Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Counting down to Tour de Geuze 2013

For those hooked on sour beer not much comes up to the high standards of the Belgian lambics, those spontaneously fermented beers that have been brewed in Pajottenland and the Zenne river valley, just outside modern Brussels, for centuries. Lambics can be enjoyed young but they really prove their worth when blended across several vintages to create geuze or when steeped with berries, such as cherries and raspberries, to create kriek and framboise. Bottles of geuze can be cellared for decades and will often still come out sparkling and fresh.

3 Fonteinen / De Cam Millennium Geuze from 1998
- still sparkling and fresh after 15 years!

A visit to a lambic brewery is like walking back in time (the Cantillon brewery in Brussels even doubles as a museum!), with brewing equipment and traditions unchanged for generations. In most cases, it's next to impossible to get inside a working lambic brewery, the aforementioned Cantillon brewery being a notable exception, because the brewers fear anything that can possibly upset their local flora of wild yeast strains. But on one Sunday, every second year, the members of HORAL open their doors to visitors: It's time for Tour de Geuze!

HORAL and Tour de Geuze
HORAL or Hoge Raad voor Ambachtelijke Lambiekbieren is the "High Council for Artisanal Lambic beer" and consists of members from Pajottenland and the Zenne valley in Belgium. This organization was the brain child of Armand Debelder, the owner of 3 Fonteinen, who initiated HORAL with five other lambic breweries, including Boon, De Troch and Timmermans, on January 10, 1997.

Armand Debelder of Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen
- founder and leader of HORAL.

A member of HORAL must either be a traditional lambic brewer or a "geuzestekerij", a geuze blender - using real lambics to produce geuze. There are currently 11 members of HORAL: Brouwerij Boon in Lembeek, Geuzestekerij De Cam in Gooik, Brouwerij De Troch in Wambeek, Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen and Brouwerij Oud Beersel in Beersel, Brouwerij Girardin in Sint-Ulriks-Kapelle, Geuzestekerij Hanssens Artisanaal in Dworp, Brouwerij Lindemans in Vlezenbeek, Brouwerij Mort Subite in Kobbegem, Gueuzerie Tilquin in Rebecq-Rognon and Brouwerij Timmermans in Itterbeek

Three of these, prefixed Geuzestekerij or Gueuzerie, only blends geuze, using lambics bought from the other members or from Cantillon, which is not a member of HORAL.

As mentioned in the introduction, every second year HORAL arranges a special tour to allow ordinary people to visit its member breweries and blenders. The first Tour de Geuze was held back in 1997, the next one - the 9th so far - will be held this year, on Sunday April 21st, 2013.

Tour de Geuze 2013: April 21st
On the Tour de Geuze visitors are free to come by car, scooter, bike or any other means of transportation to visit those breweries that are open for the tour. The following 8 HORAL members are open this year and can be visited between 10 am and 5 pm on April 21st:

Brouwerij Boon, Fonteinstraat 65, 1502 Lembeek
- Geuzestekerij De Cam, Dorpstraat 67A, 1755 Gooik
- Brouwerij De Troch, Langestraat 20, 1741 Wambeek
- Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen, Hoogstraat 2A, 1650 Beersel
- Geuzestekerij Hanssens Artisanaal, Vroenenbosstraat 15/1, 1653 Dworp
- Brouwerij Oud Beersel, Laarheidestraat 230, 1650 Beersel
- Gueuzerie Tilquin, Chaussée Maieur Habils 110, Rebecq-Rognon
- Brouwerij Timmermans, Kerkstraat 11, 1701 Itterbeek

Giradin, Lindemans and Mort Subite will not be open to visitors on this Tour de Geuze.

The route this year, connecting all breweries and blenders, is 62 km long - so you really need transport to get around. If you don't have your own wheels, you can sign up for one of the HORAL buses. Tickets for the HORAL buses will be made available for orders on the Tour de Geuze website, on February 21st.

Here's a Google map showing the route of Tour de Geuze 2013, with each of the stops clearly marked with a letter:

Map of the stops at Tour de Geuze 2013

The stops marked on the map are A) Tilquin, B) Boon, C) De Cam, D) De Troch, E) Timmermans, F) 3 Fonteinen, G) Oud Beersel and H) Hanssens.

2013-02-21 update:
Tickets for ten different bus tours have now been posted on the HORAL website, at €15 per ticket. No single tour covers all 8 breweries and the De Lambiek museum in Beersel, so you will have to decide which places you prefer to visit and then choose the relevant tour. But be quick, some of the buses are almost booked full (#2, #3 and #6 have just a couple of tickets left) only a few hours after the tour alternatives were posted!

After some reflections I booked a seat for myself on bus tour #3 because two of my favorite lambic breweries - Boon and 3 Fonteinen - will be visited on this tour. And it skips the lambic museum, which I plan to visit on a different trip anyway. Bus tour #3 will depart from Halle railway station at 10:15 am on April 21st and visit Tilquin, Boon, De Oude Cam, Timmermans and 3 Fonteinen before returning to Halle railway station at 5 pm.


  1. I've hired a car for the day. Could you suggest which 6 are the 'best'? We are definitely doing Boon & 3F but don't know much about the others.

  2. Hi Sean,

    That's a very good question and I don't think there's one correct answer :) It depends on personal taste, of course, but also if you prefer to visit those with a good variation of sour ales and, to some degree, the quality of their blends.

    If you think you'll return to Belgium in the future, I would recommend focusing on those places that are only open for Tour de Geuze or who require group bookings for a visit - such as De Cam and Hanssens. Otherwise you may want to focus on those with the widest selection of sour ales or with the longest history, for instance Tilquin has only been in the business for a couple of years and so far only has a gueze and a faro to show for. In comparison 3 Fonteinen has a number of different sour ales, from kriek, framboos and faro to regular geuze, vintage geuze and various special blends (Golden Blend, Armand & Tommy, Armand'4), and a brand new brewery to visit.

    My own picks are listed in the post, and I would warmly recommend 3 Fonteinen because in my opinion Armand Debelder is the best guezue blender alive. Besides he is releasing a new oude kriek (called "Intense Red") for the Tour de Gueuze. I would also recommend a visit to Hanssens because it's a small, traditional geuzestekerij run by a childless married couple (so it may not be around for more than another 10-15 years). If you want to do them all, you could visit De Lambiek museum, where all the brewers and blenders are present with their beers and where you can see how lambics are brewed and geuze blended.

    Have a safe trip & enjoy the sour ales of Pajottenland!

  3. Fantastic reply. I doubt I'll make it back anytime soon so that sounds great. Thanks again!

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