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Drie Fonteinen Intense Red

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Your typical Oude Kriek lambic will be made by blending young lambic with somewhere on the order of 25%-30% (by weight) of cherries. Intense Red? Well, it uses 40% whole sour cherries. Madness, I tell you! Madness. In any case, the name "Intense Red" is most certainly appropriate. I was unable to figure out why this particular offering has a completely different labeling style from all of Drie Fonteinen's other artwork, but then, maybe that's why I was able to find this on a shelf. I'm not complaining, so let's wade into this potent cherry potion:

Drie Fonteinen Intense Red Oude Kriek

Drie Fonteinen Intense Red Oude Kriek - Pours a clear, vivid ruby red color, quite striking, with a cap of bright pink head. Smells very sweet, tons of cherries of course, but also hints of underlying earthy funk and maybe really faint notes of oak. Taste is syrupy sweet, lots of sour cherries, just hints of earthy funk present themselves in the middle along with some oak, only to be drowned out by tart cherries in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, very sticky, but not cloying, low-ish carbonation, but enough to make it palatable... Light to moderate sourness. The impact is generally pretty powerful, making this something that'd be worth sharing (even this small bottle). Overall, this is very good, somehow managing to be simultaniously unique and yet a little one note... but if you like cherries, you'll love that note. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tumbler glass on 4/16/16. Bottled: 02-05-2014.

As always, 3 Fonteinen delivers. Alas, no new varieties on the horizon for me... yet. I'm sure I'll find a way to try something else soon enough. I'm looking at you, Framboos.

Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek

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Along with the Oude Geuze, Drie Fonteinen's Oude Kriek is one of their flagship beers. It is basically youngish lambic aged on macerated cherries (pits included!) and refermented in the bottle. I'm reviewing one of the 2015 vintages, but the most intriguing vintage is the 2009.

Drie Fonteinen has been around in some capacity for over a century, but most of that time they were basically a blender. They would buy inoculated wort from lambic producers, then age and blend it. In 1999, they leased a brewing system and started producing their own lambic. In doing so, they became the first new lambic producer in over 80 years. It was pretty good timing too. Lambic was thought to be near dead in the early 90s, but the winds were shifting, and apparently Drie Fonteinen had their finger on the pulse, because the 2000s saw a dramatic increase in interest in Lambic.

This progress call came to a screeching halt one day when Armand Debelder entered his warehouse to find a catastrophic failure of his climate control system. In what's become known as the "Thermostat Incident", a hot air blower essentially never turned off, raising the temperature of the warehouse to 60°:C (14060°:F), essentially cooking over 80,000 bottles of lambic and even causing a few thousand to explode. Most of the lambic was ruined, and the 10 year lease of brewing equipment was coming due. Armand had to temporarily scrap his brewing operation and find ways to recoup. There were several strategies to do so, but the short story is that they're back to brewing again, and their future is bright.

One way they recouped was to take some of the cooked geuze and distill it into eau de vie called Armand'Spirit. They were also able to salvage a few thousand bottles of the Oude Kriek, which were released with a sticker that says "Saved from Thermostat Incident" and eventually became referred to as "Hot Cherry" bottles. You still see ISOs for these now and again, but reviews are difficult to suss out. It's hard to beat the romantic story behind it, of course, but that also tends to color impressions. Of course, this is all academic for me. It is unlikely that I will ever see a bottle of the stuff, let alone taste it, but a man can dream. In the meantime, let's check in with the current humdrum vintage:

Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek

Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek - Pours a striking, clear, radiant dark ruby color with a finger or two of fizzy pink head. Smells great, lots of tart fruit, cherries, blackberries, and the like, big funky earth character, and oak. Taste takes on a bright fruit character, lots of that cherry comes through strong, the earth and oak are present towards the finish but toned down a bit in favor of the tart fruit, and the moderate sourness anchors most of the taste. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, moderately acidic, maybe a hint of stickiness, but it's not syrupy. Overall, a rock solid Kriek lambic, not quite Cantillon levels, but on the same playing field. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/5/15. Bottled: 2015 January 18th.

Drinking 3F is always a pleasure. Bottles are hard to come by, but not quite as impossible to find as Cantillon these days. Definitely something to keep an eye out for, and usually worth paying a premium for...

