Date: Mon, 3 Oct 94 16:26:21 PDT
Frank Boon runs a lambic brewery in the traditional brewing town of Lembeek,south of Brussels. This brewery has been hailed asthe new wave of lambic brewers. In many ways he is on the cutting edge, with exporting beer as far away as California. In other ways, his brewing vision is a return to the past. Frank has been exposed to the brewing arts since his childhood. Ginder Brewery of the village of Mirchtim was run by the Boon family. They made a selection of ales, lagers, and table beers. These beers were distributed to the village and the surrounding area only. It was closed in the 1970's when his cousin closed the doors for good. By this time Belgians were drinking 90% lager beers. This was not the end of the beer for the Boones. He began to distribute craft beers within Belgium, supplying a good deal of the beers in Brugge and throughout Flanders. Competition grew , as the craft beer trade began to burgeon, the decision to become a lambic blender was made. In 1989, he moved from blending and doing the fermentation to having a complete brewery. By this time lager beer drinking in belgium is down to 70% of the market share. The Boon brewery is leading the charge, but using very traditional beer to do so. This classic brewery, in its historic setting, and the philosophy of the brewer himself are what make this product special.
The history of the barrels used for making lambic beers tell much about the times. During WWI, one half of the barrels in Brussels were taken by the germans for use in making sauerkraut and other foods. However, after world war two, many 7000 liter casks were returned as war reparations to belgium. There are a great number of these huge casks in Frank Boon's cellars. They are not often used by lambic brewers because they would hold an entire brew, and blending would be difficult.
Historically, Lembeek was an enclave between Hainaut and Brabant, which are now provinces. The geography of the area is dominated by the river Senne. Lembeek was a walled enclave set on a peninsula formed by the bending river, creating a strategic position. The last war for Lembeek ended in the treaty of 1121, after about 65 years of fighting. This treaty made the enclave independent, and it was said it relied only on "God and the Sun" This enclave did not have to pay taxes to its larger neighbors, but was able to levy its own. Being situated on the major trade route from Paris to Brussels, the economic situation there was quite favorable. During the 1800's there were 43 breweries in Lembeek, and the "lambic" beers produced were the most popular in Belgium. This historic note explains the popularity of lambic beers in both Paris and Brussels today. While this has been reported before, it bears repeating. The effect of the french on this area cannot be forgotten.
At the time of the french revolution, this town was known for it's distilling. The french word for still is "alembic". The local products were considered competition for the french brandy industry, and the brewers/distillers were put out of business by the rulers in France. Despite this official ban, the locals still managed to get through the locked doors and operate their equipment occasionally. With the loss of the special tax status, there was little reason for brewers to stay in Lembeek, so most that remained moved to the south of Brussels, where they had been doing blending and distribution for some time.
Before the advent of Lambic beers, there were other styles of beer that were popular. Two were "waegebaert" and "cuyte". The little information available indicate that these were darker beers, with a very limited shelf life. The term "faro" originates with these older beers, which were also sweetened before drinking.
The raw ingredient for the grist at Boon are 42% raw wheat and 58% malted barley, with a color of 4.0 to 4.5 ebc. The preferred barley varieties are Triumph, with Alexis and pils malts being less desirable. The malster contracted for the grain is Mouterij Dingermans Stabroek. The malt is custom made to order, with 30% overage typical in the order, so that there is never a shortage. The surplus is typically sold off.The hops used are Poperingen, Brewers Gold, and Northern Brewer. The hops are annualized, or stored to reduce bittering. 400 grams per liter of hops are used, with historic values being closer to 600 g/l.
