Notes on Toer de Geuze 2011
For the second time in a row I attended the biennial Toer de Geuze event in Belgium. During one day, all lambic brewers and geuze blenders that are part of HORAL (with the exception of Girardin) open their doors to the public. If you decide to do the tour by tour bus you cannot visit all locations and must make a selection. In 2009 I opted for the most traditional brewers and blenders with the exception of geuze blender De Cam. This year I skipped Hanssens (which is among my favorites) and visited De Cam. I also substituted De Troch for Mort Subite. A selection of photos that I took prior to and during the event can be seen here.
Like 2009, all buses were completely booked in advance — although there were some empty seats due to some people not being able to attend or arriving late. The major advantage of doing the tour by bus is that it permits one to sample the products of all the brewers and blenders without having to be concerned about drinking and driving. Since I had attended the Toer de Geuze before, I wondered how much there was to gain from attending two of them in a row. Having seen most of the breweries and blenders now, I am inclined to say that one gets most of the benefits from the first visit. But there were three things that stood out for me during the most recent edition.
First, it seemed quite a bit busier than the previous tour. This was later corroborated when I saw a news item on Belgian television noting this was the best attended Toer de Geuze to date (they estimated more than 10,000 visitors). As a matter of fact, the crowd at 3 Fonteinen was a little excessive in my opinion. Admittedly, in most cases there is not a whole lot the organizers and breweries can do about this and it simply reflects the growing popularity of traditional geuze — which is an exciting development. Since the event seems to confer meaningful benefits to the brewers and blenders involved, making this an annual event might provide some relief.
I have always been aware that many of the sweetened and faux fruit lambics still involve traditional techniques and equipment during the initial stages in order to conform with rules concerning use of the word lambic. But seeing the beautiful brewery, equipment and barrels at De Troch it really struck me how strange it is to see these breweries jumping through many of the same time-consuming hoops as the traditional breweries and then to manipulate (some might say ruin) the final product to make it confirm to contemporary taste. In their defense, many of these brewers would like to make a traditional product and the tour guide at De Troch indicated that the pendulum may be swinging in favor of tradition again.
The biggest surprise awaited me at Boon. Boon had scheduled to brew (or continue to brew) during the event and at one point I found myself staring into the boiling wort with a sublime view of an adjacent coolship. Regular readers of this blog know that I am not the biggest fan of Boon and I have been quite disappointed with most of their products. There is a lack of tartness plus a substantial bitterness (not to mention the often excessive carbonation) in most of their beers, including their two traditional geuzes, that does not resonate with me. I was therefore not prepared for the excellent old (unblended) lambic that was served for free to the visitors. Some writers have alluded to the oxidized / sherry / Vin Jaune-like qualities of old lambic, but I do not recall having tasted a sample that captured those qualities so well as Boon’s. As far as I am concerned, Boon should just leave their lambic as-is and bottle it after 3, 4, or 5 years! More realistically, they could at least consider bottling some of their aged lambic for the consumer.
Not much later, I found myself again admiring a Boon product when I (reluctantly) ordered a glass of their Mariage Parfait Kriek 2008. True to form, Boon’s attempt to make a state of the art Kriek did not depart from their low-tartness approach, but in this case it worked for me. After sampling a lot of different krieks during the previous weeks, I noticed a fascinating deep vinous quality to this kriek, more reminiscent of some of the wines I drink than beer. After these truly unexpected surprises, I made the revolutionary decision to purchase two 375 ml bottles of this Boon release, which I hope to review in conjunction with 3 Fonteinen’s Schaerbeekse Kriek.
Later that day I was tempted to purchase the 5 (!) liter bag-in-a-box Oud Beersel young lambic but restrained myself from doing so by considering the logistical challenges of taking it with me back to the United States. One nice feature of this year’s event is that I had more time to visit the Pajottenland area. Highlights included seeing the old, now inactive, Eylenbosch brewery in Schepdaal (where I spotted a big Toer de Geuze sign) and having dinner at De Heeren van Liedekercke. This restaurant completely deserves its reputation as offering the best beer-based cooking in the Brussels region and they have, by far, the most impressive vintage lambic / geuze / kriek list that I have ever seen in my life (not too mention a breathtaking number of Orval vintages).