Belgium’s Beer Culture: A Fascinating Look into Lambic and the Tour de Geuze

by Jose Carlos Favaro Junior

Belgium has played a pivotal role in the history of beer, and its brewing traditions date back centuries. In fact, it is estimated that Belgium has the highest number of breweries per capita in the world, with around 1,500 breweries for a population of just 11.5 million people. Belgian beer culture is considered an “Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by Unesco since 2016.

Belgium’s beer culture is deeply rooted in its monastic traditions, with many of its famous breweries having been founded by Trappist monks. For example, the Westvleteren Brewery, which produces one of the world’s most sought-after beers, was founded by Trappist monks in 1838.

On top of nearly 1500 different beer varieties, one of the most famous Belgian beer styles is the lambic, a spontaneously fermented beer that is only brewed in a small region near Brussels. Lambic has made a remarkable resurgence, transitioning from being nearly extinct in the 1970s to being a highly sought-after and fashionable choice among beer enthusiasts.

In 1997, Armand Debelder (from 3 Fonteinen) gathered some lambic producers and created the “Hoge Raad Voor Ambachtelijke Lambiekbieren” (HORAL), or “High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beers”, a non-profit organization that brings together the gueuze producers from Pajottenland and the Valley of the river Senne. Its goals are simple:

  • promote artisanal lambic beers and their derivates, with attention to the complete process from brewing process to serving;
  • report irregularities with regard to artisanal lambic beers and their derivates;
  • and take the necessary steps to protect them.

Every two years since it was launched, HORAL puts on the “Tour de Geuze” event and opens its doors to lambic lovers from around the world. They even create a special blend called the “HORAL Megablend” using lambics from all their members.

I’ve been fascinated with lambic ever since I first tried it about 10 years ago. When I stumbled upon the Tour de Geuze event, I knew I had to check it out.

I was planning a beer trip to Belgium in February 2022, but with the outbreak of a certain new disease (sigh), I had to reschedule for April. To my surprise, HORAL announced that the Tour de Geuze 2022 was happening on April 30th and May 1st. This was a happy surprise because the event is usually held in odd-numbered years, and in 2021 it was held online as the “Tour de Geuze at Home” with interviews from the brewmasters and owners of HORAL members. And, of course, the HORAL Megablend 2021 was released too!

Despite the event taking place on the weekend, I only could be there on Sunday. On Saturday (April 30th) I had a visit to Brasserie à Vapeur, a centenary brewery in the Hainaut region, near Brussels. It only receives visits on the last Saturday of each month.

Before the TDG, I visited some lambic breweries (Hanssens, De Cam, Lambiek Fabriek, Eylenbosch, 3 Fonteinen, Cantillon, and Den Herberg), and those who were HORAL members were well engaged in organizing themselves for the event.

The organization was simply awesome. If you wanted, there were many buses leaving the center of the city of Lembeek (yes, some theories say the name “lambic” comes from a mispronunciation of Lembeek). Each bus stopped at four breweries during the day. You can see the itinerary of each one on HORAL’s website, and I strongly recommend you book in advance. And for those who don’t have much time, it’s possible to find beers from all HORAL members at Lembeek Visitors Centers during the event. And, before go to a brewery, take a look at the event site, because some ones open only one day.

As we had already visited some lambic breweries, we decided to visit some we had never visited before: Timmermans, De Troch, Boon, and Oud Beersel. Unfortunately, there was no bus that would make this itinerary. We had to go by car. No problem, because my wife decided to do one or two dry days (we spent a month in Belgium visiting breweries).

Our first stop was in Timmermans. There was a great festive mood. When you arrives, you were led to start a beer tour (by yourself). They were cleaning the coolship and I discovered they made the last brew of the year on Saturday (lambic is brewed only in cold months). The tour ended in an open area filled with tables to sit at, food trucks, a nice band playing, a shop to buy beer and some souvenirs, and, of course, a bar where we could get all Timmermans beers. I finally got to taste “Lambic Stout”, a collab between Timmermans and Guinness. Another nice discovery was “Brewers desire”, a mixed fermentation beer (they isolated some steems of wild yeasts from Pajottenland and used it to inoculate in the coolship). The great surprise of this visit was seeing the couple Dirk and Leen (the legendary couple owner of the legendary Café Kulminator) using the t-shirt of the Brazilian soccer team.

The next stop was at De Troch, a small but amazing brewery that makes fruit lambics with nonusual fruits for the style, like banana. Brouwerij boon was the next destination. Certainly, it is the place with the biggest structure to receive visitors during TDG. I had the satisfaction of talking with Mr. Frank Boon and he told me he won’t be totally retired. I drunk a Megablend 2015 and got a Boon Apogée (the last masterpiece of Frank Boon before the “retirement”).

Last stop was at Oud Beersel. We had dinner and enjoyed a Green Walnut (a Geuze matured with green nuts) and the new Oud Geuze Vandervelten 140. At the end of the night, Gert Christiaens, the owner of Oud Beersel, appeared with a brand new beer: Le Terroir Green Walnut. A collab beer with the American New Belgian. It was a perfect way to finish hour first Tour de Geuze. 

The next TDG will take place on May 4th/5th, 2024. Let’s go.

Jose Carlos Favaro Junior

Instagram: @biere_et_histoire

Brazilian firefighter, Beer sommelier, beer traveler, and beer lover

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