Drie Fonteinen Hommage (2007)

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A couple weekends ago, I celebrated my birthday, and with it, uncorked a few prized possessions including this hallowed lambic from Drie Fonteinen, a blend of lambics aged on mostly whole raspberries from the fabled Pajottenland, but also includes some cherries and probably some other twists and turns. They don't call Drie Fonteinen's Armand DeBelder a master blender for nothing, and this beer was made in honor of his late father, Gaston DeBelder, so you know Armand went all out with this one. They've only made this twice, once in 2007 and once in 2013. I figured 8 years was enough aging for this one and dug into that first. It did not disappoint.

I don't put much credence to the pretty ridiculous White Whale list, but on a hunch I just looked it up and yes, this marks the first time I've had a beer from that ridiculous list (note that the 2013 vintage didn't make the cut). As you all know, rarity makes beer taste better, so let's fire up those three big fountains and get a load of this amazing beer:

Drie Fonteinen Hommage

Drie Fonteinen Hommage (2007) - Pours a very pretty pink hued amber, robey tones, finger of fizzy off white head that nonetheless sticks around for a bit. Nose is beautiful, raspberries, cherries, blackberries, berries galore, along with a deep, earthy funk and a little oak too. Taste goes in hard on that jammy berry front, again with the berry cornacopia, predominanty raspberry, but some other berries for good measure. Things get a little acetic and sour in the middle, followed by some of that deep, earthy funk, a unique character actually, but quite tasty. Finishes off with a nice oak and vanilla component that yields to a lingering sour note. Mouthfeel is on the lower end of full bodied and rich, jammy, slightly acidic, moderate to high carbonation cuts through nicely, certainly not a gulper, but very well balanced and a great sipping experience. Overall, this is intense, complex, funky, and balanced, leaning more to the rich and oaky side of fruited lambics (like Cantillon Kriek) than the light an airy (like, say, Fou Foune or St. Lamvinous), a wondrous beer, absolutely delicious. A

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 9/13/15. Bottled: 14/02/2007.

Bottling date for the doubters

Wales, bro. Well that was impressive. After this one, I cracked a 2012 BCBS, which was holding up exceptionally well. Let's just say it was a good night. I actually have a 2013 vintage Hommage that I may have to hold onto a little longer, but I'm betting it will be opened sooner rather than later. I love these lambics, but they're a bear to get ahold of these days. Even Kaedrin secret Tilquin is starting to disappear from shelves these days. I have a couple Drie Fonteinen Gueuze in the cellar as well, and hope someday to try some of their other stuff. Cantillon has the reputation for better fruited lambics, but if this beer is any indication, they're basically on the same hallowed field.

Drie Fonteinen Zwet.be

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Drie Fonteinen is one of the powerhouse lambic breweries, so this beer is something of a curiosity. It seems that famed master-blender Armand Debelder saw fit to branch out and try something only tangentially related to lambic. This is basically an English style porter beer that is brewed with wild yeast cultured from lambic casks. If this sounds like some sort of blasphemous experiment, well, it's not. Porter didn't always resemble what it does now.

I'll leave the history to those who know better than I, but suffice to say that descriptions of 19th century porter tended to use words like: sour, tart, astringent, and acid. As Martyn Cornell notes in the linked post, these are not words you will find in the descriptions of porter in the latest Brewers Association beer style guidelines. To greatly simplify the possible reasons for this tartness, it seems to be attributable to both age and wild yeast infection (the combination of which are a virtuous circle, as wild yeasts do their thing over very large amounts of time).

So basically, this beer isn't the lunacy that it might initially sound like. Indeed, I've seen various other breweries take on this concept of sour porter as well, though I can't really speak to historical accuracy for any of these beers. But forget about historical accuracy, do these suckers taste good? Let's give it a shot, eh?

Drie Fonteinen Zwet.be

Drie Fonteinen Zwet.be - Pours a dark brown color with a couple fingers of tan head that leave plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells very much like a porter, lots of roast and toast, but also a sweetness or fluffiness that indicates something less intense. Taste features a nice, light roast and toast, as befitting a porter, but the finish has a slight tweak to it that lightens things up a tad. It's not quite sour or really all that tart, but perhaps in that direction. Mouthfeel starts off full bodied and highly carbonated, but that sorta yields to a gentler feeling towards the finish. Again, it's not sour and won't cut up your gums like an American Wild Ale, but there might be an ever so slight hint of acidity. Overall, a solid, interesting take on a porter, though not quite as "wild" as I thought. That being said, I'd rather have this than most other porters (admittedly, they're not my style, but still). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (11.7 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/17/14.

