Recently in Gueuze Category

Lambic in general, and Gueuze in particular, have slowly but steadily taken up more of my allotted drinking cycles. Channeling my inner-wonk, nothing beats the harmony, complexity, and balance involved in the traditional three vintage blend of spontaneously fermented beer that marks Gueuze. I suppose this sounds like marketing fluff or just plain wanking, but who cares, Gueuze is probably awesomer than you are. I mean, not you, the other readers. Wink wink, nudge nudge. As producers go, the conventional wisdom is that Cantillon is well known for their fruited lambics, but Drie Fonteinen is most famous for their Gueuze blends (not to belittle their other offerings, nor other lambic producers, who all have their strengths, and what the hell, conventional wisdom can go pound sand, but I digress - the point is that Drie is great at blending.)

After Drie Fonteinen recovered from their "Thermostat Incident", they actually managed to rev up a new production facility, and a few years later, the first vintages of their Gueuze were ready for blending. Of course, their OG standard is wonderful, but since they were finally self-sufficient again, Armand Debelder decided to blend up a special batch in honor of his father, Gaston. This beer consists only of lambic brewed by 3 Fonteinen, and this post will actually cover two batches. One, with the old label, was one of the earlier 2015 batches, and I shared that with a bunch of friends recently (so didn't take detailed notes, but I'll give some background on why I was sharing such a bottle and whatever thoughts I can muster below). The other is a newer 2017 release, and has the new, swanky silkscreen label with stickers, which I was able to write tasting notes for. Because you all love those, right? Right. The label sez that this is "blended from lambics aged and matured on 4 different barrels, originating from wort of 7 different brews. The old lambic was brewed with slightly darker malts and was destined for another Straffe Winter (but we actually forgot about it...)" (Straffe Winter is a Faro that they have still only released once, in case you were wondering.) Ok, enough wanking, let's get to it.

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand and Gaston

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand & Gaston (2017) - Pours a dark golden orange color with a couple fingers of fluffy, bubbly head. Smells fantastic, deep, earthy funk, oak, plenty of fruity esters. Taste hits the fruity ester notes more than the nose, but that earthy funk provides some good complexity in the background and the oak leavens things well. A well balanced sourness emerges in the middle and lasts through the finish. It's delicious. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, medium bodied, with a moderate and well balanced acidity. Overall, this is one spectacular, well balanced, complex geuze. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5.3% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 2/9/18. Bottling Date: 01/25/17. Best Before: 10/26/37. Blend n° 17 - Season 16-17.

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand and Gaston 2015

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Cuvée Armand & Gaston (2015) - I hate the sport of basketball. However, I do make one exception, and that is Villanova basketball, which I have watched with some regularity since I graced that fine university, jeeze, over twenty years ago? Anyway, two years ago, Villanova won the NCAA championship and my friend and fellow VU alum Rich brought a BCBS Vanilla Rye to a share the night after we won. It was a spectacular beer; age had treated it very well and I'd go so far as to say it's one of the few beers I've had where age has actually improved the beer. Anyway, a few weeks ago, Villanova won their second NCAA championship in 3 years (and third overall), and Rich and I immediately started putting together a share where we'd dig out something great from our cellars. He brought a spectacular bottle of ADWTD, and I brought this beauty: the first vintage of Armand and Gaston. This consists of some of the first lambic brewed on their new system in 2013, and according to the bottle logs, it's the second 750 ml bottling (both in October of 2015), and there were approximately 3,800 bottles in this batch (there was an additional 375 ml bottling and a thusfar unreleased 1.5 l bottling that is aging in the 3F cellars).

Opening the bottle resulted in some mild gushing (cork basically popped out on its own), but fortunately, not too much of our precious juice was lost. And yes, my impression was that this was somehow even better than the 2017 vintage I just praised to high heaven above. Super funky, but it didn't quite veer into extra-pungent blue-cheese territory that is fascinating for sure, but not quite as nice as this. Earthy, fruity, tart but not overly acidic, highly carbed and effervescent, great balance,depth, and complexity, I could have easily rocked the entire bottle by myself, but I was glad I shared it with some friends who could appreciate its charms. Again, I didn't really take any notes, but it was great. I'll give it an A too, and this is definitely the sort of thing to seek out.

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 4/12/18. Bottling Date: 2015, October 20. Best Before: 2035, October 26th.

I love the Best Before date on the bottle. Not just 20 years, but 20 years and 6 days. A minute longer and it'll spoil. Anywho, both vintages were phenomenal. Seek this out. It may be pricey, but it's worth a stretch. But my priorities are way out of whack, so you do you.

