Video: Gert Christiaens takes the Beer Idiots through the step-by-step process of the revival of modern-day Ood Beersel along with a tour through the warren of barrels at the brewery in Beersel, Belgium.
On a nondescript intersection in Beersel, some 12 km southwest of Brussels, Belgium sits a row of brick buildings that is the site of the revival of Ood Beersel, which Gert Christiaens has been been transforming since he acquired the lapsed brewery in 2005.
It has been a step-by-step procces of revival of a lambic and gueuze producer that had been operating since 1882 and closed down in 2002 after the fourth generation of the founding family, Vandervelden, could not find a successor to take it over.
The brewery was already outsoucing its bottling and most of its wort production to Boon, according to Lambic.info. Frank Boon was able to keep the Oud Beersel name alive during the interim shut down until Christiaens took it over.
Ood Beersel still makes its wort at Boon based on the original Vandervelden recipe. The wort arrives at Ood Beersel for fermentation and maturation, after which Christiaens blends the lambic from the different barrels together.
Before the original Ood Beersel closed it was producing about 250 hl a year. Today, Ood Beersel is producing about 2,500 hl a year. Apart from the traditional lambic blends he is also producing infused lambics, such as ones with various teas, and even rose petals, for local and Asian markets.
For Christiaens, who quit his job in telecommunications in 2007 to run the brewery full time, Ood Beersel is innovating based on traditional lambic production to keep the Belgian style alive.
The brewery’s tradition is captured in its slogan “Beer traditions reborn”.
Innovating and tradition
“I think that for traditional lambic breweries, and any traditional product, you need to use modern thinking as well to move your products to the future,” he said in an interview with the Beer Idiots. “Otherwise, at a certain moment in time, you will be outdated and nobody will consume these products any more.”
This was the situation facing many lambic producers back then. The market’s main drinkers were ageing and dying out. The current, younger fan base and obsession worldwide, was unheard of at the time until the modern day boom led by Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, Boon, Oud Beersel, and others.
So much so that Christiaens could not get a bank loan when he first started with the support of his family. He began by brewing a regular Belgian beer, a triple named Bersalis after the older name of the town and which remains popular. He also brews a Belgian-style pale ale called Bersalis Kadet.
The sales of the beer secured him the loans he needed to expand lambic production and he expanded his market with an eye on keeping the tradition alive for future generations.
He now has 3,000 hl in stock on the 3 floors of the brewery. In 2013 he acquired the building next door for the sales shop and administrative office.
He has also acquired the brewery’s old bar on the other side of the building, which had been sold in 2002 and became a flower shop.
It has been a labour of love uncovering the old front tiles and the flooring and restoring the bar to its former glory. He plans to launch the bar in 2021 “after Covid”, he says.
Meanwhile he has expanded the land behind the brewery where he plans to plant Schaerbeek cherry trees. He already has a test plot of about 300 trees growing near the brewery.
His goal has always been to “revive the traditional lambic beers and safeguard them for future generations”, he said.
As the current president of Horal, the non-profit association representing 10 gueuze producers in the Payottenland and the Senne valley, Christiaens is still working to secure that future, step-by-step.