’s Belgian Beer Guide, in the back yard of the Cafe, drinking lambic, I was a very content happy chap.
Beep Beep, or more so, Parp Parp such is the ring tone on my phone. Ang had arrived in Belgium. I headed off to Midi, to find the Ang. I found him, after a few circuits of a building site, driving apprehensively since flat tires are a pain in the ‘arris. Something that struck me down on a upcoming beer trip.
We stumbled upon the old Belle Vue brewery, where we did the beer tourist thing, dashing across the road camera in hand. The Senne river struck me as much as the Mersey thru Manchester did.
We headed off up the motorway, with minimum of fuss on the normally chaotic Ring around Brussels.
Bruggehout is a town like, the ones when you arrive and really have to think hard as to the purpose of it’s existence. Strangely they have a really nice modern hall, with Pile Rings as lights, well that’s what sprung to mind when you looked up.
Confronted with a list of 100+ lambic based beers, or beers of Lambic Origin was sooooo much fun to see. Beers such as a 1988 Fond Gueuze was very high on friends lists of priority, I was intreagued more so, as to how the beer has held up. The Cantillon Zwanse, a vintage brew, made this past year with Rhubarb was equally high on the list. (I hear from Ang, that the ’09 is Elderflower?Berry?) Various lambic, both Jonge and Oude from all the key brewers were available. Ang and I dived straight into the 1988 Belle Vue fond and the Elyenbosch Gueuze, the Elyenbosch remarkably good whereas the Fond bottle we had, the acetobacter had really gotahold of it, saturating the lovely brett notes that this beer I believe should have. The Fond was a discovery in the Belle Vue brewery by one of the organisers of the event, a purchase, and stored with love, care and attention.
There are only a few Lambic breweries out there, from the large thru small. There are always arguments as to which is the best, I go with the they are all a matter of taste. You might have heard of Boon, Drie Fonteinen, Giradin, Mort Subite? But what about De Troch, DeCam, or Hansens, perhaps Lindemans? They are very different from the next, but all of a type. There are the sweetened fruit versions, as well as the authentic sweetened lambic – “Faro” – Historically, a low-alcohol, sweetened beer made from a blend of lambic to which brown sugar was added.
Angelo and I wandered thru the menu of the gueuzes, spliting bottles with many of our friends around us, bottles flying here and there. I must admit I do have a soft spot for the Drie Fonteinen, De Cam, OudeBeersel, Giradin, and De Troch Cuvee, brews. The rare fruited Cantillon were very very nice, the Mega Blend, Timmermans and the new fruited Hansens were also on show, some drawing applause, some notable by the number of half drunk bottles left on the table at time of departure.
We moved on to the Horstel, for the Ratebeer Tasting. Always a fun thing, especially when friends come from all over the planet. Americans, Danes, Canadians, Brits and a couple of Germans.
Great beers were drunk, jokes retold and photos’ taken. Highlights, Cuvee De Tomme, Barrel Aged and Non-barrel aged Alesmith Numbskull amongst a selection of great beers from around the world.
The following morning, somewhat a blur, we headed into the wilds of Payotenland, with a couple of Danish friends. A fantastic morning grew around us.
We ended up at some lovely antiquated bars serving both Oude and Jonge Lambic, especially lovely. A great way to start the sunday. We wandered around starting at the Groet Dorst, a little bar specialising in Lambic and Gueuze, we had a great little run around this nirvana of lambic and gueuze. Quite literally LambicLand! Memorably we just drove past Elyenbosch, a former shadow of its self, a derelict building with a few signs up to mark it’s existence. I shall return, especially to Gooik to DeCam.
We headed to something of a Meca for great Gueuze, the Heeren van Liederkerke. The men of Liederkerke is very much concreted on to the map of must visits for great Gueuze.
We were able to settle down with an old Giradin, and a De Neve Gueuze, from ’99!
This whole trip has sort of reignighted my love of this amazing beer, leaving me wondering what gueuze from Brabux, Wets, Keersmaker or VanderLinden must have tasted like…
The amazing thing was also the different hues that the base lambic had, DeCam far more blonde, the Giradin light copper. I can see it must be fun to be a blender of lambic. Interestingly the J&J Rose and Blauw, created by Armand Debelder of Drie Fonteinen of various lambic houses, created to be masculine and feminine, and very much so, use 5 or 6 different lambic to create this incredible pair of beers. The recently released Crianza Helena, based on entirely lambic from Cantillon, was again an experiential moment.
Angelo, and friends from all over the world – we sat and ate, drank, laughed and burnt in the sunshine.
There are times when you have to change scenery, so for a change, Angelo and I went to france. We both realised that we spend so much time in Belgium, it’s become something of second nature to go here, there or whereever to drink amazing beer.
So, we went to France. We had to be back to the train anyway, so we went to Cassel. There is a little bar there that has a few interesing French beers, like Bavasiene, L’Audramarleois and the ever present brews from St. Sylvestre, the popular Trois Monts. Ang and I suffered some French Fries and a kebab of sorts, with a Trois Monts. Then hauled ourselves back to the tunnel sous la manche and to dear ol’Blighty.
Angelo, missed the last train to london, staying with me. He made it to work on Monday.
– You can see more pictures here –
and, yes the range of Lambic and Gueuze will be changing very soon at Beermerchants.com