Boon / Mikkeller Oude Geuze

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The second lambic collaboration between Boon and Mikkeller (the first being their Bone Dry, a sorta older sister beer to Black Label (which always annoys me because despite being delicious, the bottle does not actually have a black label on it... but I digress)), this iteration focuses on a blend that is primarily comprised of lambic from a foeder that had previously contained Calvados (apple brandy, for the uninitiated). No indication which foeder or how old that particular foeder is, but it's got the traditional Geuze blend of 1-3 year old lambics, which is certainly good enough for this beer dork. Let's dive in:

Boon Mikkeller Oude Geuze

Boon / Mikkeller Oude Geuze - Pours a yellowish golden color with a solid finger of bubbly but dense head with good retention. Smells great, lots of earthy funk, something a little fruity playing around the edges (of my nose? Yeah, something like that.) Taste is has a lighter earthy funk to it, definitely some fruity twang (if I'm looking for it, maybe, maybe some Calvados green apple kinda character), a little sourness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, very dry, moderate acidity, pretty easy going. Overall, it's good, but I don't know that the Calvados character comes through in a particularly strong, identifiable way. Still a worthwhile experiment and a nice twist. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.4% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/1/17. Best before: 22/11/2036.

Boon seems to be riding that novelty wave by putting out lots of variants and different releases, but one thing that is different about them: They seem to be generally available. You have to hunt them out a little, as most stores seem to focus on the US boom these days (and who can blame them), but if you want these suckers, you can usually find a way... Moar Boon incoming soon (I picked up that set of four different Vat variants, which should be interesting)... and maybe even lambic from another producer. Stay tuned.

Boon Vat 109 Mono Blend

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For anything that is primarily blended, there's this instinct to see what individual components would taste like. You see this a lot in whiskey, but there are plenty of other applications as well. Take this series of Mono Blends from Boon. Each is primarily composed of lambic from a single foeder (blended with a very small amount of young lambic for bottle conditioning purposes), and this is the third one that I've had. Unfortunately, I've had them over the course of 2-3 years, so this isn't exactly a side-by-side comparison, but I feel like all three have been somewhat distinct.

Vat 77 was very earthy with a big kick of minerality. Vat 79 was noticeably more fruity and tart, though it still retained that mineral character that I seem to get out of all of Boon's lambic. Now we've got Vat 109, a 9000 liter cask built over a hundred years ago (approx 1910 timeframe) and originally made to be used in beer production. That being said, it was used to age Cognac starting in 1935 up until Boon got their hands on it in 2009. This particular batch was brewed in 2014 and released in 2016, only showing up on my local shelves recently (at least, that I saw). With acknowledgement to the infamously unreliable nature of memory, I'd put this somewhere on the continuum between Vat 77's earthy minerality and Vat 79's more fruity character, though all have what I'm coming to recognize as Boon's trademark character.

Boon Vat 109 Mono Blend

Boon Oude Geuze A L'Ancienne Vat 109 Mono Blend - Pours a hazy golden color with a couple fingers of fluffy, fizzy head that manages to stick around for a bit. Smells great, lots of earthiness, that trademark Boon minerality, and something brighter, fruitier in the background. Taste hits that mineral character pretty hard, lots of earthy funk, with a touch of sourness and fruit only really emerging in the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, lowish acidity. Overall, this is another solid offering from the Mono Blend line, maybe not quite as great as 79, but still damn good. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.25% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a geuze tumbler on 11/4/17. Best Before 04/19/2025. Batch #: 71312.

I have some extra bottles of Vat 79 and now 109, so maybe one day I'll be able to do a better, side by side comparison (perhaps we can wait until we get some additional batches out there), which would be entirely more reliable than drinking these suckers months/years apart and trying to discern the differences that way.

Boon Vat 79 Mono Blend

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Another entry in Boon's Mono Blend series, kinda like a singe barrel offering, only it's got a touch of young lambic blended in for bottle conditioning. Still, it's an interesting series of beers. Vat 77 consisted of 2 year old lambic and was very earthy and minerally, but here we have Vat 79. It's the oldest foeder at the brewery, dating back to 1883. In addition, according to the brewery:

So old that we do not know. The oak comes from oak trees that are almost 250 years old, which means your lambic is matured with trees planted between 1670 and 1680.
Sploosh. Rumor has it that Vat 79 is mostly used as a component for the Mariage Parfait blends (which are mostly 3 year old lambic).

