Today’s Lambic Brewers and Blenders
Sint-Jans-Molenbeek & Brussels
Production: 210,000 hectoliters
Beers: Sèlection Lambic (old gueuze), Gueuze, Kriek, Kriek Primeur (first of new season’s cherries), Framboise
Bell-Vue is the largest of the lambic breweries, holding a 63 percent market share of lambic in Belgium. Belle-Vue brews at a new brewery in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, just outside Brussels, ages and blends its lambics at the old Brussels site, and bottles and kegs the beer back at the new facility. Tanker trucks ship the wort and finished beer between the two breweries. At the old brewery there are five huge floors of barrels holding 10,000 pipes and 87 foudres, all full of fermenting and aging lambic.
Philèmon Vanden Stock, who began as a Brussels lambic blender, formed Belle-Vue in 1913. In 1927 Vanden Stock bought the Belle-Vue café in Brussels, adopting the name for his beers. The brewery took the name in 1969.
Vanden Stock bought his first brewery in 1940 and his son, Constant, took over in 1944-45. In 1969 Belle-Vue bought the Decoster and Brabrux lambic breweries, followed by a takeover of the De Neve brewery in 1975. In 1991, Belgian brewing giant Interbrew bought a majority interest in Belle-Vue.
Several of Bell-Vue’s lambics are available in the United States.
Production: 5,000 hectoliters
Beers: Young and Old Lambic, Old Geuze Boon, Geuze Marriage Parfait, Kriek, Old Kriek, Kriek Marriage Parfait, Framboise Boon, Framboise Millèsiemè, Faro Perotale
Frank Boon began to work in the beer business straight out of college in 1975, as a distributor in Halle. He learned the art of blending from Renè De Vidts, a blender since the 1920s. De Vidts and other lambic blenders formed the Union de Marchands des Bières in Brussels in the 1920s, a cooperative brewery that supplied them with lambic wort until 1962.
In 1977 Boon took over De Vidts’ business when the old blender retired. Boon moved the business to the center of Lembeek in 1986, taking up residence in a former iron foundry. He began to build a brewery in 1988 when he was unable to obtain enough wort from existing lambic brewers. His brewery became fully functional in 1990, making Boon the first new lambic brewer in many years.
Of good lambic beer, Boon said, “If you drink the beer in your glass, you must have a very strong character to refuse a second one.”
Several of Boon’s lambics are available in the United States.
Production: 900 hectoliters
Beers: (all traditional lambics) Old Lambic, Grand Cru Bruocsella 1900 (unblended old lambic), Gueuze, Kriek, Rosè de Gambrinus (framboise), Gueuze Vigneronne (with Italian muscat grapes); Lou Pepe Pure Kriek, Framboise and Gueuze, Cuvee Fou’ Foune (apricot)
Located in the Anderlecht section of Brussels on the western edge of the city center, Cantillon is a fiercely traditional lambic brewery, and the owners are often at odds with their fellow lambic brewers in Belgium. Jean-Pierre Van Roy is the head of the family of brewers that includes his wife, Claude Cantillon-Van Roy, son Jean and daughter Julie.
In the 1700s, the Cantillon family brewed in Lembeek. Paul and Marie Cantillon-Troch moved the business to its present location in Brussels in 1900, taking up space in a building dating from 1874. Their sons, Marcel and Robert Cantillon, took over the business, and in 1937, they bought a brew house from a brewery in Ouffet. By the following year, the Brothers Cantillon were no longer just blenders; they were brewers.
Van Roy, a former science teacher and employee of Phillips music, took over the business in 1970 from his father-in-law. He created the Brussels Gueuze Museum at the brewery in 1978, a venture that brings thousands of visitors from all over the world to Cantillon each year.
By 2002, all of Cantillon’s lambics will be produced with 100 percent organic barley and wheat. These beers will go on sale the following year.
Jean-Pierre Van Roy said that one must have a “true passion” to do this work. His son, Jean, said, “We are the lambic fundamentalists. We don’t have a lot of friends in Belgian brewing because we are honest. When we don’t like something, we say it. A lot of people don’t like this.”
When asked about lambics made with exotic fruits, Jean said, “May I say it? Yes? Merde. It’s not serious. This is a bad image for lambic.”
Now we know why other lambic brewers might not be friends of Cantillon.
Cantillon’s lambics are all available in the United States.
De Cam (Blender)
Production: 100 hectoliters
Beers: Young and Old Lambic, Old Gueuze, Millennium Gueuze (all traditional lambics)
William Van Herreweghen, a brewing engineer and production director at the large Palm Brewery in Belgium, began a sideline business as a “gueuzesteker” (gueuze blender) in 1997. His barrels are made from discarded fermentation barrels from the famous Pilsner Urquell brewery in the Czech Republic.
