Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
The past few weeks have been great for Virginia Sour Ale fans: not only were Rodenbach and Rodenbach Grand Cru re-introduced to our state, but variants we’d never seen before became available to us as well.
Now this week the Lambic and Gueuze beers of Brouwerij Boon are finally back after an absence of many years. The last time Boon beers were available here regularly, “Geuze” was more likely to turn up in your daily crossword puzzle than on your local retailer’s shelf, so let’s get a little background so you know why nerds like me are so excited to get these beers again.
In 1680 (OK, deep background), a man named J.B. Claes bought a farm in the Belgian village of Lambeek, located on the banks of the Senne. Claes converted the farm into a distillery and brewery. In 1860 the brewery was sold to Louis Paul and renamed Brasserie de Saint Roche, which brewed Faro and Lambic beers exclusively until it bottled its first Gueuze in 1875. Pierre Troch bought Saint Roche in 1898, but it sold again after the economic crisis of 1927 to Joseph de Vits. Joseph’s son Rene became a well-known producer of Lambic and Gueuze beers, but with no one to pass the brewery on to, a new owner became inevitable. Enter Frank Boon.
Frank Boon (pronounced “Bone”) was a commercial blender of Gueuze with the highest respect for the tradition of spontaneously fermented brewing in Belgium. In 1978, Boon bought the brewery from Rene de Vits, rechristening it Brouwerij Boon. Boon has been a unique (he insists on labeling his beers as “Geuze” rather than “Gueuze”) and fierce advocate of Lambic/Gueuze beers, teaming with three other Lambic producers for a near decade-long struggle to earn them special consumer protection status. This resulted in the establishment of the GTS (“Guaranteed Traditional Specialty) certification, which not only establish production and composition standards for Lambic-style beers, but also created the requirement that beers label “Oude” (‘old-style’) Gueuze or Kriek be 100% spontaneously fermented.
By the time he moved Brouwerij Boon to a new facility in the center of Lambeek in 1986, Frank Boon’s beers had already gained worldwide attention. Legendary beer writer Michael Jackson was an outspoken fan of Boon; in the first episode of his “Beer Hunter” television series, Jackson sits down with Boon at a café in Lambeek to discuss Lambic, Gueuze, and the finer things in life. A 1999 Jackson article on Lambic-style beers held Boon up as an example of one of the most traditional producers, along with the highly sought-after Cantillon (more on them in the near future, hopefully).
Unlike other modern Sour Ale producers whose beers showcase a more intensely acidic style (which many of us enjoy, it should be said), Boon’s beers stand out for their dedication to a classically balanced feel. Next to many American takes on Sour Ale, Boon Oude Geuze can come across as almost sweet, with a focus on the fruity, floral, and funky aromas/flavors imparted by the brewery’s wild yeasts.
The Mariage Parfait (“perfect marriage”) beers are Boon’s highest expressions of Gueuze and Lambic; Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait is almost exclusively three-year old Lambic (five percent young Lambic is blended in to provide fermentable sugars and wild yeasts) with a concentrated fruit character and acidity that aims to match white wine at the dinner table. Boon Oude Kriek Mariage Parfait adds overripe cherries to 1-year old Lambic at 400 grams per liter, with extended aging in small oak barrels (smaller oak exerts a heavier influence on the final beer–as it does in wine–taking some of the tart and acidic ‘edge’ off the beer). Boon claims the aging potential for both Mariage Parfait beers is “at least” 20 years; I’ve not tried any that old myself, but I’d love to.
The final element of the Boon “magic” is simple: pricing. Of the Boon beers we’re receiving this week – -all of which are in 375mL bottles — the most expensive is $10.99 per bottle. That’s certainly not cheap, but in an era where so many Sour Ales command 50-100 percent more for the same size format, Boon is a downright bargain. Look for Boon at your neighborhood retailers and restaurants starting this week, and if you’re so inclined I’ll be sampling them tonight (Friday, Dec. 5) at Arrowine from 5:00-7:30 p.m. Until next time.
Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money-saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
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