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Boon Brewery: science and the art of lambic

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Situated next to La Senne or Zenne river where the wild yeasts roam, Boon Brewery has spearheaded the lambic/geuze revival that has made the beer style famous worldwide.

On the eve of the Toer de Geuze 2022 this weekend, the Beer Idiots are releasing their interview with Frank Boon, legendary lambic producer and historian, along with a walk through the brewery with his son Karel. The Beer Idiots will be part of the audience at the Lambic round table (which will be broadcast live online 29 April, 20-22h) at Boon Brewery in Lembeek.

Frank Boon founded the brewery when he took over one of the last remaining lambic producers, René De Vits, in 1975. He then moved to Lembeek in 1978, continuing to build the brewery up from spare parts Frank Boon had acquired from brewers that were or had closed down as lambic started disappearing.

In 2021 Boon formally handed over the reigns of what has become Belgium’s second largest lambic producer to his sons Jos and Karel.

When asked, Boon considers his main legacy as the survival of “mellow, soft lambics”. This is the reason Boon holds a 60% market share in Belgium of traditional geuze, he said.

Boon produces about 20,000 hl of lambic a year, rising from about 4,000 hl twelve years ago. It has been a decade of tremendous growth. Boon Brewery sits in the Zenne river valley, the birthplace of the spontaneously fermented brews that draw aficionados from around the world. Frank Boon, in the interview, talks about passing on his legacy to his sons and the revival of the style, which now sits on the solid foundations.

Karel Boon, in taking us through the brewery, also talks about the family’s investment in research and development and the two science labs on site.

“We are at the edge of what is known technically about lambic beer,” he said. “There is no other breweries at this point. There are not even other labs that we know of worldwide that are at this point in terms of knowledge about certain things about lambic beers.”

One is a raw material laboratory, the other one was a microbiology lab, which was off limits for filming, but we got a peak inside.

This is a modern lambic producer, with no cobwebs in sight, with the kind of scale up that allows them to do things smaller brewers cannot, Karel said.

They continue to innovate, seeing the need to build warehouses to have good temperate control for ageing bottles. When we visited in October 2020, they had just added a new vessel for fermenting cherries and were investing more in automation.

“If we can do this we can do a lot more with the leftover sugars after fermentation,” he said.

He built a second foeder warehouse in 2000 and a third in 2011. An automated brewhouse in 2013 allowed him to triple brewing capacity. Frank built a cooperage workshop in 2014 to maintain the foeders to the standards he needed. 

By then son Jos had joined the brewery. Karel joined in 2017 after studying applied economy sciences. They built a fourth foeder warehouse in 2017 to help store some of the 161 foeders they have for storing and maturing some 2.1 litres of lambic.

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