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.

Beer fermenting at the Lindemans Brewery in Vlezenbeek.
Beer fermenting at the Lindemans Brewery in Vlezenbeek.

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.

Beer fermenting in an open tank at the Timmermans Brewery.
Beer fermenting in an open tank at the Timmermans Brewery.

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.

Sign for the Oud Beersel brewery at Beersel.
Sign for the Oud Beersel brewery at Beersel.

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.

Wooden barrels in which lambic beer is maturing.
Wooden barrels in which lambic beer is maturing.

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.

A glass of Oude Beersel's Oude Pijpen 2017 Oude Geuze beer. The limited edition beer is a bottle-conditioned lambic that was matured in port wine barrels aged between 65 and 120 years old.
A glass of Oud Beersel’s Oude Pijpen 2017 Oude Geuze beer. The limited edition beer is a bottle-conditioned lambic that was matured in port wine barrels aged between 65 and 120 years old.

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.

Lambic, says artwork on the exterior of the Timmermans Brewery.
Lambic states artwork on the exterior of the Timmermans Brewery.

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.

Pouring a beer at the Timmermans Brewery in Itterbeek.
Pouring a beer at the Timmermans Brewery in Itterbeek.

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.

Karel Boon standing by barrels stamped with the family name in Halle, Belgium.
Karel Boon standing by barrels stamped with the family name in Halle, Belgium.

Further information

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.

Barrels of lambic beer maturing at the Oude Beersel brewery.
Barrels of lambic beer maturing at the Oude Beersel brewery.

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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The Toer de Geuze takes place every two years in the Pajottenland district of Belgium.
Pin this via Pinterest. Love beer? The Toer de Geuze takes place every two years in the Pajottenland district of Belgium.

8 Comments

  • Kathryn Burrington

    May 4, 2019 at 10:36 Reply

    Sounds fabulous! Would love to try it. Will look out for it in my local beer shop in Arundel.

    • Stuart Forster

      May 5, 2019 at 13:21 Reply

      I’ve subsequently found bottles of lambic beer at the wonderfully named Mmm…and Glug… shop in Newcastle, if you ever happen to be in North East England.

  • Mellissa Williams

    May 4, 2019 at 17:21 Reply

    We have done a couple of brewery and distillery tours and they are always fun (maybe because the perks of a drink or two make it so!) My favourite was the Jack Daniels Distillery and Wadworth Brewery. I love the idea of sour cherries being added to the beer, bet thay adds an interesting flavour.

    • Stuart Forster

      May 5, 2019 at 13:25 Reply

      Yes it does. There’s an array of character even within the cherry flavoured kriek beers. They range from pop-like sweet drinks to complex beers with rich flavours, a sourness and real depth. No doubt there’s something for everyone within that spectrum.

  • Ferne Arfin

    May 4, 2019 at 19:11 Reply

    I’ve tried lambic beers and lambic fruit beers at the Anchor in Walberswick, in Suffolk. But I can’t say anyone has ever explained to me what a lambic beer actually is. Perhaps you can help me out here. Is it made with wild yeast – like sourdough bread? What makes it lambic.
    Cheers

    • Stuart Forster

      May 5, 2019 at 13:30 Reply

      I’ll be answering that properly in post that you can read soon. Wild yeast triggers the fermentation, so the breweries have tanks and open their windows to allow it to come into contact with the wort. There are rules regarding the ingredients too. Lambic is a style of beer only produced in the Pajottenland and nearby Brussels.

  • Jason Marvin

    May 9, 2019 at 12:44 Reply

    It’s a good style of beer. I like this blog very much, but not as much as I like drinking good geuze beer.

    • Stuart Forster

      May 16, 2019 at 08:07 Reply

      Thanks for reading my post. Enjoy drinking your beer.

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