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
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 a beer lover’s dream.
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 go 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.
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.
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.
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 and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Travel to Belgium
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 one hour and 48 minutes.
Hotels near Brussels
Search for hotels in Brussels and the nearby Pajottenland region on 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:
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.
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.