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Luscious Lambics from Brussels

The Belgian people take beer seriously. Really seriously. Which is, of course, a wonderful thing. If you go into a bar there will not only be a significant number of excellent beers on offer, each beer will have its own glass.

Some bars even offer a full beer menu – it’s something that is both joyful and a little bit daunting to peruse from a choice of some 200 beers – each with their own glass. A honey beer had bees adorning its glass, a Christmas beer, little Christmas trees. How the bar managed to store all the glasses was a mystery.

3 Fonteinen are a brewery based near Brussels and they are passionate about beer in a country that is passionate about beer. They produce lambic beer which ferments thanks to being exposed to wild yeasts in the local area rather than having brewers’ yeasts carefully added to control the fermentation process. Once fermentation begins, the beer-to-be is decanted into wine or sherry barrels which add another complexity of flavour to the beer. Lambics are characterised by their wonderfully sour flavours.

3 Fonteinen call themselves Zotte Kadeen – Crazy Kids – an apt moniker because, boy, do they love to experiment with their beers. They produce lambics and gueuzes – blended lambics which are bottled for a second fermentation.

Zenne y Frontera are barrel-aged in sherry barrels – oloroso and ximinez. They have a predominantly lively and zingy sour flavour and yet are fruity with a touch of tartness and sometimes with bitter flavours on the finish. 3 Fonteinen produce different variations and blends. They are utterly systematic in their approach – the blends are coded by lot and variation, the size of the barrel is specified as is the length of time the beer matures inside. They even measure the intensity of fruit to the gram. Which is kind of ironic because lambics are the least scientific of beers – their very nature means that the fermentation process occurs at the whims of the wild yeasts in the air and even the weather. But it is this combination of controlled and uncontrolled elements that makes the beer so very interesting. And ensures that no beer is ever the same.

Speling van het – meaning Twist of Fate – as each bottle says, “is a series of small batch experimental brews, barrel maturations, fruit macerations and/or blends”. Having an opportunity to taste a variety of these amazingly rare beers was too good to refuse.

Speling van het Lot V.ii – Ferme Framboos blended & alive.

Organic raspberries and honey give a fragrant scent. This is sharp sour beer but the sharpness is definitely tempered by the honey.

Speling van het Lot VII.ix – Zotte Kadeeën – Framboos & Braam – blended & alive.

Raspberry and blackberry – yeasty, lively and very, very fruity.

Speling van het Lot VII.x – Zotte Kadeeën – Pruim – blended & alive. This was a plum maceration: light and frothy and eminently quaffable. Just right for a summer’s day.

Speling van het Lot VII.xi – Zotte Kadeeën II – Cassis – blended & alive.

Based on a maceration of blackcurrants this beer was sour with a hint of Ribena (in a good way).

Speling van het Lot VII.xii – Zotte Kadeeën – Zoete kers – (not so) raw & uncut – this is a raw, straight out of the barrel. Cherry flavour adds a sweetness, even though the over-riding sour remains. This is strong beer, in the region of 8%.

Speling van het Lot VII.xiii – Zotte Kadeeën – Rabarber – blended & alive.

A lighter beer, rhubarb, which had an inexplicable hint of garlic (which wasn’t unpleasant). Rhubarb is a tart fruit and this was very much reflected in the sour nature of the beer.

Speling van het Lot VIII.ii – Schaarbeekse on a Toast (medium) – blended & alive. This is a rare beer that uses a particular type of sour Schaarbeekse cherry, noted on the bottle’s label to be amongst the noblest of cherries. It is macerated in burnt/charred barrels – hence the toast in the name. It’s a rich and complex flavour; sour, of course, but with a very slight hint of bitter from the barrel.

Speling van het Lot VIII.iii – Schaarbeekse (+ Framboos) on a Toast – blended & alive. This is cherry on toast again but this time with added raspberry. This is rich and complex flavour with an intense fruit taste.

Speling van het Lot IX.i – Aardbeiiteraties Bio Aardbei – raw & uncut:

Fermented in Bordeaux barrels this is a light strawberry lambic. Straw coloured.

Speling van het Lot IX.ii – Aardbeiiteraties Aardbei – raw & uncut is a sweet fruity strawberry lambic.

Speling van het Lot IX.iii – Aardbei & Kriek op hout – raw & uncut – offers strawberry and cherry which has a very different flavour profile to the others. Interestingly, the strawberry flavour comes through most at the end of the drink.

Because these are so rare, these beers aren’t cheap but a tasting session offered a fantastic opportunity to try them and to compare the subtleties between each batch. Yes, 3 Fonteinen are truly Zotte Kadeen and they really know their beer.