Sunday, 21 October 2012

Beersel, Brussels: 3 Fonteinen & Oud Beersel

The Brussels Beer Festival was a lot of fun but exhausting. What we needed was a day of relaxation and so we headed to Beersel to visit two celebrated lambic breweries.

It turns out that the trains to Beersel don't run on weekends so we were reliant on the buses to get us there - never ideal when you haven't a clue where you're supposed to be going. Luckily we drove right past the entrance to 3 Fonteinen on the way to our first stop at Oud Beersel, so knew when we had arrived in the right place.


Oud Beersel only run brewery tours for two hours on the first Saturday of every month - as luck would have it the dates coincided with the holiday we'd booked. It's a lovely old brewery with lots of historic equipment as you can see from the photos. The tour was run by one of the head brewers who very patiently conducted the tour in both Flemish and English. 



Similar to stilton or champagne, Oud (old) Kriek/Geuze is a protected term, and it has to be made using the traditional method. This requires that the beer is blended from spontaneously fermented, barrel aged, lambic beer. At Oud Beersel they use chestnut wood rather than oak for their barrels, and for their kriek they use 400g cherries per barrel - most other breweries will use around 250-300g.

The wort for their beer is not brewed at Oud Beersel, it’s brewed at Boon. The brewery equipment is now used only for the barrel ageing process and as a museum. Although the wort is brewed at Boon, the differences in the recipe and then the blending make the resulting geuze distinctive from Boon’s. Their lambic has a distinctive and strong grapefruit bitterness.



A ten minute walk down the road is 3 Fonteinen where, as part of their annual open weekend, we were treated to a brief talk/tour led by owner, brewer and lambic legend Armand Debelder. He discussed how the new brewery had been set up following a thermostat incident in 2009 which led to the majority of their product to explode and resulted in him having to sell equipment and many rare beers just to keep the business alive. The ruined lambic was distilled into an Eau De Vie called 'Armand's Spirit', which he sells at a premium price to help fund the re-opening of the brewery. We got to see a lot of the recently installed brewery equipment and barrels of new lambic which he had had brewed at various other breweries.
It was heart-warming to see that the lambic breweries look out for each other and collaborate in order to continue making this important historical beer.

Armand acknowledges that making lambic and geuze is not an exact science, and there is no assurance the beer will be any good. The most difficult part of making geuze is anticipating the flavour in x years time and the skill is in the blending of the different year's lambics.

Here you buy beer made by a brewer not a banker!
Good ventilation as the wort cools stops the fruit flies but also encourages the totally wild fermentation. They use aged Belgian Challenger hops, unmalted wheat, but malted barley. The casks for 3 Fonteinen are from Bordeaux wineries, which can be used for up to 20-30 years.

Geuze is always blended with the oldest lambic first as it has the most dominant flavour profile. The oldest makes up about 15% and then the 1 and 2 year-old lambis are blended in to balance the flavours. No filtration is carried out, and the geuze ages and goes through secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Beers we tried:
Kriek - a lovely sour cherry flavours with a sweet sherberty aftertaste
Dark - a porter style beer with lambic yeast character
Lambic - flat, on tap, sour, fruity and tangy


Beersel, the land of Lambic, was a welcome respite from the crazy beer fest.


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