An anecdote from an old brewery webpage: An American lady that tasted lambic from the No. 79 cask said it was "Boon to be Wild". Well that sounds good to me, let's dive in:

Boon Vat 79 Mono Blend

Boon Oude Geuze A L'Ancienne Vat 79 Mono Blend - Pours a slightly hazy golden color with a finger of white head that has good retention. Smells nice and earthy, funk, that trademark Boon minerality, something a little fruity lurking in the background. Taste hits with sweet, fruity notes up front, followed by funky earth and minerality, finishing with oak and tart fruit. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, highly carbonated, moderately dry, medium acidity, a nice oaky character to the mouthfeel too. Overall, this is one damn fine geuze, better than Vat 77 for sure, and stacks up favorably against the competition. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.8% (back label) or 9% (front label) ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked). Drank out of a geuze tumbler on 4/29/16. Batch #62203. Best Before 12/17/2034. Brewed on the 19th and 20th of 2011. Bottled 17th Dec 2014. Released April 2016.

There have been two other Mono Blends released, Vat 44 and Vat 109, but I have yet to see those around just yet. I will most certainly be keeping my eyes peeled for those...

Zwanze Day 2016

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Zwanze is a French word that roughly translates as "Humor typical of Brussels" and each year, Brussels-based Cantillon releases a beer of that name in a special worldwide event. As you might expect from the name, the beers tend to incorporate experimental ingredients or unconventional takes on their classical lambic style. In 2016, only 50 or so different bars throughout the world could hold a Zwanze Day celebration and as luck would have it, one was Monk's Cafe in Philly.

Monks Cafe Neon Sign
(Click to Embiggen)

Of course, the occasion also marks an excuse to tap lots of other rare and interesting beers, including four other Cantillon lambics. Monk's also held a truly astouding raffle and sells a limited amount of Cantillon bottles to-go. It's an all cash event and proceeds go to a good cause, this year being Fair Food. I wasn't sure if I'd be up to making the trek into the city and braving the crowds, but during dinner on the preceding night I cracked open a fortune cookie and saw this:

Fortune Cookies Never Lie

So I strapped my big boy pants on (ugh, I had to wear pants too, it was the worst), hopped on a train, and got in line a couple hours early. And if you think that's crazy, some people had been waiting in line since 8 pm the previous night (around the time I was elbow deep into some Chinese food).

The Loon
(Click to Embiggen)

It was a bit of a madhouse and crowds aren't really my thing, but I managed to stay sane with the help of some Cantillon Mamouche (a lambic made with elderflowers that originated as Zwanze 2009, but they liked it so much they kept making it), fresh Kriek (which is a super jammy cherry bomb and very different with some age on it - either way, it's awesome), Gueuze (always a delight), and what I believe was Iris Grand Cru (which is Iris sans the dry-hopping and unblended to keep carbonation minimal - interesting to try, but I'm not overly fond of still beer.)

Two for one - Cantillon Gueuze and Kriek
(Click to Embiggen)

The event started at noon, but they weren't tapping Zwanze until 3 pm, so I also got to dip into some other interesting beers, including a pair beers cellared since 2010. Russian River Supplication is one of my favorite beers and with 6 years on it, it still holds up pretty well. A little oxidation and perhaps a bit mellower than fresh, it also had a beautiful vinous fruit character that worked great. Lost Abbey Red Poppy from 2010 has also held up very well, retaining a surprising amount of cherry character.

Eventually, the crowd had swelled to bursting levels and Zwanze was poured. This year's edition is a throwback to Cantillon's old-school Framboise (i.e. pre-Rosé De Gambrinus, which is made with 100% Rasberries). As Jean van Roy explains: "When we used raspberries from Belgium, the taste was nice, but the color was not so beautiful. It was a bit old rose. To get a bit more color to the beer, we blended the raspberry beer with 25 percent of cherry Lambic and a bit of vanilla." For Zwanze, Jean switched things up a bit, producing a blend of 82% raspberry lambic with 18% blueberry lambic and .05% vanilla added.

Cantillon Zwanze 2016
(Click to Embiggen)

And it's delicious. Best nose of anything I had all day, complex fruit, hints of funk and oak. Taste follows the nose and the mouthfeel was a bit undercarbed (but nowhere near still, like the Iris was). It was great and with a little age and some extra carbonation, I feel like it could get even better (I don't think they sold any bottles to go anywhere, even at the brewery, but I would hope they kept some in reserve - would love to try some in a year's time to see how it held up). I wish I got a bigger pour, but I'm glad so many other people were able to get a taste.

