Subject: Belgian Impressions - Part 1
Date: 1992-07-06 21:50:22 GMT
I've just returned from the WORLD'S GREATEST BEER SAFARI, a one week
tour of Belgium. In my six days there, I visited nine breweries (but
was unable to tour two of them), and three times that many cafes.
I tasted lots o' beers, met many friendly people, and learned a wealth
about the brewing scene in Belgium.
The good news is that Belgium has by far the greatest variety in its beers
of any country in the world. They take their beer seriously and it is served
with respect. Each beer is served in the appropriate glass, often with its
own coaster. Beer is considered the ideal accompaniment with a meal, and
many dishes are prepared with beer. If you are looking for unique and
interesting beers, nowhere will you find more than in Belgium.
On the down side, the oft repeated theme of the Big Guys swallowing up the
little guys is running rampant in Belgium today. This past year has seen the
closure or takeover of 15 small breweries, including two brewers of Lambic
in Pajottenland. The two major brewers of industrial Pils, Jupiler and
Stella, have merged to form a large brewing consortium called Interbrew.
Maes, another large brewer is part of a larger French company. Furthermore,
Heineken appears to be flexing its muscles as well. Each year, more of the
small traditional breweries are forced out of business by the consortia.
The three largest lambic brewers have already succumbed to this. The largest
is Belle Vue, with an annual production of about 250,000 hectoliters. They
are now a part of Interbrew. Next is Mort Subite (100,000 HL), which is owned
by Maes. Third on the list is St. Louis (50,000 HL), which some industry
sources claim is backed by Heineken. Against these odds, the smaller, more
traditional brewers of lambic are fighting for their very existence.
The remaining little guys are producing some wonderful products. My standard
of comparison between lambic brewers is their gueuze. Gueuze is a blend of
one, two, and sometimes three year old lambics. It is traditionally refermented
in the bottle, though the larger brewers no longer do this. The examples I
sampled are listed below in order of my personal preference.
1. Frank Boon (pronounced Bone)
3. Vander Velden
6. Mort Subite
7. De Neve
9. St. Louis
10. Belle Vue
Being a lover of the traditional stuff, I did not expect anyone to produce
a gueuze that I'd prefer to Cantillon, but Mr. Boon has done just that.
His product is extremely complex.
It has the cutting sharpness of lactic acid, but is rounded by the richness
produced by Brettanomyces and other wild yeasts. Mr. Boon revealed that his
beer's complexity was due not only to the Brett. and Pediococcus, but to a
host of other micro organisms as well. I had made it clear to him that I
intended to publish an article based on our interview, and he declined to
discuss just what these other critters were. I described to him the "Guinard
Method" for making lambics outside of Pajottenland. While he was fascinated
that people were doing this at home, he contended (as does Michael Matucheski)
that a fully developed gueze could not be produced using Sacharromyces,
Brettanomyces and Pediococcus alone.
Furthermore, he confirmed what Mike Sharp's and Martin Lodahl's experiments
suggest, that aging in wood is crucial to the development of Brettanomyces
By comparison, the gueuze made at Cantillon seemed rather one dimensional.
It was extremely acidic, but lacked the fuller flavor of FB gueuze. If other
lovers of lambic out there get the opportunity to sample both, I'd like to
compare tasting notes.
When I discussed the sourness of Cantillon's beers with JP Van Roy, the head
brewer there, his attitude was that it was a traditional process subject to
the whims of mother nature. You basically got what you got. Mr. Boon disagreed.
He maintained that within the constraints of the traditional process, one could
vary the product greatly. For example, he felt that thru proper treatment of
the barrels, one could favor some microbes over others, thereby effecting
changes in the final product. He has worked hard to fine tune a complex process,
and it shows.
Another bit of good news, sometime later this year we can expect to see
limited quantities of Frank Boon Gueuze and Kriek available in the US on
the East Coast. His Kriek is the best lambic beer I've had.
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