Friday, February 8, 2013

Boon Brewery (Lembeek, Belgium)

W on cask for this past year's brew

My guide Annie picked me up for the Boon Brewery tour at Cafe de Kring.  She is a professional local tour guide who has really done her research.  Like Oud Beersel, I ended up being the only person on the tour in August.  I didn't pay anything, so the tour must be covered by Boon.  Because it looked like rain when we returned and she declined a beer at the time, I tipped Annie the equivalent, which seemed appreciated.

Annie was bursting with Boon knowledge, occasionally consulting her notes on details.  The information on the casks was a highlight, including the lettering systema letter per year since the brewery opened.  Also, each big cask costs 20,000 Euro, but a portion were donated as war reparations from Germany.  Entertaining me with stories for two hours, the tour was full of local color.

Tour guide Annie by the bottling line
One of my favorites was about the founder and the other about my guide.  First, Frank Boon learned his trade by working at a local brewery across town.  With this knowledge, he started Boon in 1975, reviving a Lembeek brewing tradition.  In spite of being a rags to riches cynic,  I found the tale of Frank Boon inspirational, especially his respect for learning the authentic trade and his hard work growing his lambic brewery into the recognized name that it is today.

Coolship--where the magic happens!
Second, Annie told me of when she would walk with her grandfather as a preschooler: he would stop for a gueuze and she would drink faro.  A different time that's hard to imagine today.  She remembers being introduced to Coca-Cola by a yellow truck at her elementary school that would let them drink as much as they wanted for a day in May.  From these and other stories on this trip, lambic seems to be the Belgian counterpart of Saison, a refreshment for the working class whether young or old.

New production facility being built
Instead of the normal sampling at the end of the tour, we drank from a couple of flasks that I think Annie brought from home and filled on site.  I started with refreshing straight lambic that was two years old.  Then, we sampled an unsweetened Kriek that bursted with cherry flavor.  Both pours were still and at room temperature, and it was a real treat to drink full-flavored authentic lambic without pomp while chatting inside a world class brewery.  Annie told me how area farmers used to put a container of lambic in the ground while working and come back to drink it at cellar temperature as a break.  Being a former Iowa farm boy and a beer lover, this in-the-black-dirt tradition made me feel connected and proud of my blue collar roots.

As a famous large production brewery, I went to Lembeek without starry eyed expectations because I didn't want to be disappointed.  However, Boon is one of my most worthwhile and easy expeditions from Brussels.  Only available to individuals not on a group tour on Wednesday afternoons in July and August, take an early train to partake of Cafe de Kring offerings and then enjoy the tour. 

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