All in all, a very exciting event. I'm really glad I went but truth be told, big crowds aren't really my thing so I'm not sure if I'd go again. I'm reliably informed that some other venues weren't nearly as crowded, so perhaps that's the ticket. Only time will tell! Until then, I'm sure I can occupy myself with lots of other great beer, perhaps with Monk's Cafe's help!

Oude Geuze Boon Black Label

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So it's called "Black Label" despite the fact that the label is clear? Well, ok then, fine, be that way. What we have here is an oude geuze blended to commemorate the brewery's 40th anniversary. It's indirectly the result of a collaboration with Mikkeller, but since the barrels that Mikkeller blended were not empty, Boon decided to put out their own version. The resulting beers should be similar, but since the blends use differing proportions, the results are slightly still distinct. Mikkeller's goal was to blend a lambic that was as dry as possible, almost 100% attenuation. However, the Black Label contains less older lambic (it's still got 1, 2, and 3 year old lambic in there though, so no worries) and is thus more full-bodied and slightly less dry.

Oude Geuze Boon Black Label

Oude Geuze Boon Black Label - Damn that cork pops with authority. Watch where you aim that sucker. Pours a hazy golden orange color with visible carbonation bubbles and tons upon tons of bubbly white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice and funky, some light stone fruit and lemon zest but also some spice and earthy notes, typical Boon house style stuff. Taste hits those fruity notes harder than expected, tart lemons, finishes dry, less of the earthy funk, but it's still there. Mouthfeel is bone dry and effervescent, light bodied, moderate acidity, this is where things diverge from your typical Boon offerings, in a good way I think... Overall, this is quite nice, like a drier version of Boon's other offerings and better for it. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute on 5/29/16. Bottled on: 26/03/2015. Best by: 26/03/2035.

I hesitate to say that this is something that you'll see on shelves since this sold pretty quickly around here. Not, like, people lining up for it, but I got the last bottle a couple days after it went on shelves. I'm sure it's around elsewhere and I'd like to see how it ages, so I'm going to try and track down another bottle or two. Boon continues to be a nice solid option when in need for a lambic fix. Not as good as the big two (3F and Cantillon), but generally available... and sometimes you can find specialty variants like this one, which is nice. Stay tuned, we've got another Belgian wild ale review coming later this week!

Boon Vat 77 Mono Blend

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If not for the 10% young lambic blended into this beer (which provides enough lively yeast and fermentables to allow for carbonation in the bottle), it would be something akin to Single Barrel Lambic, an intriguing concept. The other 90% is sourced from a single oak foudre, numbered (you guessed it) 77. This particular cask was originally made in 1907, and while it's survived two world wars and undoubtedly seen other uses during its long history, it's been used by Boon to age three year old lambic for use in their gueuze blends since 1986. Apparently Frank Boon has a particular love for the beer that comes out of this cask, and so when they started this mono-blend series, it was only a matter of time before it was selected for a release. These fine folks even managed to snag a picture of the foudre:

The actual Vat 77
(Click to embiggen)

Of course, these foudres are gigantic (averaging 8,000 liters each), so don't expect to see anything like the Single Barrel Bourbon or Scotch world, where local stores pick a barrel and bottle it, but wouldn't that be neat if beer could pull off something like that? You know someone would take a flier on a Password is Taco barrel or snag a single barrel BCBS, or fly to Belgium and snag a Cantillon barrel. I doubt most breweries would be all that keen on the prospect, but who knows? Maybe one of these big barrel programs will differentiate themselves with this sort of thing (and, you know, do a better job than Retribution). In the meantime we'll have to make due with approximations like this Mono Blend, which was actually a really interesting beer and something I'd like to compare against future releases... Let's take a look at how it's drinking now:

Boon A L ancienne Vat 77 Mono Blend

Boon Oude Gueuze A L'ancienne Vat 77 Mono Blend - Pours an almost clear golden color with a finger of fluffy head that lasts for a bit, but not indefinitely. Smells quite funky, lots of earthiness, lots of farmhouse, maybe even some funky cheese character. Taste also goes quite earthy, and frankly doesn't feel all that sour at all, lots of leathery farmhouse character, not as cheesy as the nose would have you believe I guess, but still quite different than I'm used to for a Gueuze. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, only a very slight hint of acidity, much more funky than sour. Overall, this is an interesting beer! I don't quite know what to make of it, actually, as it's really quite nice, but also not your typical Gueuze... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tumbler on 11/7/15. Brewed 10/26/11 and 10/27/11. Bottled 10/24/13. Best before 10/24/2033.