I'd be curious to see if the wild elements come out more over time, so if I find me another bottle, I might just stash it away for just such an experiment. That being said, I'd probably rather have me some Drie Fonteinen lambics if they could be had...

Drie Fonteinen Golden Blend

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Drie Fonteinen has been around since 1887, and they've been making geuze style beers since then. Well, technically, they purchased new and old lambics from other breweries and blended them together (as befits the style). Since they opened, they've gradually been expanding the operation over the generations, to the point where they now have their own production brewery. But seeing as though geuzes are always comprised of a blend, they've kept that skillset up to date as well. Indeed, the guy they put in charge over there, Armand Debelder, is called a Master Blender, and if you get your jollies by obsessing over top lambic lists, you'll see that he's well deserving of that title.

Your typical geuze is a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambics. What we have here incorporates 4 year old lambic as well, clocking in at about 25% of the blend. The rest of the blend is comprised of a "secret" allocation of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambics, because, you know, Master Blenders gotta put food on the table. Given the expense of aging beer, the thirst of angels, and the extra year needed to produce this, the cost of entry is a bit on the high side here (hence the "golden" blend). Is it worth it?

Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze Golden Blend

Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze Golden Blend - Pours a very pretty golden orange color with a couple fingers of fluffy, big bubbled head that seems to fade into a more dense head with decent retention. Smells of musty funk with a big oak element. Taste starts off sweet, with that oak hitting pretty quickly, but then yielding to tart, fruity flavors that escalate into full blown puckering sourness towards the finish. As it warms up, that sourness intensifies even further. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, effervescent, crisp, with an extremely dry finish. Overall, this is a great beer, certainly a step up from their regular Oude Geuze, and among the best that I've had. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/14/13. Bottled 02/17/2011. Good until 02/2021.

I've seen people saying that this bottle is sitting on shelves with absurd price tags upwards of $40. But then, it's also on Etre Gourmet for 11 Euros, so do the math on that, and even with absurd shipping costs it's cheaper to order it direct from Belgium. On the other hand, more reasonable prices in the $20-$25 range might be worth it if you're a huge fan of the style... Certainly not a beginner beer though.

Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze

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Ever since Oude Gueuze Tilquin made a believer out of me, I've been on the lookout for more lambics, with a keen eye to acquire some Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen (aka 3 Fonteinen, which I guess means 3 Fountains or somesuch). These are both classic lambic breweries that have experienced an explosion in demand while not really being able to increase production all that much. It doesn't help that something like an Oude Geuze takes at least 3 years to produce, not to mention other concerns (Cantillon, for instance, has pretty much maxed out capacity, and given the exigency of spontaneous fermenation, they can't just open a new brewery somewhere). Drie Fonteinen seems to be the easier to acquire of the two, but I still haven't seen any of it around in the past half a year or so. I finally broke down and ordered some direct from the source. This cost a pretty penny, but from what I understand, there've been issues with people charging outrageous prices for this stuff, so it was probably worth it (thanks to Rich for the link).

What we've got here is the "basic" Oude Geuze. Scare quotes because while 3 Fonteinen has their fair share of one-offs and rarities, this is still a blend of 3 year old, 2 year old, and 1 year old lambic, which is no joke to the tune of being a top 100 baller on BA. I've got fancier stuff stashed away for later, but let's not get too carried away. Here goes:

Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze

Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze - Pours a deep golden color with half a finger of white, bubbly head. Smells of twangy funk and oak. Taste has lots of that funky Brett character, a pleasant sourness, and lots of oak too. Well balanced flavors here, with no component overpowering the other. It also evolves well as it warms. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, plenty of carbonation though it does seem a little light for the style. Has a more winelike character than I'm used to. Not that that's bad. Overall, I could get used to these Oud Geuze things. I don't like this as much as the aforementioned Tilquin, but I'll still plant a firm A- on this sucker.

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a Cantillon Gueze tumbler on 4/19/13. Label sez: bottled on 21/12/2011. Good until 21/12/2021.

Up next in my summer of lambic will be some sort of Cantillon (probably the Kriek), but I've got a bottle of 3 Fonteinen Golden Blend that is just begging to be opened.

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