Stuart Forster raises a glass to the Toer de Geuze in Belgium’s Pajottenland.
Belgium’s Pajottenland, a district just a few kilometres southwest of Brussels, is famed for producing lambic style beers. Over the weekend of the 4th and 5th May 2019 the region’s breweries, beer blenderies and De Lambiek visitor centre open their doors to visitors, free-of-charge, during the Toer de Geuze.
Beer lovers may well have dreamed of swimming pools filled with ale. The Pajottenland’s breweries feature open tanks, not dissimilar to shallow swimming pools, in which the region’s naturally occurring airborne yeasts spontaneously trigger fermentation in warm wort.
Wild yeasts play a key role in the production of lambic but, of course, the region’s brewmasters make decisions that give the lambic its character. They can choose, for example, the blend of ingredients that goes into the mash — which must have a minimum of 30 per cent unmalted wheat — and the temperature at which fermentation occurs during the October to April brewing season.
The 2019 Toer de Geuze
The Toer de Geuze is held every two years. The 2019 edition is the 12th time the event has been organised by HORAL, the High Council for Artisinal Lambic Beers. That organisation promotes traditionally made lambic beers and the long-used brewing process.
Lambic beer can have a dry taste not too dissimilar to scrumpy. Sometimes it can be tangy and sour. At its best, it’s a delightful, character-rich beer to savour in the way wine is enjoyed. It can accompany rich stews or, of course, be sipped without food.
Geuze and kriek beers
Maturation in oak casks helps give lambic an aspect of its character. Geuze is made by blending lambic beers of different ages from various barrels. It’s a skilled craft, as the micro-flora of each barrel and the characteristics of each batch of beer can vary notably. A well-blended oude geuze (meaning ‘old geuze’) can be a well-balanced, ultimately dry masterwork. The beer undergoes bottle refermentation and, in ideal conditions, can keep for up to two decades — sometimes even longer — developing and changing over time.
Traditionally, lambic beer is served in a straight glass with a thick base. Why? Because people would crush sugar lumps in their glass and stir their drink to make their beer sweeter. That was reputedly a regular occurrence in the Pajottenland’s cafés in bygone times. More recently, sweetened fruit has been added to the beer by some breweries to broaden its appeal. Raspberry, peach and strawberry versions of lambic beer are now among those available.
Sour cherries have long been added into casks of maturing lambic to create a beer known as kriek. Now marketed as Oude Kriek — meaning ‘old cherry’, to differentiate from sweeter, non-artisanal products — traditionally brewed lambic fruit beers can be an interesting accompaniment to food or even an enjoyable summer drink.
The passion of the Pajottenland’s brewmasters
On a recent trip to Belgium I visited four of the Pajottenland’s breweries and was impressed by how they differed from one another. A constant factor was the deep-seated passion of the brewery employees and their commitment to excellence.
The Toer de Geuze gives visitors an opportunity to look inside those breweries and others, to see how the beers are produced and sample products along the way.
See the Toer de Geuze page on the HORAL website for information about the event. The Toer de Geuze takes place from 11am to 7pm on Saturday 4th May 2019 and from 10am to 5pm the following day. Ticketed coaches, operated on behalf of HORAL, run between the breweries and blenders of the region. People without tickets for the coaches are welcome to visit the participating businesses.
The Belgian Family Brewers website has information about the brewing traditions of 21 of Belgium’s family-run breweries. They include the Pajottenland’s Boon, Lindemans and Timmermans breweries, which will open to the public over both days of the Toer de Geuze. So too will De Troch, Oud Beersel, Tilquin plus the De Lambiek visitor centre. De Cam, Hanssens and Mort Subite will open only on the Sunday.
The Pajottenland is in part of Belgium where Flemish is the dominant language. Find out more about the region on the Visit Flanders website.
Getting to Belgium
Stuart Forster, the author of this article, flew between Newcastle International Airport and Brussels Airport on direct flights operated by Loganair. The flights have a duration of approximately 85 minutes.
Illustrating photographs are by Why Eye Photography.
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