Category Archives: Lambic – Gueuze

#245 – Chapeau Gueuze

#245 - Chapeau Gueuze

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5.5 %

The Chapeau is the fifth gueuze of my journey thus far. I had started with the fairly unimpressive Timmermans (#12), and Belle-Vue (#62), and had then moved onto the much more respected Boon (#89) and Girardin White Label (#178). My recent lambic enlightenment however took a bit of a step back with this sweetened offering from de Troch.

The Chapeau portfolio of beers is largely dominated by an extensive selection of lambic fruit beers, topped off with a Gueuze, Winter Gueuze and a Faro. They tend to take a bit of a hammering in the company of other such purveyors as Hanssens, Cantillon and Boon but de Troch are a bona fide lambic brewery, who lovingly tend to their beers in the age old traditions. Pauwel Raes is the latest in a long line of family who have headed up the brewery, and he strongly believes in keeping to the old traditions.

The buildings at the de Troch brewery date from 1795 and are steeped in history. Even the equipment still used at de Troch is ancient; an example being the coal-fire kettle which is still used to brew the beer. The buildings are protected by an archaeological order, and while using older equipment in more dated confines does slow down the brewing process, Pauwel Raes argues that it has been instrumental in maintaining the quality of the beer. While many lambic breweries leave the wort to cool in koelschips in the open roof, Pauwel suggests the bacteria have long since just chosen to reside in the open air, but have impregnated every nook and cranny of his premises. It is for this reason that de Troch will resist any movement to bring their technology fully up to date. Pauwel explained that when a recent food safety inspection was carried out, the brewery were ordered to disinfect all the buildings and to stop using wooden barrels. This would have essentially ended the whole possibility of brewing lambic beer and thankfully pressure from local beer groups were able to ensure that less stringent measures are needed to be in place to ensure lambic breweries and blenders can continue to produce this unique brew.

The Chapeau Gueuze is made to the traditional lambic style, and follows a menu of 70% barley, and 30% wheat which is boiled to form the wort ready for spontaneous fermentation. Quite what happens thereafter is unclear but the end result is really quite blindingly sweet. This gueuze was much more akin to the Timmermans and the Belle-Vue than the drier gueuzes and for me tasted much more like a sweetened Faro. Pauwel Raes argues that because of the use of coalfires there is less overall control of the heat, and that this causes a heightened flavour of caramel in the final beer. Having quickly guzzled the contents of my glass I can kind of relate to that. I admit to being a bit of a stickler for sweet beers but having tried now a few of the more respected gueuze on the market I would certainly seek the latter out on a warm sunny afternoon to quench my thirst.

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Filed under 6, de Troch, Lambic - Gueuze

#178 – Girardin Gueuze White Label

#178 - Girardin Gueuze White Label

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5 %

The Brouwerij Girardin is something altogether a bit special. People often talk about their Gueuze Black Label as being the ultimate lambic experience. When you consider that they live in the company of greats like Boon, Cantillon, de Cam and Hanssens, you begin to generate an instant respect for this quiet and secluded countryside establishment.

With beers as good as theirs are supposed to be, you would expect them to be crowing about it from the top of the hill on which the brewery is spectacularly set, but it’s the complete opposite. They don’t even have a website, which makes the life of snoops like me much more difficult. The family see marketing as nothing more than driving around the local countryside in a van selling their beers to shops and cafes. Paul Girardin, the latest in the long family dynasty is reported to have said “Here we brew beer, we don’t do marketing!”

What happens behind the scenes at Girardin is also a complete mystery. They don’t advertise, they don’t run tours, and they certainly don’t talk about themselves. They just brew. I completely dig the attitude of Girardin. It is indeed extreme but is not atypical of much of the Belgian beer community. Pockets of inspiration hidden away in the countryside behind modest premises often produce such gems of brilliance. Even if there was a beer writer out there who had had the fortune of seeing what goes on behind the scenes at Girardin, they would probably feel like they were telling on a friend were they to share their story.

Girardin don’t actually need to market their beer. It does it by itself. I remember reading not so long ago articles on Belgian beer that were preparing for the death of the craft scene. The astronomical reduction in the number of breweries over the past hundred years is testimony to this but it hasn’t happened. It hasn’t happened because of breweries like Girardin, and because of people like you and me who know what we like. Quality and integrity are rare commodities in business these days, but the beer industry in Belgium can largely hold its head high. I couldn’t think of anything else I would rather write about.

The filtered Gueuze White Label was my first foray into the world of Girardin, and although still completely novice on all things lambic, I was very impressed with the professionalism of this brew. It was clean and crisp and still remarkably tart and pungent. Although still with my true heart in other beer styles, this was my first real feeling that I might someday really start to enjoy gueuze like the moustachioed professional I aim one day to be. The unfiltered pinnacle of the Black Label still awaits my exploration but I think I will be more than prepared for the expedition by the time it arrives.

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Filed under 7, Girardin, Lambic - Gueuze

#89 – Boon Oude Gueuze

#89 - Boon Oude Gueuze

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

This is my third Gueuze, but in a sense my first real Gueuze. With every disrespect to Timmermans (#12) and Belle-Vue (#62), this is what Gueuze is all about, and is brewed/blended by a man who is almost singly responsible for the revitalisation of lambic beer in Belgium. Frank Boon might sound like some kind of East End villain, but is actually the man behind this devastating contribution to lambic beer.

