Beer from one of the most significant breweries in Belgium makes its West Virginia debut this Saturday at Huntington’s Rails & Ales Festival. For lovers of tart and sour beers, there are none better than those of Brouwerij Boon from Lembeek, Belgium.
Boon is a leading producer of traditional-style fruited lambics and gueuze beers, which U.S. importer Global Beer Network calls “the gold standard” by consistently scoring 90+ in the ratings.
Lambic and gueuze are highly carbonated, tart to sour beers that typically have an earthy quality treasured by beer connoisseurs. Read more here about these beer styles.
Lambic derives its character primarily from the wild yeasts that ferment it and from the beer’s aging in large wooden barrels or foeders. The Senne Valley of Belgium, near Brussels, has been the center of lambic production for many generations. Gueuze is a blend of aged lambics, which undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle, like Champagne, and are then bottle-aged for an additional period before release. Gueuze is often made by blenders, who do not produce their own lambic, but buy it from producers like Brouwerij Boon.
Meet beer legend Frank Boon
I recently met up with Larsen and brewery founder Frank Boon at the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference in Milwaukee. Boon provided some great background on his brewery.
He explained that, historically speaking, the gueuze and lambic styles of beer were brewed by scores of small breweries centered in the Senne Valley of Belgium. However, they began to disappear by the 1960s and early 1970s as the Belgian beer consumers’ preferences shifted to light lagers, similar to what occurred in the United States. In 1975, Frank Boon decided to change that trend.
“It wasn’t very normal 42 years ago when a lot of breweries just closed because small brewers didn’t believe in their product anymore,” Boon said.
He started out very small, but grew through the years until today he supplies 80% of the base beer to the lambic blenders in Belgium — blenders who have experienced a resurgence in interest in their beer.
“In Belgium, my customers expect me to make a fantastic bottle of Gueuze for them.,” Boon said.
Inside the Boon brewery today
Brouwerij Boon ages its lambics in 185 different foeders (large wooden vessels) of varying sizes. The size ranges from 32 gallons for the five smallest ones to the largest that hold 230 gallons. The diameter of the large vessels is about 14 feet. They are big enough to hold two cars. Many of Boon’s foeders came from other old lambic breweries that closed. Others came from wineries and breweries in France.
Not many people can claim to take their work home with them in the way Frank Boon does.
“We really live in the brewery,” he said. “I can go from my bedroom to my office and from there into the brewhouse,”
In recent years, they have made a lot of new investment in the brewery.
“The priority was always the production of the beer and the quality of the beer,” he said. “So we gave the priority to good machinery good equipment.
“We invested in a new barrel room and a new cellar for bottles that was put in service last November with a capacity of 1,200 pallets.”
This summer, that cellar holds 1.4 million bottles of beer. In the wintertime it will have 2 million bottles aging. That ties up a lot of money but Boon says luckily he has good banks to work with. It’s all in the life of a gueuze maker.
Brouwerij Boon – the next generation
At age 63, Frank Boon says he will go on for a few more years, but has a transition plan for the next generation of Brouwerij Boon.
Over the past five years, two of his sons have joined him to work in the brewery. Jos is responsible for production and Karal handles the marketing and financial management.
“My kids were born at the brewery. It was their playground,” he said. “These two together should ensure a good future and continuity at our brewery.”
Future plans include building a taproom or cafe at the brewery.
Boon’s beer line up
For the U.S. market, Global Beer Network imports several Boon Gueuze beers, including:
- Oude Gueuze,
- Gueuze Mariage Parfait,
- Oude Gueuze Boon Black Label, and
- Single-foeder Gueuze series.
In fruited Lambics you will find:
- Oude Kriek Boon (a cherry flavored lambic),
- Framboise Boon (a raspberry flavored lambic), and
- Kriek Marriage Parfait (made with 3-yr. old lambic and cherries).
Their Oude Gueuze, which makes up 80% of Boon’s Gueuze sales, is a blend of 60% one-year-old, 30% 2-year-old, and 10% 3-year-old lambics. In making a blend for bottling, they also mix lambics from different foeders of different sizes. Once put in bottles, the beer bottle conditions for 3 to 4 months more before it is sold.
Their Gueuze Black Label. contains older lambics with an average of age two years. It then ages an additional one year in the bottle. It contains only lambics that are 100% fermented, so it is very dry.
The third style of Gueuze produced they call Gueuze Mariage Parfait. For it, they blend exclusively 3-year-old lambics. Bottles are then aged at least six months.
Because they have some single foeders that they believe produce exceptional beer, they occasionally do special releases of some single-foeder lambics. In 2010, they began releasing single foeder beers in very limited quantities. And due to the strong demand, they have continued to release them every year or so since.
Try them at Rails & Ales
Festival beer chief Jeff McKay has done a near miraculous job to secure these beers for the festival in light of them just being made available by Global Beer Network.
In the Charleston and Huntington markets Boon products should also begin appearing at select craft beer bars and bottle shops. The beer is distributed by Atomic Distributing in Huntington, which we hear plans to get more aggressive with high-end imports. That is great for beer fans to hear. Retailers should contact Atomic and let them know you would like to place an order for Boon beer.