Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen’s lambik-O-droom expansion: a detailed overview

As I reported in this previous article about Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen’s future 25 million euro expansion at their current lambik-O-droom site in Lot, Belgium, there is much planned by the hallowed Belgian lambic maker in the coming years.

I recently reached out to 3 Fonteinen’s Business Manager, Werner Van Obberghen, to gather some first hand information and details about the brewery’s plans for the future. I learned that 3 Fonteinen has far more envisioned than I ever expected, as you will read below. But first, let’s cover some of the history of the last few years to get you readers up to speed. There are surely many thousands of new lambic fans out there who may not all be aware of how 3 Fonteinen has come to embark on this great new project.

From left, Werner Van Obberghen, Armand Debelder, and Michaël Blancquaert of Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen.
From left, Werner Van Obberghen, Armand Debelder, and Michaël Blancquaert of Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen.

Armand Debelder, who took over 3 Fonteinen from his father Gaston Debelder in the 1990s, told me during a visit in May 2016 that Werner Van Obberghen had joined the 3 Fonteinen team part time some years ago, and that he was now a partner as well. Werner became their full-time business manager in February 2016. Armand told me about their plans to expand to a much larger location, just 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away, and we then went and visited the new site, where Armand’s protege and other partner, Michaël Blancquaert, was working. At this point, 3 Fonteinen had already installed over thirty foeders and many smaller barrels in the new space, which was previously a warehouse/storage space for electronics, among other things, that was built in 1960. During that initial visit, Armand let me taste several lambics and a kriekenlambiek that had been aged in foeders at the new site. All were delicious.

Armand Debelder (left) with Michaël Blancquaert at 3 Fonteinen's Open Door Days in September 2015.
Armand Debelder (left) with Michaël Blancquaert at 3 Fonteinen’s Open Door Days in September 2015.

After an hour or two, Armand and I returned to the brewery location in Beersel, and I was introduced to Werner. We spoke in general about 3 Fonteinen’s business plans and enjoyed a honey lambic. Having a solid, well thought-out business plan is of utmost importance, and 3 Fonteinen added that with Werner, who wrote his master’s thesis on the economical and financial challenges facing small lambic brewers and blenders in Belgium.

Werner Van Obberghen, Business Manager of Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen, pouring an experimental honey lambic.
Werner Van Obberghen, Business Manager of Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen, pouring an experimental honey lambic.

Werner told me about how he came to know Armand and Michaël: “I enjoyed my first geuze around 1997, and I wrote my master’s thesis in 2002. Ever since tasting geuze for the first time, 3 Fonteinen had held a special place in my heart that only grew during my thesis work. Armand—being so open and transparent—was the only brewer/blender who appreciated a student telling him about the rights and the wrongs of what he was doing. Ever since, I was indeed a regular customer, and in the summer of 2013, I spoke some futile but important words, while Armand and Michaël—enthusiastically—showed me the lay-out of another building they were looking at, at that time. ‘Do you already have a financial plan?’ I asked. Armand, not being ready for that part of the planning, answered me “Please don’t bother me with that, we still need to figure that part out”. I proposed that he would call me if the time would be there. I was becoming more fatigued with my full time job. I was a strategist at the leading Belgian telecom company, which was exciting work, but with low self—actualization. It was also in a corporate structure which tore me up inside. So, I was looking for a personal project that I could put all of my energy and expertise into, that had meaning, and added value to the lives of others. So when Armand called in the last week of October 2013, telling me ‘Werner, we need to talk, because things are getting serious,” you can imagine how honored and excited I was?”

Very honored, I imagine!

The new lambik-O-droom location, at Molenstraat 47 in Lot, opened to the public on September 1, 2016, which I reported on in this previous article.

Armand (left) and Michael in their foeder hall inside the lambik-O-droom in Lot, Belgium, May 2016.
Armand (left) and Michael in their foeder hall inside the lambik-O-droom in Lot, Belgium, May 2016.

When I visited the new lambik-O-droom again in February 2017, Armand told me that he, Werner and Michaël already had plans to expand again. Werner recently remarked about that: “The expansion is going to be the result of a vision for 30 plus years that Armand, Michaël and myself drew. It was Armand’s dream to bring 3 Fonteinen a step further, and he actually pushed and empowered us in times when we were more hesitant. He told us: ‘Now is the time to do this, we shouldn’t wait another 10 years’ and so we are moving forward with this soon.”

Armand showed me the architectural drawings that Ghent-based firm Robbrecht en Daem had drawn up for 3 Fonteinen, but advised that no photos could be taken of these, and to keep this information confidential. The reason for the secrecy was that the required approvals from the involved governmental authorities had to be granted first, and the investment for the expansion had to be worked out. Armand, who I have known since 1999, also mentioned having a “silent partner.”

Werner remarked: “So, Armand carries the history of 3 Fonteinen, Michaël is his successor in terms of brewing and blending. Geert Duyck, the silent partner, is the person with financial contacts and possibilities; I manage the overhead (finances, administration, commercial activities etc.). The four of us together share the same values when it comes to 3 Fonteinen and its beers. That was never a point of discussion. We simply continue the strong stubborn line of Gaston and Armand, etched in tradition, quality and craftsmanship. And yes, it’s true, we cannot make cheap lambic or geuze, given the long process time. But we would like to make the best one, according to these values. While Michaël and myself are the operational tandem—we initially sat together for quite a number of weekends to bridge the operational ambitions into a financial and business plan—we have the ability with the four of us to make swift decisions. And you know what the most special element is-and that is where Armand is to be credited: having no children of his own, he trusted three people with the future of his vision, and at the same time, he saw a future perspective for 3 Fonteinen: because we are all as stubborn as him (and maybe even a bit more.) Add to that a fantastic team of young and enthusiastic people, and we have a beautiful perspective for 3 Fonteinen for a next generation. This is becoming our life’s work as well! And yes, Armand is often referring to us and the team as the sons and the children he never had.”

***CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE***: More about brewing at the new site

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