29 May 2017

Geuze bus tours!

Once every two years a group of the lambic beer producers scattered through the Pajottenland -- a mostly rural patchwork of towns and villages to the immediate west of Brussels -- open their doors to visitors. Their industry representative body, HORAL, provides a bus service so that pilgrims can travel easily between the sites, and so the Toer de Geuze is born. For the eleventh outing of the Toer in 2017 the event was expanded to two days, covering a Saturday and a Sunday. So it was that on the morning of 6th May, the wife and I took the train from Brussels Centraal to nearby Halle where the Toer's coaches were lined up waiting.

There are ten different bus routes, each covering a different combination of sites. I picked bus 8 as it offered the best combination of my favourite brands of lambic as well as some others about which I was merely curious. And it started at Tilquin.

Guezerie Tilquin is an anonymous modern warehouse, just off a country road surrounded by truck and tyre dealerships. From Google Streeview it appears that it used to be one itself. For the Toer, a marquee and bar had been set up, with a pig on a spit awaiting hungry visitors. When it was time to look around the inside, the first thing our guide told us is that Tilquin is not actually in Pajottenland, being just over the Flemish border in Wallonia. Since it doesn't brew beer and merely blends lambics from other producers there's no problem with the authenticity of the product. And that also means, of course, that there's no shiny brewhouse or coolship to see, just tiers and tiers of lambic filled wine casks, a small blending room and a bottling and warehousing section.

By way of illustrating how the process works, we were given a sample of lambic from the handpump at the start of the tour. This is presumably the beer that they release as Tilquin Jonge Lambic, though I guess that means that it's unblended so comes from one of the supplying breweries. If so, we weren't told which one. If anyone more knowledgeable on the ins and outs of gueze knows, give me a shout in the comments. Anyway, it was beautiful: soft fruity peach and explosive saltpetre, uncarbonated so with just the gentlest effervesence, and altogether extremely sessionable. But we were on the hoof, so that wasn't an option.

At the beer tent, top of my to-try list was Mûre, an oude geuze with blackberries, kind of a sequel to their plum geuze, Quetsche. It looked lovely in the glass: a shining even pinkish-purple. But the flavour was a little lacklustre, being quite sharp and waxy with none of the smoothness one might expect from an aged product, and not much by way of fruit character either.

Out of pure morbid curiosity I took a punt on Tilquin's Meerts, or "March beer". This is a very young lambic of 3.6% ABV which gets blended with older lambics to create Tilquin Gueuze. I can see why they don't normally serve it straight: worty and watery, it has only a slight sourness, but that fades very quickly leaving little behind. I'm sure it does a bang-up job when put to proper use, but is no more than a novelty on its own.

For each Toer de Geuze, a subset of the participating producers create a Megablend which is available at the sites. I had intended to buy a souvenir bottle of Megablend 2017 but since Tilquin had it on draught I thought I'd try it out first. It's a dark orange colour and hellishly fizzy, the overactive carbonation all but drowning out the flavour. Underneath that it's a fairly basic geuze: a clean mineral sourness with no real distinguishing features. My plan to purchase a bottle was in review as we re-boarded the bus and set off for the next stop.