Toer de Geuze: celebrating Belgian wild ales

Toer de Geuze is a biennial festival organized the first weekend in May by the High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beer (HORAL), in celebration of the wonderful traditional wild beers of Brussels and the Senne Valley. It has been high on my wishlist for a long time and I first visited in 2022. It was as fun as everyone says it is! If you love Lambic and Geuze beers or enjoy beer history, then this is the adventure for you. The breweries are open to visit and offer beer tasting, food and brewery tours. The next edition is coming up this weekend on May 4 and 5, 2024. Check out the official website here.

What is Toer de Geuze?

The very first Toer de Geuze took place in 1997. It is a so-called open door event, now held every 2 years, where the HORAL members open their breweries to the public for two days. It’s free and no tickets are needed. People can stop by to visit and try a selection of the brewery’s beers. If you don’t want to drive or bicycle, a special bus service connects the different breweries. There are 10 bus routes to choose from (a ticket is required) and they visit 4 breweries during the course of about 8 hours, from pick-up at 10:30 am to drop-off at about 7:30 pm.

Since 2009 a unique Megablend is created for every Toer de Geuze edition with lambic beer from all members, which you can usually taste or buy at one of the breweries or at the Lambic visitor’s center. For the 2022 edition 29.300 bottles were produced. I am so curious to try the 2024 version!

Participating breweries are: Boon | Lindemans | Den Herberg | Oud Beersel | Mort Subite | Lambiek Fabriek | De Troch | Timmermans | Gueuzerie Tilquin | De Cam | Hanssens | Kestemont | Eylenbosch.

Tour of Brouwerij Timmermans
Visiting Gueuzerie Tilquin at 11 AM

What makes Lambic beer special?

Lambic is a beer made with at least 30% unmalted wheat and by spontaneous fermentation, meaning that the brewer does not pitch yeast into the wort. The wild yeast and bacteria come from the air and environment. Dirk Lindemans explains that “the microflora in the air depends on the type of soil, microclimate and vegetation. These wild yeasts are everywhere, but in Pajottenland and the Senne Valley the ratios and concentrations are completely different, producing that specific Lambic taste.” Because these wild yeasts mustn’t be too abundant, Lambic is brewed only in the colder months of the year, making it one of the few remaining truly seasonal beers. The wort is cooled overnight in open shallow tanks (coolships) allowing the wild yeasts and bacteria to submerge themself. It is also common to use ‘old’ hops for preservation purposes, which is why these beers rarely have any hop flavors or aromas. It is thought that this beer style dates back to at least the Middle Ages (if not before), though verified written accounts don’t describe it specifically until later, for example the Ordonnance of 1560. A copy is proudly hanging on a wall at Oud Beersel.

Lambic is aged in oak or chestnut barrels for a period of one up to three years resulting in a flat beer, because the carbon dioxide has escaped through the wood. The barrels used for maturation come in different sizes, the largest of these are ‘foeders’ and can hold up to 10.000 liters. When bottling different blends of Lambic based on the méthode champenoise, it further ferments in the bottle resulting in a sparkling version called Geuze, which is always a blend of young (1 yr) and older Lambics (2 and 3 yrs). Since 1997, Lambic, Geuze, Oude Geuze, Kriek (with cherries) are protected names under European law, which distinguishes lambic and geuze beers according to the raw materials used and the traditional brewing process.

Ordonnance of Old Lambic 1560
A 'live' coolship at Brouwerij Timmermans

The name ‘Lambic’

The name Lambic first appears in documents in the 18th century and is likely a corruption of the Belgian word ‘allambique’ from French alambic, meaning distilling vessel. According to beer writer and historian Jef van der Steen it was common in that time for businesses to both brew beers and distill spirits. He suspects that the French occupier confused the term. Another theory is that the word is a distortion of the place name ‘Lembeek’ where several breweries were located in that time period.


More information

Here are some recent Spotify podcasts to get you in the mood for the coming Toer de Geuze weekend!

Toer de Geuze - Foeders at Brouwerij Boon
Toer de Geuze - Foeders at Brouwerij Boon

All photos taken by and copyright of Tina Rogers.

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