Toer de Geuze in Flanders, Belgium

Stuart Forster travels to the Pajottenland region outside of Brussels and raises a glass of beer to the Toer de Geuze in Flanders, Belgium.

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Translated from Flemish into English, Toer de Geuze means ‘Tour of Gueuze’. Typically held over one weekend every two years, the event is a celebration of gueuze beers and the art of brewing and blending. It presents aficionados with opportunities to visit lambic breweries and gueuze blenderies.

The 2021 Toer de Geuze was postponed to 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting people’s ability to travel. The Toer de Geuze website hosts video footage introducing participating breweries and blenders.

Gueuze and lambic beer

Gueuze is a style of Belgian beer blended from spontaneously fermented lambic beers brewed in the Pajottenland region to the southwest of Brussels.

Blending gueuze takes skill. Young lambic beers are mixed with barrel aged beers packed with flavour and character.

A lambic beer undergoes spontaneous fermentation in a vast open tank known as a coelship. To an untrained eye a coelship looks much like a shallow swimming pool filled with wort prepared by the brewers of the Pajottenland.

The region has a high concentration of naturally occurring airborne yeasts that spontaneously trigger fermentation in warm wort. Windows around the coelship remain open during the process. A mash prevents large, unwanted items from entering the room in which fermentation takes place.

A swimming pool filled with ale sounds like something from beer lover’s dream.

Spontaneously fermented Lambic beer fermenting in a swimming pool like coelship fermentation tank at Lindemans Brewery in Vlezenbeek, Belgium.
Lambic beer fermenting in a swimming pool like coelship fermentation tank at Lindemans Brewery in Vlezenbeek, Belgium.

Lambic beer’s spontaneous fermentation

Wild yeasts play a key role in the production of lambic beer. It may sound like a process that’s left largely to chance but the region’s highly skilled brewmasters make decisions that give lambic its character.

The brewers blend the ingredients that goes into the mash. It must have a minimum of 30 per cent unmalted wheat. They also control 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.



Toer de Geuze

The Toer de Geuze is organised by HORAL, the High Council for Artisinal Lambic Beers. The first edition was held back in 1997.

HORAL 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 beer that’s rich in character. It’s common to sip and savour lambic beer in the way wine is enjoyed. It can prove an ideal accompaniment to rich, slow-cooked stews.

Sign for the Oud Beersel brewery at Beersel in Flanders, Belgium, where Lambic beer is brewed.
Sign for the Oud Beersel brewery at Beersel near Brusesls.



Gueuze and kriek beers

Maturation in oak casks helps give lambic an aspect of its character.

As touched upon already, gueuze is made by blending lambic beers of different ages from various barrels. The micro-flora of each barrel and the characteristics of each batch of beer can vary markedly.

A well-blended oude geuze (meaning ‘old gueuze’) can be a well-balanced, ultimately dry masterwork. The beer undergoes bottle refermentation. In ideal conditions gueuze keeps for 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.

Glasses for lambic beer

Traditionally, lambic beer is served in a straight glass with a thick base because people used to crush sugar lumps in their glass then 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, a limited edition, bottle-conditioned lambic beer matured in port wine barrels.
A glass of Oude Beersel’s Oude Pijpen 2017 Oude Geuze beer, a limited edition, bottle-conditioned lambic beer matured in port wine barrels that are between 65 and 120 years old.



Cherry and fruit beer

Sour cherries have long been added into casks of maturing lambic to create a beer known as kriek. Today it is marketed as Oude Kriek (meaning ‘old cherry’) to differentiate the beer from sweeter, non-artisanal products.

Traditionally brewed lambic fruit beers can be an interesting accompaniment to food and an enjoyable as a refreshing summer drink.

The word lambic and a rustic scene depicted on the exterior of the Timmermans Brewery at Itterbeek in Belgium.
The word lambic and a rustic scene depicted on the exterior of the Timmermans Brewery at Itterbeek in Belgium.



Brewing in Belgium’s Pajottenland

During a visit to Belgium I toured four of the Pajottenland’s breweries. They were remarkably different from one another. One notable constant was the deep-seated passion of the breweries’ employees and their commitment to excellence.

Brewer pouring a lambic beer at the Timmermans Brewery in Itterbeek, Belgium.
Brewer pouring a beer at the Timmermans Brewery in Itterbeek.

The Toer de Geuze gives visitors an opportunity to look inside breweries and blenderies to see how the beers are produced. It also presents opportunities to sample products along the way.

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

Many beer lovers rate lambics and gueuzes among the best in the world. The Toer de Geuze is a way of learning about the processes and people behind the highly rated beers.

Map of Toer de Geuze locations

The map below shows the blenderies, breweries and De Lambiek beer centre that participate in the Toer de Geuze:

Google Map showing the breweries, specialist blenders and De Lambiek beer centre that feature on the Toer de Geuze. 

Travel to Belgium

I flew between Newcastle International Airport and Brussels Airport on direct flights operated by Loganair. Flights between the two airports have a duration of approximately 85 minutes.

See the UK Government website for official Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice about travel to Belgium.

Prefer rail travel to flying? Eurostar operates services between London St Pancras International and Brussels. The journey takes from one hour 48 minutes.



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

Hotels near Brussels

Search for hotels in Brussels and the nearby Pajottenland region on Booking.com:



Booking.com

Books about beer and Belgium

Want to understand more about Belgian beer? You may find the following books worth reading:

Patrick Dawson’s Vintage Beer: A Guide to Beers That Improve Over Time:

 

W S Comstock’s Brussels in Sips and Steps: Fourteen self-guided walks to explore Brussels’ history and Belgium’s Beers:

 

CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide Belgium:

 

Alex Le Sueur’s Bottoms up in Belgium: Seeking the High Points of the Low Land:

 

Derek Blyth’s Hidden Belgium:

 

Lonely Planet Belgium and Luxembourg:

 

2022 Toer de Geuze dates

Visit the High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beers (HORAL) website for information about the Toer de Geuze. The Toer de Geuze will be held on 30 April and 1 May 2022. Breweries, beer blenderies and the De Lambiek visitor centre open their doors, free-of-charge, during the Toer de Geuze.

A limited edition beer is blended to commemorate the Toer de Geuze. Despite the 2021 edition being postponed the HORAL Magablend 2021 was released.

The Belgian Family Brewers website has information about the beer making traditions of 21 of Belgium’s family-run breweries. They include the Pajottenland’s Boon, Lindemans and Timmermans breweries, which participate in the Toer de Geuze.

Further information

The Pajottenland is in Flanders, the region of Belgium in which Flemish is the dominant language. Find out more about things to do and see in the region on the Visit Flanders website.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning travel writer and a frequent visitor to Belgium. Stuart is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers.

Illustrating photographs are by Why Eye Photography.

Thanks for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about the Toer de Geuze in Flanders, Belgium. If you appreciate both beer and travel you may enjoy reading my post about enjoying beer at home as virtual tourism.

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A version of this post was originally published on Go Eat Do on 19 May 2019.

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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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