Van Herreweghen buys his wort from the Boon, Girardin and Lindemans breweries. He’s also in partnership with blender Armand Debelder of Drie Fonteinen, where the two installed a small microbrewery in 1998 to produce some of the wort needed to make their finished beers. The first lambic and gueuze sold under the De Cam label came onto the market in 1999.
De Cam’s lambics are not available in the United States.
De Keersmaeker Brewery
Production: 42,000 hectoliters
Beers: (under the Mort Subite and Eylenbosch labels) Lambic, Witte Lambic, Gueuze and Old (Fond) Gueuze, Krieklambic, Framboise, Cassis en Perzik (peach), Mort Subite
Jean-Baptist De Keersmaeker began brewing in 1869 and his great-grandson, Andre, runs the brewery today. Andre’s father, Hubert, expanded the brewery in the 1950s, using the name Den Hert. He brewed a pilsner, Kob Pils, as well as ales and lambics.
Andre turned to complete lambic production in the 1960s. He bought the famous Brussels café, Mort Subite, in 1970, and renamed his gueuze after it. In 1989 he bought the Eylenbosch Brewery. When Andre’s brother, Paul, sold his shares in the family business to Paul Maes, it eventually led to the De Keersmaeker Brewery becoming part of the Alken-Maes brewing group, which is today owned by the British brewing giant, Scottish & Newcastle.
De Keersmaeker’s lambics are not available in the United States.
De Troch Brewery
Production: 4,000 hectoliters
Beers: (under the Chapeau label) Gueuze, Old Gueuze, Christmas Gueuze, Faro, Kriek, Framboise, Fraise (strawberry), Mirabelle (plum), Abricot (apricot), Tropical (banana), Exotic (pineapple), Peche (peach), Lemon, B12 Energy Beer (3.5 percent ABV; banana, vitamins, caffeine)
The De Troch family began farming in Wambeek in the 1700s, with Joannes Franciscus and Theresia Cortvriendt De Troch. The family farm and brewery passed to their son, Josephus Petrus De Troch and his wife, Maria Anna Van Custem, in 1830 and to their daughter, Petronella, in 1851. Just to keep things in the family, Petronella married her cousin, Egidius De Troch, in 1857. Egidius enlarged the farm and became a successful local politician, rising to mayor in 1885. His son, Ludovicus, took over the family business in 1889, and was also a town mayor, holding that office until 1933. Ludovicus’s son, Ludovicus Albertus, inherited the business in 1936, and he married Maria Louisa Van den Moortel.
Ludovicus Albertus became mayor in 1938 and held the office until 1978. Ludovicus Albertus and Maria Louisa had no children, and when he retired in 1974, the brewery was taken over by the current owner, Jos Raes, the son of Raymond Raes and Magdalena De Troch, sister of Ludovicus Albertus. Jos’s oldest son, Pauwel, assists him in the brewery.
In the 1980s, the De Troch brewery began producing a variety of fruit lambics based on exotic fruits never before used in lambic production. Sales are good, but De Troch takes some heat from traditional lambic brewers and aficionados.
France is a large export market for De Troch, but when the French found the brewery name difficult to pronounce, Raes came up with the brand name, Chapeau, for his beers. Besides being easily pronounced by the peoples of other countries, the word has additional meanings in Belgium. Chapeau is a popular dice game, employing a cup for the dice and a cover that resembles a hat (chapeau, in French). The word has entered the Flemish language as a term meaning something good or positive that one has done: “You’ve just won the lottery. You’ve made a chapeau!”
Most of De Troch’s lambics are available in the United States.
Drie Fonteinen (Brewery and Blender)
Production: 700 hectoliters
Beers: Young and Old Lambic, Krieklambic, Faro, Old Gueuze, Old Kriek, Framboos, Milleniumgueuze (all traditional lambics)
The popular Drie Fonteinen restaurant in Beersel dates to 1887, when it was a café and a lambic blending business. In 1953, husband and wife Gaston and Raymonde Debelder left farming and bought Drie Fonteinen from Jean-Baptiste Denaeyer, the mayor of Beersel, who was also known as the best lambic brewer in the town. Gaston Debelder learned blending from Denaeyer and passed the skill to his sons, Armand and Guido. In 1982, the sons took over the business and they continue to operate the restaurant with their wives, Lieve and Trees.
