From the HBD Archive
From: grumpy!cr@uunet.UU.NET (C.R. Saikley)
Subject: Origins of Lambic?
Date: 1992-07-07 21:35:22 GMT

Although no one is certain of the exact historical origins of lambic
brewing, there is a body of evidence connecting the roots of the lambic
technique to the village of Lembeek. Lembeek is a small village (pop 4000)
in the Pajottenland. In its heyday, it boasted somewhere between 40 and
45 breweries, today it has one. The following account was told to me by
that solitary brewer in Lembeek. While I can't prove or disprove its
historical accuracy, it does make a good story.

Lembeek is situated on the river Zenne (Senne in French), southwest of
Brussels. The river takes a sharp bend, encircling the enclave of Lembeek
and bestowing upon it a certain strategic importance. Whoever controlled
Lembeek, controlled the Zenne, which was the main shipping route thru
the region and up to Brussels. Consequently, many wars were fought over
the control of this small village. In an attempt to bring peace to the
region and assure that the river was accessible to all, Lembeek was
established as a sort of neutral zone.

Because of its status, Lembeek was not taxed like the rest of the region.
While the nearby villages were required to pay taxes to one crown or
another, Lembeek was exempt. Then as now, such favorable tax laws tend
to attract businesses.

Meanwhile, the brewers of Lembeek, who had established a trade guild by
the 1400's, were refining their brews. The peace brought to the region
allowed them to pursue their efforts more readily, and the tax laws allowed
brewing to flourish. Utilizing the natural microflora of the region, they
began to develop a brewing and aging technique that allowed their brews to
keep for up to three years. By comparison, brewers in nearby villages were
typically able to keep their products for only about three weeks before they
soured, and were of course taxed on what they produced.

Utilizing their advantage, the brewers of Lembeek began to "export" their
goods, first to the nearby village of Halle. The brewers of Halle were none
too happy about this, and protested to the authorities. However, the authorities
deemed that it was more important to preserve Lembeek's neutral status than it
was to appease the brewers of Halle, and so the market for the beers of Lembeek
grew. They continued to export further north along the Zenne until lambic
became the popular drink in Brussels. There came to be many gueuzestekers
(gueuze blenders) in Brussels, who would buy young lambics from the brewers
in Lembeek, aging and blending the beers themselves.

Then with the French Revolution, came the abolition of taxes everywhere in
the region. Although the tax laws have changed many times since, the scales
have never been so tipped in the favor of the brewers of Lembeek. They lost
one of their big advantages, and the brewing industry in Lembeek began to
decline. The gueuzestekers of Brussels became brewers themselves, and many
lambic brewers moved to the big city to have easier access to a larger market.
Even the hallowed traditions of Cantillon were born in Lembeek where Paul
Cantillon founded the brewery. It was moved to Brussels in 1931.

There was a period after WWII, during which there were no breweries left
in Lembeek. In 1988, Frank Boon moved his brewery to Lembeek, where he
keeps the noble traditions alive.


Cheers,
CR

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