To begin the story we need to go back to just before the first World War, when in 1910 the Brussels region was responsible for over a million hectolitres of lambic beer – which lets face it is phenomenal. There were probably over 200 independent lambic breweries in Brussels alone at this time. In 1914 there were at least 800,000 barrels of lambic, yet by the end of the war, just four years later, there were only 40,000 empty ones. Copper was taken from breweries, farms were ravaged, and as we already know to make gueuze you need to blend old with new, and there was simply no oude lambic to blend – it had all been destroyed. The result was that with the recent introduction of easy and cheap to produce lagers and pilseners many breweries chose to abandon lambic.

Gueuze was still brewed in much smaller amounts, but in comparison to top fermented lagers and pilseners, it was much more expensive to make. Cheaper ingredients became the norm, and the standard of lambic fell away drastically. By 1965 there were only 27 lambic breweries left, and between 1968 and 1970 the Belle-Vue brewery bought all but one of those in Brussels, and the final recognised brewey of any size fell in 1976. Any gueuze now being made was filtered, and the final throes of death hovered over this unique drink.

This was when Frank Boon could watch no more, and decided to invest in the De Vits gueuze blenders in Lembeek, a beer he loved and who were almost certainly going out of business. It was this decision almost 35 years ago that means that the Boon Oude Gueuze was sitting on my lounge table tonight. Lots of water has passed under the bridge since, but I have got plenty of time to tell that tale (#147).

For now though I had a real gueuze to get my teeth into, although it took over ten minutes to pour it into my glass, so powerful was the carbonation and head. The smell was rich and pungent, almost cidery and yet ammonic. Some might call this ‘horse-blanket’ – well I will leave that to the experts, and I may come back to this as my palate expands. Anyway, the taste was definitely unique, and I wasn’t quite sure what my thoughts were as I tried to sum up it up. I may have to try a few more, but for now I will leave it that this maybe isn’t my cup of tea, but that’s not to say I won’t be back to try it again. I owe Frank Boon at least a conclusion to his story.

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Filed under 6, Boon, Lambic - Gueuze

#62 – Belle-Vue Gueuze

#62 - Belle-Vue Gueuze

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

I introduced gueuze after reviewing Timmermans Traditional Gueuze (#12) and this was another of those more sweetened lambics for the mass markets. After a few heavy days driving on the road back from Italy, through Switzerland and France, we were back in Belgium, at a small homely campsite in Purnode, a stones throw from the Du Bocq brewery. The owner ran a cosy restaurant with a limited bar, and I had spotted a few I had yet to try.

The Belle-Vue Gueuze is labelled as a filtered gueuze, which is a fairly complimentary term for a mass market gueuze. There was a famous Royal Proclamation in 1993 that ruled that any beer wanting to use the term ‘lambic’ or ‘gueuze’ on its label, must have a proportion of authentic lambic beer in it, of at least 10%. Therefore breweries such as Timmermans and Belle-Vue (now under AB InBev’s tenure) are able to increase their sales of their produce with the cheapest methods available. Lambic beer takes time and loving care to nurture, so why would a brewery intent on a fast buck want to use the authentic stuff?

Although a number of breweries have tried to muscle in on the gueuze market, it should be fairly easy for anybody even new to these beers to spot the filtered type. If its sweet and your girlfriend likes it, then it’s most likely filtered. Tash was very fond of this one so I was fairly convinced I had found a duffer. It poured a feint orange with barely any head, and a reassuring whiff of caramel. The taste was refreshingly sweet, and if anything tasted like a Caramac bar. Not the usual thing I am looking for in a beer, but I couldn’t deny it wasn’t actually as bad as it could have been. The child in me quite enjoyed it.

(Post-Script) – for the first real authentic gueuze I would try, please refer to the Boon Oude Gueuze (#89).

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Filed under 6, Belle-Vue (InBev), Lambic - Gueuze

#12 – Timmermans Tradition Gueuze

#12 - Timmermans Tradition Gueuze

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5 %

This is a tough ask – to sum up Gueuze in a paragraph or two. How can one possibly do that without delving deep into the world of lambic? Well here’s the whistle-stop tour. We can wade deeper into the effluent as the journey continues.

OK. Lambics are beers but not as we know it. They require wild yeasts that sit in the air in the Payottenland area around Brussels to ferment the beer, and they sit for long periods open to this natural process. They do indeed use hops, but only the oldest ones, and so the usual beer flavours are barely noticeable. It is a combination of these two circumstances that cause Lambic based beers to be sour, acetic and somewhat an acquired taste. Gueuze is the by-product of carefully combining these lambics, and so by mixing older ones with younger ones, blenders are able to sweeten the final result. This occurs as the younger lambics have yet to fully ferment and so the fermentable sugars start to work on the combination – the end result being Gueuze.

Timmermans have been making Gueuze since 1781, and despite now being subsumed into the Anthony Martins group, they still retain their ancestry in the staff and identity in their brand. I get the feeling this was a pretty tame Gueuze to begin with. It was particularly sweet and I expect the brewery intended this to make it more marketable alongside a number of their other fruit lambics. The sweeter a Gueuze, the more able it is to mask the often difficult flavours behind it. This tasted more like a flat cidery champagne to me, as I kind of expected. There were some hints of grapefruit in there which added to the sourness somewhat. I have certainly lain my hat in the strong Belgian ale and Abbey Dubbel brands, and so this was an interesting diversion. I can’t say I am a true fan yet !

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Filed under 5, Lambic - Gueuze, Timmermans