Several years ago, Armand, the former chef at Drie Fonteinen, left the kitchen to the women, the restaurant operations to his brother, and passionately immersed himself in lambic production. After years of blending, he is now a brewer, having installed a small microbrewery in 1998 on the restaurant premises with his partner, William Van Herreweghen of De Cam. (The equipment was previously used in a test brewery for the giant international brewer, Interbrew.) Debelder continues to buy wort from the Boon, Girardin and Lindemans breweries, and he ages and blends his lambics both at his premises and at a second space that he and Van Herreweghen rent for this purpose.
Debelder absolutely loves producing lambics: “Finally, what I’m doing now, I’m doing like a free man. That’s very important for me. I’m 50 years old now, so it’s now or never. My dream is making an open brewery so everybody can see what I’m doing.”
Drie Fonteinen’s lambics are not available in the States, but Debelder has promised one importer that he’ll send a shipment “when I’m ready. My promise is better than any contract I could have signed.”
Production: 4,000 hectoliters
Beers: Lambic, Gueuze, Old Gueuze, Framboise, Kriek, Kriekenlambic, Ulricher Lager (pilsner)
The father and son team at Girardin―Louis, Paul and Jan―do not readily accept visitors or join in camaraderie with their fellow lambic brewers and blenders. Their lambics enjoy a positive reputation in Belgium and the blenders De Cam, Drie Fonteinen and Hanssens are happy to buy Girardin wort, but the family goes its own way.
The Girardin family bought a brewery from a local nobleman in 1882 (brewing had been ongoing here since 1845), and 119 years later, the same family owns the business. Besides supplying wort to blenders, Girardin also sells wort to cafés and individuals. The family continues to farm, growing wheat for their lambics.
Girardin’s lambics are not available in the United States, and the common thought among other lambic producers is that the Girardin family would probably have no interest in talking to an importer.
Production: 500 hectoliters
Beers: Old Gueuze, Old Kriek, Old Beitje (strawberry), all traditional lambics
Hanssens dates back to 1896 when Bartholomè Hanssens, the mayor of Dworp, bought a dairy farm and rebuilt it as the Sint-Antonius Brewery. Rather than brew lambics like the other brewers in town, Bartholomè brewed a brown table beer. During World War I, the Germans took all the copper from the brewery (as they did with almost every brewery in Belgium). After the war, like many other dispossessed lambic brewers, Bartholomè made a decision not to rebuild his brewery, but instead to become a blender.
Bartholomè’s son, Theo, took over the business in 1929, and in 1974 his son, Jean, assumed ownership. When Jean retired in 1997, neither his son nor daughter was interested in continuing in the family business. At the last minute, however, just before Jean was about to close down the business, his daughter, Sidy, decided to step in.
Today, Sidy (who also works as a legal secretary in Brussels) and her husband, John (an air traffic controller at Belgium’s international airport), are the blenders of Hanssens lambics. They buy their wort from the Boon, Girardin, Lindemans and Timmermans breweries.
Sidy and John added a new lambic to their portfolio in 1999. Old Beitje is a strawberry lambic. They are currently experimenting with a lambic blended with an English mead.
Sidy and John live in a house at the front of the property that is the original brewery from Bartholomè’s days. Avid animal lovers, they keep horses, chickens, ducks, birds, dogs and cats on the property, as well as aquariums of fresh and saltwater fish in their house.
All three of the Hanssens lambics are available in the United States.
Production: 30,000 hectoliters
Beers: Lambic, Kriek, Gueuze, Old Gueuze Cuvee Renè, Framboise, Pecheresse (peach), Cassis, Faro, Tea Beer
Lindemans is the largest independent lambic brewery in Belgium, and the largest exporter of lambic to the United States, beginning sales in 1978. Kriek is the big seller in Belgium, but framboise heads the list in the United States.
The Lindemans family has farmed in Vlezenbeek since 1809. By 1829 Judocus Lindemans had begun lambic brewing, and by 1930 lambic production had overtaken farming for the family.
In 1991 Lindemans built a new building on the family property adjacent to the old brewing building to house a used German brew house they purchased. They immediately increased production from 50 liters to 150 liters per brew. Even though they built a new coolship in the new building, they continue to pump one-third of each brew across to the old coolship―just in case they need some of the yeasts and bacteria hanging around in the old timbers.
Unlike other lambic producers, Lindemans doesn’t use wood barrels for fermenting and aging. Considering the cost and upkeep of these barrels too expensive, they instead use lined steel tanks in which they place quantities of raw oak chips.
Lindemans continued farming wheat, barley and hops until the late 1960s, but finally gave up this activity. Lambic production became too successful to have time for the farm.
