Very gently Armand Debelder reaches over and commands the bottle of kriek out of one of the Beer Idiots’ hands. He pours the blackish, red liquid into our glasses ahead of our interview. Patiently and without fuss Debelder gives us a master class in how to properly pour lambics and gueuzes.
The master is always ready to help educate others in enjoying a brew he has put his life into developing and promoting. Only once the beer is poured is Debelder, 67, ready to reflect on his legacy, his life and the young and passionate staff who are now running Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen.
Twists of fate
The occasion at 3 Fonteinen’s Lambik-O-droom in Lot, Belgium was the release of the brewery’s 11 Speling van het Lot “Twist of Fate” batch of experimental gueuzes, barrel maturations, fruit macerations and blends on 3-4 May. The Beer Idiots are drinking VIII.i: Schaarbeekse On A Toast (Medium) – Raw & Uncut, one of 170 bottles made using one kilo of Schaarbeekse cherries per liter of lambic.
This 8th version of the experiment features the maceration of Schaarbeekse cherries in a medium toasted French oak barrel. The traditional sour cherries were sourced in the gardens of and hand-picked by more than 50 families around Brussels, which represents a lot of effort.
Other lambic brewers are after the same cherries, which have all but disappeared from Schaerbeek, while researchers and brewers try to revive the Schaarbeekse species in the quantities they need for the traditional kriek taste.
After the maceration, the fruit lambic was bottled immediately without blending it with young lambic. The total fruit intensity is about 79%, or a whopping 794 grams of fruit per liter of bottled fruit lambic. Bring on the Schaarbeekse, I say.
A drive to perfection
Lambik-O-droom is part of Debelder and 3 Fonteinen’s drive to educate and promote. 3 Fonteinen’s brewery and the restaurant is down the road in nearby Beersel. Lambik-O-droom is where the resulting lambics are blended and aged in barrels. It also has a shop and bar, a kind of welcoming centre into the delights of the Pajottenland region of Belgium, where the wild yeasts in the air are used to inoculate the wort, the start of making a lambic.
Debelder says he has handed over operational control of the brewery but has retained signing rights to any big decisions. For now he plans to live by the Belgian coast with his fiancé, while keeping a close eye on maintaining the 3 Fonteinen traditions.
Part of 3 Fonteinen’s future lies in the field adjoining Lambik-O-droom. Previously we walked around to look at the Schaarbeekse cherry seedlings emerging from the ground and the 7 hives, newly installed near a plot of wild flowers. All this so 3 Fonteinen can in the future produce its own Schaarbeekse cherries, honey and other ingredients to add to the concoctions being developed by the brewers.
People have come from all over the world to sample the small lots of gueuzes released over the weekend at the bar. There are no take-aways of the experiments. These beers are opened and consumed on the spot.
Debelder was taught by his father, Gaston who bought a property in the church square in Beersel in 1961 and named it Brasserie 3 Fonteinen. At the time Gaston blended lambics made by other brewers to referment into gueuze at the property, which later became the restaurant.
Armand and his brother Guido later took over the business. Armand was a chef at the restaurant until he decided to become a brewer and a blender in 1997 to revive the art of lambic brewing and drinking, which was at a low point during the 1980s and 1990s. 3 Fonteinen had officially become a brewer as well as a blender.
He also co-founded the High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beer (HORAL), formed to help usher in a new age for lambics and gueuzes. This year 3 Fonteinen dropped out of HORAL, an issue Debelder does not want to discuss, but later talks about the need to maintain tradition.
Disaster and success
On 15 May 2009, disaster struck when a thermometer failed at a warehouse where about 80,000 lambic and gueuze bottles were stored. The brewery recovered due to help and donations from other brewers in the area and the remaining stock was turned into an eau de vie. By 2011, 3 Fonteinen had recovered enough to survive and start blending gueuze again.
In 2010, Debelder hired Michael Blancquaert to learn the art of brewing and blending and later, hired Werner Van Obberghen to oversee operations, which included opening Lambic-O-Droom in 2016. The 5,500-square-meter facility is used to store all the barrels of maturing lambic.
Photos: Twist of Fate II – 3-4 May 2019