If you really want to broaden your beer horizons, you should definitely try lambic and geuze. Discovering these beers is a fascinating experience. They are the most artisanal beer styles in the world and true lambic and geuze can only be produced in a small region near Brussels.
The difference between lambic and geuze
Lambic is a wheat beer fermented with wild yeasts. The unfermented base beer (known as wort) is placed out in a coolship. This is a broad and shallow vessel at the top of the brewery. The wort is exposed to the night air and the wild yeasts ferment the brew. This process is only possible between October and May. During the warmer summer months unfavorable organisms could have a negative influence on the brewing process and the flavor of the beer. After fermentation in the coolship, the beer is aged in wooden barrels.
Geuze is a blend of young and old lambic. The young lambic may only be fermented for 6 to 8 months, while the old lambic can be 2 or 3 years old.
(c) Brasserie Timmermans
What’s in a name
When it comes to the etymology of the name of both beers, different stories are told. The name lambic – also lambiek or lambik – could go back to the end of the eighteenth century. At the time ‘alambic’ was a type of distilling equipment and many distilleries also brewed beer or ‘bière d’alambique’. Beer Hunter Michael Jackson thinks there might be a link with the Latin verb ‘lambere’ (to sip). But maybe, lambic is just derived from the name of the town Lembeek, located near the Senne river.
The word geuze – gueuze is also correct- has an equally interesting origin. One theory is that it originated from words related to gas or geyser, because of the release of carbon dioxide when opening a bottle. Yet the Gueux (geuzen) were also a liberal political party opposing the Spanish rule. Jef Van den Steen writes ‘considering that almost every village had a Catholic brewer and a liberal brewer, geuze lambik could mean that the first who came upon the idea to bottle lambik was a liberal: lambik by the geus.’
The most commonly accepted theory however says that the name is derived from the ‘Geuzenstraat’ in Brussels. At the time a lot of Champagne was consumed in Brussels. One brewer, situated in the Geuzenstraat, collected the empty bottles and refilled them with lambic beer, hoping to benefit from the Champagne hype. The new beer was very successful and soon obtained the name ‘beer from the Geuzenstraat’ or geuze.
(c) Brouwerij Lindemans
Why only in Brussels?
Lambic and geuze beers can only be produced in one small part of Belgium. In the Senne River Valley, south and west of Brussels, the air contains wild yeasts and bacteria that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. Some of the yeast strains have been cultured and used elsewhere. Hundreds have tried to make a lambic outside of the Senne Valley, but few have come close.
For the true beer lover there is nothing more exciting than entering the Senne valley. At the end of the nineteenth century you would find at least 300 lambic makers in the region, but today only twelve remain. During the first weekend of May 2017 you can follow the trail of the beer style during ‘Toer de Geuze’, an event on which many of HORAL members open their doors to the public for tours and tastings. Entrance is free and you do not need a reservation. The breweries and blending houses can be visited by car or bike, or a seat can be reserved on a tour bus.
Belgian Family Brewers
Lindemans is the largest independent lambic brewery in Belgium. Since 1822, six generations of the Lindemans family have crafted authentic lambics of exquisite taste and complexity in Vlezenbeek near Brussels. During ‘Toer de Geuze’ you can discover how the brewery produces lambic in their polished copper brewing equipment and then stores it in authentic oak barrels that allow the beer to mature to perfection. You get to enjoy their complex lambic beers and the curious get a chance to be submerged in lambic magic. Hungry? Order something from the food trucks and prepare for a little after dinner dance to the swinging sounds of the cover band.
Where: Lennikse Baan 1479 1602 Vlezenbeek
When: Saturday the 6th of May from 11 AM until 7 PM and Sunday the 7th of May from 10 AM until 5 PM.
To try: Oude Gueuze Cuvée René, a blend of 2 to 3 year-old lambic and young lambic of at least one year old. With its golden colour, its sparkle and its complex, well-balanced tart taste with nice dry finish, this is the queen of geuzes.
Founded in 1702, Timmermans is the oldest lambic brewery in Belgium. During Toer de Geuze, the brewers will be at work. In the morning, you can discover the authentic mill from 1911 and the steaming open brewing vats. Shortly after midday, the boiling wort will be pumped to the coolship. You can also visit the unique foeder room. The guided tour is accompanied by a delicious glass of lambic and savour some Brussels cuisine classics, including brawn and cream cheese sandwiches.
Where: Kerkstraat 11 1701 Itterbeek
When: Sunday the 7th of May from 10 AM until 5 PM.
To try: Timmermans Oude Gueuze Lambicus, brewed with lambic that is on average two years old. The old Portuguese casks give the an authentic flavor with hints of vanilla.