The brewery’s need for fruit is so great that by the early 1970s Belgian farmers could no longer meet it. Lindemans took Schaerbeek cherry plantings to Hungary and Romania, and contracted with farmers there to grow exclusively for the brewery. This arrangement continues today, and now includes raspberries, peaches and cassis.
A German firm, Bayernwald, collects the harvested fruit and deep-freezes it in a plant north of Munich. When Lindemans needs fruit, they place an order with Bayernwald, who unfreeze, press and crush the fruits (in the case of cherries, they add in 10 to 20 percent of the cherrystones), and immediately truck it to the brewery in containers of 1,000 liters. This just-in-time ordering system allows for fresh cherry juice to arrive in Vlezenbeek less than 48 hours after the order is placed.
Today, Lindemans is headed by brothers Renè and Nestor Lindemans (Renè is the brewer; Nestor handles the business) and their sons, Geert and Dirk. Geert, Renè’s son, is a brewer and Dirk, Nestor’s son, handles business matters. Like fathers, like sons.
Most Lindemans lambics are available in the United States.
Oud Beersel Brewery
Production: 500 hectoliters
Beers: (All traditional lambics) Old Gueuze, Old Kriek, Old Lambic (available only at the brewery-owned pub)
Henri Vandevelden, a farm worker and occasional brewer, established a brewery in Beersel in 1882. His oldest son, Egidius, took over the business and added a farm and village café when he married a woman whose father owned these businesses. Egidius was the first lambic brewer to use crown caps for kriek in the 1930s. His son, Henri, took over the brewery in 1953, while Henri’s sisters ran the café.
Henri studied at the Institut National des Industries de Fermentation, receiving his diploma in 1948. He expanded the brewery in 1954 and changed the name to Oud (old) Beersel. He set up his brewery as a Living Museum in 1973, showcasing his collection of antique brewing equipment. Henri partially retired in 1991, handing over the bulk of the work to his nephew, Danny Drabs, the son of one of Henri’s sisters who ran the café, In’t Bierhuis, until 1988.
Oud Beersel is the one lambic brewery where the coolship is not located at the uppermost level of the building. It’s on the ground floor. When asked why this is, Henri Vandervelden replied with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, “Oh, there’s too much pollution today. The coolship can sit anywhere. The beer has to talk with nature, and it can do that anywhere.”
Oud Beersel’s lambics make it to the United States only in the suitcases and carry-on baggage of lambic lovers.
Production: 10,000 hectoliters
Beers: Lambic, Gueuze Caveau (traditional), Gueuze, Witte Lambic (Curaçao orange and coriander), Kriek, Framboos, Perzik (peach), Cassis, Faro, Bourgogne des Flandres (an ale/lambic blend)
The original brewery dates to 1781 and Henry Vanheyleweghen, who rented the brewery and farm in 1824 to Jacobus Walraevens. Jacobus’s oldest son, Charles, took over in 1832 and named the business Brasserie de la Taupe. Paul, the son of Charles, became the next brewer and owner. He added a maltings, orchard and café to the business. Paul’s youngest daughter, Celina, took over in 1911. She soon married Frans Timmermans (a brewer’s son), and the two of them discontinued the farm and orchard to concentrate on the brewery and café. The maltings continued until the 1960s.
As was the case with many brewers in small Belgian towns, Frans became the mayor of Itterbeek in the 1930s. In 1934, Paul Van Custem, a farmer’s son, married Frans’ daughter, Germaine, and when Frans died, Paul renamed the brewery Timmermans.
Paul’s son, Jacques Van Custem, now heads the Timmermans Brewery, although the business was sold in 1993 to a Belgian company, The John Martin Group, a large drinks business. Jacques hopes that one of his sons will take over when he retires, but he’s not sure they’re interested.
In addition to a line of lambics, Timmermans also brews Bourgogne des Flandres, a brown beer made with ale and caramel malt, torrified wheat and English Kent hops, blended with 55 percent lambic and aged for several months in oak barrels. The Den Os Brewery of Bruges originally brewed this beer.
Timmermans beers were available for a short time in the United States in the late 1980s to early 1990s. The John Martin Group plans to reintroduce the beers to Americans this year.
Author’s note: The information in these notes wouldn’t have been possible without the recent publication of Het Pajottenland en de Zennevallei, bakermat van Lambi(e)k en Geuze, by Jef Van den Steen, published by the Province of Flemish Brabant, and translation by Myriam Bossuyt.
Greg Glaser is the news editor at All About Beer Magazine.