The most traditional method of brewing is used at Boon, the turbid mashing system. This system is much less well known in the US than either the infusion or decoction systems. It has been developed to deal with the high raw wheat content and provide the proper wort for spontaneous fermentation to proceed with high levels of unfermentables and free amino acids. The disadvantages of the system are the lengthy brewing time and the specialized equipment. The brewing day at Boon is very long, starting at 7:00 a.m. The grist in ground by a single mill, with the wheat is ground to a fine powder. The grist is gravity fed into the mashtun, which has cast-iron false bottoms. Strike water is added at 32oC before adding the grist. The complicated gear driven mash rakes insure that there is good mash-in. Milky wort, from the top of the mash, is drawn off via a side arm arrangement on the mashtun. This wort is pumped up to a copper where it is boiled for five minutes to deactivate the enzymes. The kettle then receives boiling water from another copper, which is fed in via a "scottish cross", which directs the hot liquor throughout the mash. After stepping the mash up to 78oC, by adding boiling water, and filling up the mashtun, wort is drawn off through the false bottom. At this point, the starch test still shows positive, indicating starches in the runoff. The wort is pumped up into an empty copper, where the hot liquor was taken from. Then the turbid wort, at near boiling temperature is returned to the mashtun. 120 minutes elapse for conversion, and then wort is again drained through the false bottom. Some of the key effects of this system of mashing are: the ability to break down large amounts of albumen and other long chain proteins into smaller usable free amino acids, the selective destruction of alpha-amylase, by extraction in the turbid wort and denaturization in the copper with boiling, and the resulting production of wort with a large fraction of longer chain sugars and starches. The lambic beer brewed is at 12.7 plato.
The boil lasts for 4.5 to 5 hours. The brewery only uses anuated hops, which have lost there flavor attriburtes. After the boil, the wort in pumped into the roof for separation from the hops, cooling, and spontaneous inoculation, by wild yeasts from the atmosphere.
The inoculation occurs in the cooling tanks above the brewery. The wort is allowed to come down to 18-20oC. The goal at this early stage is to get a rapid start to fermentation, like in all brewing. Rapid in this case refers to less than three days. Once fermenting the wort is pumped into casks, where is will stay. The casks provide a semi-aerobic environment, where both aerobe and anaerobes can coexist. Any cask which is too permeable to air will allow to many aerobes, causing excess acetic acid build up.
Brewing only takes place from after the first hard frost until spring. When the daily temperature is above 8-10oC, brewing is stopped. This usually means from October through April. In this time, 50 brews are put up, of around 7000 liters each, this gives a yearly production of 350,000 liters per year. There are typically about 300,000 liters in wood at any one time in the warehouse.
Gueuze was traditionally made by a method similar to the german kreusening method, with only five percent young beer being added with a small amount of yeast and sugars. Today, the typical gueuze blend has only 50% aged beer, with the remainder being young lambic. The base beer was traditionally aged 18-24 months, but this too is changing to accommodate higher production levels. Frank still bottles using the old 95% method, and uses a dosage with a yeast concentration of 2000000 cells/ml to start the refermetation.
The mix of production a Boon is as Follows: Kriek 80%, Faro 2%, Framboise 2%, and Gueuze 16%. Traditionally all of these beers were unfiltered. Today, many of these beers are filtered. The exceptions at Boon are the Marage Parfait, which is the deluxe bottlings of kriek and gueuze. The extra handling required for a sedimented product is a drawback for mass marketing.
Kriek is a very popular drink today, with boon kriek showing up in at least 7 countries. Historically, Kriek was a sweetish, seasonal drink favored by the ladies. The cherries typically ripen the third week of July, and the kriek started showing up in brasseries three weeks later. The Boon example forgoes the sweetness, but doesn't finding lacking cherry flavor. The reason is lots of cherries, about 35 metric tones per year, of which 25% are used when fresh. The cherries are left on the beer for six weeks at Boon. The smallish tart Sharbeek cherries, called krieken, that grow in flanders. This product has become so popular that it nor accounts for 80% of the Boon production.
There are a number of factors at work in the lambic production and their level of acceptance by the public. Historically, tastes have changed, and the market has responded as best it could. It was common early in the century in belgium to have cafes which did their own blending of beers. The typical blended beer was faro, which was mixed every day, from cask lambic and candy sugar. This beer was traditionally taken from the second quality beer from the lambic brewers. At one time 90% of the lambic brewers production was distributed locally for blending. First quality beers are dry, sherry-like, and of a modest sourness. These were reseved for Gueuze. Bottling of Lambic increased after WWII, as consumers viewed them as being more fashionable. This forces many more second quality beers to be blended into bottled gueuze. These relatively sour, or hard Gueuzes are today considered very traditional. But there is an older tradition, which is of less sour Gueuze, which is the pre- war tradition, when only the finest barrels were bottled. It can be argued that these factors have played an important role in the resurgence in popularity of Lambics. Beer tastes were moving away from the sour beers that were becoming typical of the bottled lambics. Now, with less sour, but very traditional lambics available again, there is something of a return to to favor in the beer lovers.
Last Updated: 16 August, 1995
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