For those of you that don’t speak amazing French like me, that means ‘Tour of Geuze’ or Geuze tour perhaps, if you want to get all fancy and get your syntax right (is that syntax, I can’t remember, I just remember getting taught about it in English class and immediately forgetting exactly what it meant).
Anyway, for the uninitiated, Geuze is an ancient style of beer, made with only the yeast in the air – ok, there is water and malt and hops too. The Senne (or Zenne in Dutch) river valley is the only place it is made these days (certainly in Belgium, and possibly in the world), for some reason there is just the right kind of yeast in the air. Being all ancient it is not what most people think of when they think beer. It gets tainted by the air and basically turns into vinegar. But then after a few years chillin in barrels, and a mix of older beer with younger beer (to give it carbonation), it becomes delicious – still a hell of a lot more sour than any other beer, but once you’ve acquired a taste for it, you can’t get enough. There are lots of technicalities (lambic = unblended beer, oude geuze = no sugar added) but if you really want to get your beer geek on this is not the place. Go do some googling. Sugar added to geuze is stupid in my opinion, the sourness is awesome, embrace it.
Geuze is also the basis for Kriek – Belgian cherry beer. It is also delicious, though more often than not waaaay too much sugar is added and then it is sold to young girls as alcoholic candy. Legend has it that a brewer was trying to sabotage a rival’s beer by pouring cherries into it, but then it was delicious and the joke was on him. It doesn’t seem all that believable a story though does it, why wouldn’t he just throw some horse shit in there? It’s just a waste of good cherries otherwise.
Ok, history lesson over. Since geuze can only be made in a small geographic area, it is easy enough to drive around to the 11 producers/blenders (some ‘breweries’ don’t actually brew the beer, they just buy the basic un-aged liquid, then age it and blend the different barrels to make their own beer). So that’s what the toer is. The producers open their doors for a day, give some tours, some tastings, and roast a few pigs (well one place did that anyway). Some people biked around, some drove (Belgians tend to be quite happy to drive drunk), but most took organised buses, me and my crew included.
So now it is time for a breakdown of what went down, what I drank, and where we went. We were in for five breweries in seven hours, and quite a bit of driving in between (me and the wife didn’t get great seats – we were across the aisle from one another, and let’s just say, neither of us had a whole seat each).
A blender, not a brewer. Opened in 2009 – they blend wort from four different breweries, then age it in wine barrels from France. We took a tour here and the guide said something about lambic only lasting two weeks, didn’t really understand what that was about, then again he was doing us a kindness and speaking English when everyone else spoke Dutch. He sure went into a lot of detail, and we spent a lot of time listening to him speak Dutch. Too much time, in the end we didn’t even get to drink their beer! There was a token system – so you have to use cash to buy tokens, then tokens to buy beer. We didn’t have enough tokens for the beer we wanted and then had to spend our last five minutes trying to sell our tokens to people arriving. Not a great start.
During the brewery tour we did get to drink something at least. A taster of blended lambic with a mix of 1, 2, and 3 year old beer. It was quite smooth, not super sour, not highly complex; malty with a hint of bitter.
Fortunately my mate Darin had the insight to buy a bottle of their plum gueze so we could try it at the next stop. Not very plumy, not very carbonated, not sweet. Good, but not crazy-mazing.
The tour at boon was self directed, there were people stationed around the building and you could talk to them if you wanted – after the Tilquin fiasco we chose not to talk, instead we just had a quick gawk at the brewery and headed to the bar. On the way we got a cheeky taster straight from this cute little barrel. It was an 18 month lambic, really bitter for a lambic, and vinegary as always. Kind of like an apple wine, with a surprising amount of alcohol noticeable.
Kriek Marriage Parfait
Boon’s marriage parfait beers are unsweetened, distinguishing them from their ‘oude gueuze’ (which is usually unsweetened). This is a good beer, with a fairly pure cherry flavour – you can taste the pips (in a good way). It is not too sour and even a little creamy.
Oude Geuze Marriage Parfait
This guy is 8% – crazy high alcohol content for a geuze. It is very smooth considering, but not crazy complex; quite wheaty/grainy. It is good, but not spectacular.
Framboise (raspberry beer)
I just had a taste of this, and it was pretty much like drinking an alcoholic raspberry. Most importantly it does not taste like Kool Aide.
This was definitely the crowd favourite at Boon, with almost everyone in our group walking away with some. It is more complex than the others we tried, with different types of sourness hitting at different times, some nice peppery notes too as well as a solid malty body. Unfortunately for the readers it is super limited edition.
The Megablend is made especially for the toer, and as you could guess from the name, is a blend of beer from all of them. I imagine it is not easy blending so many different brews. What you get is something really complex, a hint of sweetness followed by lots of sour, plenty of yeast and a decent malt body. Nice.
During the bus ride our wrangler gives us some information about the brewery we are about to go to, on this journey I heard this – dutchy, dutchy, dutch, dutch. Lambic steak. More dutch. Turns out blender in Dutch sounds something like steak; and it was lunch time.
These guys are well known for their raspberry lambic – but it is not something that I plan on getting to know again any time soon. Too acidic, it feels like it is going to eat through your stomach lining. Luckily I didn’t order one of these for myself; unluckily I did order the cherry version. Lambic has its place, but that place isn’t four or five in a row. This is NOT a session beer.
This was just a taste of a friend’s beer, but it was amazing. Partially because I had reached lambic saturation point and this was not a lambic, but it was genuinely a really good Geuze. It is much more beery, with a lovely malty body, deep complexity, and straight up less sour. It is smooth and tasty, with a hint of honey; a good gateway geuze. I wanted to take some home with me but they had sold out! Bastards.
This is a big operation; they make large volumes and a lot of it is sweetened, so I was not super pumped about the visit. On the upside, they were actually brewing as we walked through through, so we got to smell the delicious wort as it cooled in the giant copper tub waiting for the yeast to float into the room and settle on the beer.
They also had sweet barrels with a picture of a mole holding a beer paddle on them. We didn’t have much time here, and no one was very excited about the beer so we didn’t try any other than the two year old lambic that we were given during the tour. It was very lemony and had a nice yeasty smell to it. Super sour as always, and a little hint of peppery funk. But all in all it was kinda like drinking fermented lemon juice.
For the last stop of the day the sun was out and we decided to make the most of it, so we skipped the tour (a brewery is a brewery, is a brewery after a while). By this point people were starting to get geuzed out – so a few people ordered blondes rather than geuze, Wifey had a tea (and, upon drinking it said “oh, it is nice to drink something that doesn’t taste like vomit.”But she wants you to know that she does actually enjoy lambic – it’s vinegary like pickled onions and gerkins….)
I on the other hand, was just lambiced out, so had their Oude Geuze. It was delicious; so much smoother and more complex than the lambics. It has a prominent grapefruit flavour, with a pithy bitterness and grapefruit sourness. It has a decent malty body with some yeastiness thrown in there too. Definitely one to keep an eye out for.
All in all it was a pretty special day, though it did have its ups and downs. It was great to see the countryside where it all happens, but there was not enough time at each brewery – though the lesson here is probably skip the tours unless you are really interested, and even then you probably only need to do one throughout the day). There was a little too much lambic (which we were warned about by Darin who had been before, but I certainly didn’t listen).
There was a lot of excellent beer too. The highlights for me were the guezes at 3 founteinen and De Cam, with honourable mentions to the rare Megablend and Boon’s Vat 44.
The toer only happens once every two years, but if you are in Belgium (and you have tried geuze and like it) do not miss it.