After our late night session in the hotel, I think I might have scored six or seven hours sleep, which seems about average for me on trips to Belgium. There is so much to see and do that, often, you don’t want to go to bed till it’s a must. Note that this not a requirement, but just an option.
Saturday, May 2, would be as epically beery as the Friday before. As breakfast beers (as well as some pear jenever) flowed, we began the 30-minute trek to the superb Oude Geuzestekerij De Cam in the village of Gooik. Blender Karel Goddeau and his magnificent beers could hardly be the wrong choice for our planned two-hour tour. De Cam was founded in 1997 by master brewer Willem van Herreweghen, and was later taken over by Karel (Carl in English.) Karel’s day job is as brewmaster of Brouwerij Slaghmuylder in Ninove (Witkap line of beers) but his true passion is lambic….and playing the pipes. We’d call them bagpipes.
Visiting De Cam is a real treat, as the beers are not only superlative, but very rare. Karel only produces a few hundred barrels a year from his little blendery, and his brews are rarely seen outside Belgium. He had a faro, a lambiek, a kriekenlambiek, and a framboise lambiek on draft. There was also Oude Geuze and Framboise Lambiek in bottles. A stellar selection. Karel played the pipes for us and regaled our group with the history of lambic and his feeling on how traditional beers are made. We had a look at the old Pilsner Urquell barrels that now hold lambic, as we enjoyed lambic beer aplenty. Truly one of the highlights of this trip. Karel even had his Faro on tap, which is rarely seen. “It’s “niet zoet” he told us, meaning, not sweet. Just the way I like it.
Here are several videos I took at De Cam during our visit:
Karel Goddeau talking about spontaneous fermentation and lambic beers, here
Karel talks about some of the history of his lambic brewery, here
Karel discusses his philosophy of lambic brewing and where he sources his wort, here
Karel talks about the beers that are available during our visit, here
Karel playing the bagpipes, here
Karel talking about drinking straight lambic beer, here
I had visited De Cam at least half a dozen times before, but this visit was very special, as we had Karel’s nearly undivided attention for these two hours. Normally, De Cam is only open from 2-5 pm on most Sundays, and is very busy, so getting this kind of personalized attention and top-class beer selection only happens on rare occasions. Our group was very happy about this We were also able to buy beer to go as well.
Luckily, after such a good pre-lunch beer tasting session, much needed sustenance was not far away. Volkscafe De Cam is a cafe/restaurant fifteen yards away, and is an atmospheric old place where I have had a number of fine meals. There is also a museum of musical instruments in the same building. The Volkscafe also usually has several of the De Cam lambics on draft, and sometimes the Oude Geuze, which was on offer this day. I enjoyed a fine meal of Vol-Au-Vent, which in this case was small chicken meatballs with mushrooms in a creamy sauce, paired with frites, AKA fries. BELGIAN fries. Yep, the Belgians invented fries, not the French.
That was a pretty solid start to the day. More like a fabulous start to a phenomenal day in lambic country. Appetites sated, for the time being, we boarded the coach and headed for the village of Eizeringen and In de Verzekering Tegen de Grote Dorst (“The Insurance Against the Great Thirst”) an old lambic cafe saved from closure over a dozen years ago by brothers Kurt and Yves Panneels. The brothers hold a number of beer fests throughout the year, such as “Day of the Kriek” in June and a “Day of the Lambic” in December. Every even-numbered year there is the “Nacht van de Grote Dorst” which has been going on since 2004. The beer list is considerable (one of the best in the Payottenland, especially for lambic beers) and there are many aged lambics on the list. The cafe is normally only open from 10 am-1 pm on Sundays.
After an hour and a lambic on draft and some aged Kriek and Geuze, we headed off for another top event. Gueuzerie Tilquin, the only lambic blendery in Wallonia, and the newest lambic producer in Belgium, was our next stop. Blender/owner Pierre Tilquin is known for thinking outside the box. He first worked at both Brasserie Cantillon and Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen for six months each prior to starting his Gueuzerie. “I wanted to learn from the best,” he told me back in 2010. Pierre decided not to make any framboise or kriek beers even before the blendery opened in 2009. (For full details, you can check out my article “Fruits of Their Labors” in the June/July issue of Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine. See here for more info.)
Gueuzerie Tilquin, while not technically in the Payottenland, which is part of Flemish Brabant, is a mere 200 yards from Flanders and 15 minutes by car from Brouwerij Boon, in Bierghes-Rebecq. Tilquin is in the Zenne Valley. That fact makes it close enough for HORAL, the group which helps promote and protect lambic beers and organizes Toer de Geuze, as the group welcomed Tilquin as a member a few years ago, and the blendery first opened for Toer de Geuze in 2013. For 2015, Pierre Tilquin decided to have a bunch of English brewer friends over to his place on this Saturday for an “English Beer Fest.” This fest also happened to have seven Tilquin beers on offer, with most on draft. They were Meerts; Faro Tilquin; the draft version of Gueuze Tilquin; Lambic Blend; Gueuze Tilquin à L’Ancienne (bottled) and Quetsche Tilquin à L’Ancienne (bottled) a beer with plums added. The older version used mostly plums from Alsace, France, while there is a newer one with plums from Namur Province, Belgium.
The new Mûre Tilquin à L’ancienne, a blended lambic with blackberries, was also on offer on a limited basis, as it officially debuted at the fest. Less than 4,000 bottles were produced of Batch 1, but as I expected, Pierre has said that another batch will be made. To round out the list, there was also Gueuze Tilquin-Draft Version (Special Blend) which is different than the normal draft version; and additionally Stout Rullquin, a La Rulles Stout with Tilquin lambic added; and HORAL Oude Geuze Mega Blend 2015, a blend of lambic from eight lambic producers, including lambic from Gueuzerie Tilquin. About 17,000 bottles were filled in the 75 cl size, and they sold for 9 euros per bottle during Toer de Geuze weekend.
Gueuzerie Tilquin started in 2009 with 220 oak barrels from France, and business has been good. “I now have 355 barrels,” Pierre Tilquin told me in mid-July. Pierre and his crew put on a show for a big crowd at the English beer festival, and a lot of great beers from breweries such as The Kernel, Thornbridge, Burning Sky, Partizan, Magic Rock, and Brew By Numbers were on hand. I was surprised and pleased by how many great saisons and tart/wild beers were on offer from these places. Brasserie La Rulles from Luxembourg Province and Brasserie Du Mont Salève from France were also present with some excellent beers. There was also a pig roast and other tasty eats on offer, so we savored a quick meal while at Tilquin and maximized our drinking time. The blendery was also open for tours and the large gift shop sold lots of souvenirs, such as beer, Tilquin t-shirts, and glasses.
Although Stu had to drag most of us away from this superb beer locale and fest, kicking and screaming, we had to get some rest for another big day, which would feature Toer de Geuze 2015, and more. But first, another bottle share broke out in the hotel lobby. This one lasted for a couple of hours, again…or was it more?
This beer touring is tough work, but someone has to do it. I’m glad I was nominated.
On the next page: Sunday, May 3 begins at Brouwerij Mort Subite….