Tag Archives: 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

#172 – Timmermans Kriek

#172 - Timmermans Kriek

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 4 %

It has been a while since I last supped on a Timmermans beer (#12), which gave me the opportunity to talk about their gueuze. It seems only right now to introduce a little bit of the history.

Timmermans is naturally a family business, and first started brewing gueuze in a disused cow shed in Itterbeek, a suburb of Brussels, way back in 1781.The first brewer was a gentleman by the name of Henry Vanheyleweghen who eventually handed over and leased the buildings to Jacobus Walraevens. By 1832 the smallholding had amassed also a farm, an orchard, café and malt house, and also a name – the Brasserie de la Taupe (the Mole brewery).

Eventually the son of Jacobus, Paul Walraevens inherited the business and continued to provide a multitude of excellent local products. It was only in 1911 under new ownership that all subsidiary activities were finally stopped, with the complete focus being the pub and brewery. The youngest Walraevens daughter had married brewer Frans Timmermans, although the name didn’t finally stick until 1960 when Paul van Cutsem, the son-in-law of Frans, took over proceedings and changed the name to Mol Timmermans.

The Timmermans name still lives on even though the brewery is now under the stewardship of the Anthony Martin group. They are famous for their lambic gueuze and faro, and for the colourful range of fruit lambic beers of which the Timmermans Kriek is one of the most popular – I certainly did enjoy this one. There are almost certainly more authentic and traditional lambic krieks out there, but this one certainly hit the spot for refreshment and sweetness. I had the larger 330 ml bottle which meant it wasn’t over before it had begun. The flavour lasted to the very end, and bearing in mind they sell this in my local supermarket, I may well be going back on a hot summers day to try this one again.

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Filed under 7, Lambic - Fruit, Timmermans

#147 – Boon Kriek

#147 - Boon Kriek

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4 %

It seems a long time ago now that I was first drinking the Boon Oude Gueuze (#89) where we first met Frank Boon. I said then I would continue his story, and it’s definitely a story worth telling.

We left the tale just after Frank had begun to invest in the De Vits Gueuze blenders in Lembeek. It wasn’t that he had any particular desire to do so, only that he couldn’t bear to see the place go out of business, and no longer produce his favourite gueuze. It took a while but he managed to identify just why the sale of lambic was declining at a shocking rate – lambic was seen traditionally as a peasants’ beer, thus it often used the cheapest ingredients. The best selling lambics were the best quality ones.

Things were still not working out though as planned, as between 1985 and 1989 production had dropped from 1240 hl to only 450 hl. De Vits decided to pull out entirely, and so Boon took the complete reins. He put together an agreement with Palm breweries who supported the production of gueuze as a cultural project, while he set up the brewhouse. Within three years all the remaining blenders in Brussels had become clients, the quality had risen steeply, and production shot back up – so much so that by 2007, Boon was churning out over 10,000 hl, twenty times the amount of just eight years ago.

Frank Boon continues to produce excellent lambic beers, and Boon Kriek is a fantastic example of a 100% pure lambic steeped in rich cherries – the 2006 bottle being definitely the best example I have tried yet. It was dank and sour, and yet fruity and pungent. You really need to sniff and breathe deeply as you take each sip. The colour is rich and rewarding, and you’d know it’s full of hearty goodness even if you hadn’t read about it before. Nice one Frank !

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Filed under 8, Boon, Lambic - Fruit

#128 – Oudbeitje

#128 - Oudbeitje

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 6 %

Oudbeitje gets your mouth into a twist in more ways than one. At the bar at The Rake pub in South London I attempted to pronounce it, but after the third miserable failure coupled with exponentiating quizzical looks from the barmaid, I opted to point and mouth ‘strawberry beer’ over the din of the evening punters. I needn’t have been so ashamed as there is no Fruli (#24) to be found in this cracking little pub, and I was eventually served with a beer I had wanted to try for ages.

Oudbeitje can be rather easily translated from the Flemish for ‘old berry’ – in this case old, rich pungent strawberries, which are added to lambic beer during the summer months. During the winter the whole lot sits and matures, waiting for the bottling which will take place in Spring. Unlike a Gueuze or a Kriek, there is no need for blending of old and young lambics, as the typical characteristics of the strawberries cause the lambic to react as Gueuze would. This has an impact on the secondary fermentation which is far less spirited and therefore contains far less carbon dioxide. It is this reason that the Oudbeitje is so flat.

There were a number of surprises about this beer. Firstly the price – Although I know good lambic beer does not come cheap even in Belgium, I was a little unprepared for the savage looks I was getting from the friend of a friend who had offered to buy the first round. I just nodded and pretended to look like the beer geek I was starting to become. The second surprise was the colour. Anybody who has drunk Fruli will know that it almost certainly turns your stomach scarlet – the Oudbeitje however was a pale golden colour which was so innocuous it could almost have been a Gueuze. The taste though was as pongy as one might expect from real lambic, but it was imbued with the faint taste of bygone British summers in front of the tennis. Despite the tart flatness, and the fact that the next round cost me even more, I will still remember this beer fondly.

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Filed under 7, Hanssens, Lambic - Fruit

#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

#84 – Lindemans Framboise

#84 - Lindemans Framboise

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 2.5 %

Lindemans have always been a well known lambic brewer following their decision to export to the United States in 1979 – the first Lambic producer to do so.  The US remains a large part of their market, although in 2007 they began to export to Asia, in particular large amounts to China, and now have added Russia to their fanbase. Lindemans have remained an interesting brewery in that they have stayed loyal to the lambic concept, but yet have adapted well to the modern market in creating tasty and attractive beers for different markets.

It is a far cry though from 1809, when the Lindemans family owned a small farm in Vlezenbeek on the outskirts of Brussels. They found during the winter months that there was less farming to do, and thus more time to make the lambic beer they were dabbling with, and could easily make with the left over wheat and barley that grew on their land. The lambic eventually became so popular, that in 1930 all farming ceased at Vlezenbeek, and all attention turned to brewing a Kriek (#78) and a Gueuze. Faro (#59) followed in 1978, followed by a succession of Fruit lambics in the early eighties, which of course included the highly popular Lindemans Framboise. These are particularly low strength beers, just 2.5% for the Framboise, and yet they remain extremely tasty and certainly do not taste that weak.

That said, I was disappointed with this Framboise. Although it is made with lambic beer, I have to hold my hands up and say I preferred the Bacchus Frambozenbier (#38) which is made with syrups mixed with sour brown ale. I did enjoy the Kriek much more and would chose this one from the plentiful supplies in your typical UK supermarket. The end result was certainly something that felt more potent than 2.5% but it was overpoweringly rich and sweet and I was surprised my teeth were still intact come the end. Sorry, Lindemans but I blow a raspberry in your direction on this one !

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Filed under 6, Lambic - Fruit, Lindemans

#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