30 May 2017

The many shades of Pajottenland

The final stop on day one of the 2017 Toer de Geuze was Lindemans, probably the showiest of all the sites we visited. The setting is rather beautiful, on high ground in the countryside, with Brussels's tallest buildings almost visible to the east. The campus is low and sprawling, and from the front entrance visitors were treated to a meandering stroll through the brewery, past copper brewing vessels and foeders atmospherically lit with red light, the spookiness enhanced with an actual smoke machine. One emerged from the ghost train in a vast warehouse space at the rear where bars and tables had been set up. A brass band, wheel of beery fortune and the de rigueur bouncy castle all added to the festive atmosphere. The ominous black helium balloons not so much.

To business, then. In addition to Tilquin Mûre which I wrote about yesterday, the only other beer on my must-drink list for the Toer was BlossomGueuze, a sequel to Lindemans Spontanbasil, one of my favourite beers of recent years. This time the added ingredient is elderflower and it leaves no doubt about that in the aroma: a massive, rich, fruit-and-flower smell from the dark gold glassful. The flavour is just as unsubtle, but not in a good way. There's a syrupy taste of concentrated elderflower, a steely bitterness and only a slight sour sharpness as a reminder that this is actually a geuze. It's not a quality blended product, nor even a fun and silly sweetened geuze. It just plain doesn't work.

The Lindemans menu was big on the mediocre sweetened beers that are its bread and butter but one that did catch my eye was Cuvée René Special Blend 2010. This is a limited edition oude geuze released in 2015 incorporating 4-year-old lambic, blended as usual with a younger one. It's another one that ticks off perfectly what I want geuze to taste like: an invigorating sharp pinch at the front, spreading out into a complex mix of minerals and chemicals: saltpetre, nitre, gunpowder: you know the vocabulary by now. The main thing is it's absolutely beautiful and ended the day's touring on a real high note for me.

Day two started the same way, picking up the bus in Halle and this time the first destination was More Subite. Poor old Mort Subite: the first geuze I ever drank, in Dublin's Belgo back in 2000 or so. It doesn't have the best of reputations among the lambic brewers and fanatics, in part because of its product, though also because it's owned by Heineken. It doesn't participate in the celebratory Megablend produced for the Toer de Geuze every two years.

The brewery is tucked well away in the Pajottenland countryside, in one corner of the tiny village of Kobbegem: little more than a church, two pubs and a scout hall. I had been expecting a large industrial facility but it's actually quite a compact site, much smaller than Boon or Lindemans. A marquee with a bar had been set up in the central courtyard and brewery staffers brought groups on regular tours of the facility. At the front is a pretty copper brewhouse which looks like a museum piece but is still fully operational. From there we had a look at the back end and here things were a little more space age, with rooms full of huge stainless steel tanks ageing the product, though there was a modest collection of giant wooden foeders as well. A little wood-aged lambic goes a long way in the blend here.

Mort Subite excelled particularly in the value for money stakes. If you wanted to buy a beer at the bar they were a mere €1.50 each, but just walking in got you a complimentary pour, plus the brewery tour, and a commemorative special edition bottle to take away. Not bad for free.