Het Land van de Geuze

In 1996, Jos Cels, author of Het Mysterie van de Geuze (1992), published a 128 page tourism guide to the Pajottenland and the area between Zenne and Zoniën titled Het Land van de Geuze. Unlike Het Mysterie van de Geuze (review forthcoming), this guide is not an in-depth treatment of  lambic brewing but uses geuze beer as a unifying theme for eight car day trips in the area. As such, its audience is primarily Dutch speaking tourists to the area and perhaps a handful of lambic fanatics who would like to know as much as possible about the history and traditions of the area where lambic beers originated and are still brewed.  The book does contain some interesting facts and anecdotes associated with lambic brewing and has a geuze-based recipe in each chapter.

In the book, we read about the writer/poet and classical liberal politician Herman Teirlinck, who presented bottles of geuze with political labels to police officers to induce them to vote for him. It was the same Herman Teirlinck who founded the literary Mijolclub, who convened at the 3 Fonteinen tavern and persuaded Gaston Debelder (father of Armand Debelder) to continue the geuze blending activities when he acquired the tavern in 1953, and thus played a formative role in the formation of the 3 Fonteinen brewery in Beersel. On special occasions the Mijolclub, who only recognized one beer, geuze, met at the De Neve brewery in Schepdaal (now closed), where reportedly a very old Geuze ‘caveau’ was made available to the guests. We also learn about the old Beersel tavern In de Oude Pruim (which still exists). The owner of the tavern, Petrus Derauw, also grew fruit and one time got stuck with a large amount of old prunes after repeated attempts to sell them at the market – hence the name of the tavern.  It was in Beersel that lambic brewer Henri Vandervelden (Oud Beersel) erected a, still existing, memorial from old brewery equipment and tools to honor the lambic brewers that fell victim to the declining popularity of traditional lambic.

In the second day trip chapter, the author notes that the farm of lambic brewers Lindemans is also called Hof te Kwadewegen because of a cruel politically-motivated murder that took place at the site in the year 1388. On a similar sinister note, he mentions the fact that the café A la Mort Subite (“instant death” – which refers to the practice of ending the local pub game by one deciding throw) used to be located next to Pompes Funebres Melchior, a funeral director!

Pieter Breughel the Elder is famous for his farmer festivities paintings that feature the free-flowing consumption of lambic beer. Jos Cels wonders whether the painter himself consumed too many lambics when he painted his Boerenbruiloft (or Bruiloftsmaal) because the character with the red cardigan and black hat, who carries the fruit pies, has three legs. Undoubtedly a heavy lambic consumer was the former owner of De Rare Vos pub, Louis Moles le Bailly, who attributes his old age to the healthy properties of geuze (‘Geuze, dat is gezond!’, was his motto), sometimes drinking up to 30 glasses a day! Later in the book, the author mentions Rene Troch, a heavy-drinking lambic brewer, who failed to note that in his absence many barrels of lambic “accidentally”  rolled out of his door, supplying the population of Lembeek with free lambic.

Of particular interest is the brief discussion of lambic brewery Sinte-Gertude (1767) because it mentions that the brewery had a so called smoke-room in which the grain was smoked to give the beer a distinct color and flavor. This is not the first time I have read about the use of smoked malt in early lambic brewing and it would be quite interesting to research this topic in more depth.

The book also mentions ‘Duivelsbier,’ a sour-sweet dark beer that was refermented in the cask through the addition of candi sugar. When the weather was cold, the barrels were warmed. This Jesuit-brewed concoction continued to be brewed according to the old recipe by the Vander Linden brewery in Halle. The beer is still brewed by Frank Boon but has lost its original character (dark, sour and spontaneously fermented).

In the final chapter of the book, Jos Cell mentions the lambic blender Philemon vanden Stock as the originator of commercial Geuze when he blended various lambics and bottled this product with addition of young lambic to induce a second fermentation in the bottle.  Philemon vanden Stock was transported to a German concentration camp and died there just before the Allied forces liberated Belgium. His son Constant vanden Stock played an important role in the formation of the Belle-Vue brewery (through a number of acquisitions of other lambic brewers), and, unfortunately, the post-war rise of sweetened lambics in conventional beer bottles.