Next up in the Mono Blend series is Vat 79, which is apparently the oldest cask they have, dating back to 1883. Would love to compare these two next to each other someday. In the meantime, Boon is one of the few Lambic producers who you can actually find, so go out there and snag some of those Marriage Parfaits, they're pretty good too.

Jean van Roy at Monk's Cafe

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In what appeared to be a last minute decision, Cantillon brewer Jean van Roy stopped in at Philly institution Monk's Cafe, and with his arrival came a goodly amount of his prized lambic. In a fortuitous turn, Monk's owner, Tom Peters, also dipped into his cellar for a couple of really special beers. Jean Hummler of Brussels' famous Moeder lambic bars was also visiting and helping decant bottles with the staff. Because of the hasty announcement, the crowds were not completely insane (though the place was still pretty stuffed) and most of us got a taste of even the rarest stuff that was pouring. Everything except the Kriek was being decanted from bottles in 4-6 ounce pours, and as per usual, the staff was professional and courteous.

Naturally, I got some stuff I'd had before, like the Classic Gueuze (excellent as always), Vigneronne (even better than I remembered!), Iris (not as spectacular as the last one I had), and Kriek (on tap, and much more jammy and fruity than I remember from the bottle). New to me was the Cantillon Mamouche, a lambic with elderflowers added (it was originally Zwanze 2009, but they liked it so much they made it a recurring specialty), it was naturally quite nice. I liked it better than most of the above, though I didn't take detailed notes.

Jean van Roy and moi
(Click to embiggen)

Jean was hanging out with the crowd, answering questions, posing for photographs, and being generally personable. I don't normally go in for this sort of thing, but I grabbed a picture with the guy too. He was a good sport. I didn't get a chance to talk with him that much, but I was listening in to a few conversations. Stuff I remember had to do with his use of an abnormally long brewday (starting at 7 or 8 in the morning, ending at 5-6) and that he has a lot of respect for what some of the American breweries are doing. He spoke a lot about Allagash and their coolship program, saying that their first batch was ok, but that each successive batch was getting better and better because spontaneous fermentation relies a lot more on the environment than just regular innoculation. He also mentioned Jester King and Hill Farmstead as brewers who knew their stuff, as if we didn't already know. I was going to ask him about how the Cantillon expansion is going, but didn't get a chance because he was called over to the bar to open those special bottles.

2000 Cantillon Fou Foune
2000 vintage Fou Foune

First up was Fou Foune, a pretty special beer in any scenario, but then add in the fact that these bottles were from the year 2000 and jaws were dropping all over the room (even Tom Peters didn't realize how old they were until he opened the bottle and saw the date on the cork). Pours of this were slightly smaller since there were only 5 bottles available, but a pretty large proportion of folks got a glass (and those that didn't generally got to take a sip of someone else, as everyone was being generous). It was supremely funky, wonderful nose, lots of earth and almost cheese rind character, a little fruit. Taste wasn't quite as funky, but had a very Gueuze-like feel to it, but with hints of oak and tart fruit (not identifiable as peach, for sure). Nothing at all like the nimble, light, and airy fresh Fou Foune, but pretty spectacular in its own right. It's nice to take down a teenager, and it feels well worth the experiment of aging a lambic for absurd amounts of time like this.

Cantillon LH12
Cantillon LH12

Finally, another true rarity, Cantillon LH12, an unblended lambic aged in a Cognac barrel. Yes, singular, they only made one barrel of this stuff, meaning that there were fewer than 400 bottles in existence back in 2010 when they bottled this. Who knows how many are left right now?! As an unblended lambic, this pours almost still. Given my extreme sensitivity to carbonation issues, I was a little worried, but it turned out to be pretty fantastic. As van Roy noted when he introduced it, "This beer is very, very fine, you have to compare it more to a wine than a beer." And he's dead on, this felt very vinous, a little funk and oak, but that vinous fruit carries the day. Supposedly Cantillon 50°N-4°E incorporates something similar (cognac barrel aged lambic) into its blend, though that's another rarity I've never glimpsed.

This was a pretty fabulous night of drinking and proves that you would do well to monitor Monk's Cafe's events page (actually, Framboise For a Cure is coming up in a week or so, I may need to head back there!) Tick another two off the infamous White Whale list. A few more and I'll be completely insufferable.

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Gueuze category.

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