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The Fall and Rise of Lambic

Van Malder, Moriau, Eylenbosch, Belgor, Heyvaert, Wets...
Styles & Seasonals February 13, 2003      
Written by bierkoning

La Tropica/Doarp, NETHERLANDS -

I admit it, I am in love with lambic beers and have been for at least 20 years. I admit part of the allure is their rarity: it’s difficult to acquire them, especially if you live outside the Zennevallei area of Brussels. There you can find all the traditional lambic breweries. There are specialty beer shops in my nearby home in the Netherlands who stock some of them, but the occasional trip to Belgium has proven essential for getting my geueze on.

Just some background information: the basic component of geuze, kriek, faro and framboise is (or should be) lambic. Geuze is old (2 years) and young (six months) lambic mixed and ripened for a further two years in the bottle. Kriek is young lambic with Schaarbeek cherries added on the wooden cask (mostly: oak) and then bottled. Framboise young lambic with raspberries (with sometimes some cherries added for color and taste). Faro is lambic with brown sugar added.

Until the mid-1990’s, there was a sharp downfall in the sales of lambic beers. The tart taste of real lambics makes it difficult for the average beer drinker to enjoy a geuze or kriek. The sweetened, filtered beers of Belle-Vue and the sweetened fruit beers of De Troch and Lindemans are more appealing to the young consumer and to most female beer drinkers. Lambics of Girardin, Drie Fonteinen, Cantillon and Vandervelden ask for an acquired taste. Lambic became very much a drink for elderly locals. The downfall in sales led to a rapidly decreasing number of brewers and lambic blenders. Beers such as Van Malder geuze, kriek and framboise in Brussels, Moriau geuze and kriek in St Pieters-Leeuw, Belgor in Brussegem, Vanderlinden in Halle, Eylenbosch in Schepdaal, Heyvaert in Asse, Wets in St Genisius Rode, De Neve in Schepdaal and De Troch Tuur in Schepdaal have all sadly disappeared, not to mention many others. Luckily or sadly, I’m old enough to have tasted them all and mourn their loss.

There are so many stories to tell about these beers. I tasted Van Malder Framboise some 20 years ago in a pub in Brussels, near the Grand Place. The Lambic blender had already disappeared by then and the pub only had some stocks left. I admired the harsh sour taste with the overwhelming aroma and flavor of fresh raspberries.

Some 14 years ago I visited a lambic festival in Antwerp, in a very small pub in Antwerp. Only some 30 or 40 people tasted the finest lambics available, including a (then) 12 years old Belgor lambic, with the color and aroma of used motor oil.

And Heyvaert geuze: in the late 70’s Café De Beyerd (still alive and kicking and now busy opening it’s own brewery) in Breda had bought a small lot of Heyvaert geuze. Brewer Maurice Heyvaert by then was already in his 80’s and quit brewing soon afterwards. Until the mid 80’s De Beyerd sold this beer, and on many occasions I was able to taste this tart, vinous and fruity geuze. I have a small bottle of it left at home. I’m afraid to open it.

I have admired the intensely sour grape lambic from Eylenbosch, argueably the sourest beer ever sold. With jbrus I have visited De Troch Tuur, almost next to the Eylenbosch brewery. Some elderly ladies sold us some bottles from the meagre leftovers of the stocks.

De Neve in Schepdaal was acquired by Belle-Vue and closed a few years later. I have visited the brewery and enjoyed the kriek straight from the cask. Sadly, the small kriek bottles were sweetened and cheap Polish cherry juice was added.

Some 10 years ago I made a beer trip to the Pajotten country. On my way through I visited Moriau. He was kind enough to sell me some bottles of his geuze. Kriek was no longer produced. Moriau seems to have quitted blending lambic, but I’m paying a visit to St Pieters Leeuw this year just to make sure. Maybe I’m lucky and there are still bottles left of this magnificent geuze.

On that trip I’ve also visited Wets. Wets had already stopped blending lambic, but was selling the leftovers geuze and kriek in his specialty beer store. I have kept some bottles en have tasted them a few months ago. The geuze had a brown color and was totally oxidated, but the kriek, now 13 years old, was still in fine condition. The color was dark red and brown. It had a dusty aroma with oak, cherries, porto and caramel. The sourness and cherry flavors had disappeared, but there were oak, cherry pits, almond and porto flavors clearly present. If Ratebeer had allowed rating it, the score would be 3.4, well above my average.

But enough about the glorious past: in the present times lambic beers seem to make a comeback, although Vandervelden in Beersel has been forced to quit the scene recently. Its loss has to be mourned by every beer drinker. Lambic blender De Coo has started a few years ago and lambic blender Drie Fonteinen has started brewing his own lambic. Elderly lambic brewers in some cases have found successors who are eager to keep on producing in the traditional way. Girardin keeps on producing beers of glorious quality. Lambic is very much alive!



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start quote Lambic is very much alive! end quote