Raf Van Pottelbergh - landscape

Ambassador of GOESTING

Raf Van Pottelbergh - portret
Raf Van Pottelbergh
Brouwerij 3 fonteinen

Raf Van Pottelbergh

“The first time you taste geuze, you have to forget everything you thought you knew about beer.” So says Raf Van Pottelbergh, ambassador of the famed 3 Fonteinen lambic brewery and geuze blendery in Beersel. “Geuze is the missing link between natural wine and beer. Like other beers, it is brewed from grain, but it subsequently matures and ferments in oak barrels like wine and continues to develop in the bottle. Geuze that’s spent some time in the cellar becomes less harsh and more rounded, like fine wine.”

Geuze requires plenty of patience

Geuze is a spontaneously fermented beer with a long history in the Zenne valley area outside Brussels. Making geuze requires perseverance and patience, as time is the main ingredient. The first step is to brew lambic beer from barley and wheat. The resulting brew is cooled in a “coolship”, a big flat pan left exposed to the open air so that wild yeasts can inoculate the wort. Once it has cooled, the lambic is transferred to wooden barrels to ferment and age. During this stage, micro-organisms from the air and the wooden vessel get to work and the beer develops its distinctive dry flavour. To turn lambic into geuze, young and old lambic beers from different barrels are blended together. Every geuze blender uses their own signature mix. The blend is bottled and then given at least half a year to ferment a second time in the bottle. The sugars in the young lambic add carbonation and the older beer provides complexity.


Traditional grains

“What is unique about our lambic is that for several years now, the cereals we use to make it are all grown within 20 km of our brewery. Lucas, our biological engineer, visited seed banks across the world in a quest for the old Flemish cereal varieties that used to grow here, but were lost after the Second World War. We managed to convince a dozen local farmers to start cultivating these original varieties again. As the traditional varieties have lower yields, we pay them two and a half times as much as is usual for organic grain. That way it is also worth the farmers’ while and our lambic becomes even more of an authentic ‘terroir’ beer.”

Fine dining with local beer

Back in the day, geuze was traditionally served in pubs, generally accompanied by a cheese sandwich. Nowadays, it can be found on menus at fine dining establishments around the world. How did our local beer make such a name for itself? “By the 1990s, geuze had almost disappeared; only old folks ever drank it. Then it was discovered by foreign beer aficionados. Other countries’ appreciation led us to gradually realise what a treasure we had here. Nowadays, Belgians take justifiable pride in our geuze.”

Interestingly flavoured lambic

"The longer you work with geuze, the more you understand that you will never be fully in control. The taste is up to nature. All we can do is create the best possible conditions and wait for the magic to happen."

When you discover 3 Fonteinen’s adventurous selection of fruit lambics, it’s clear they aren’t afraid to try something new. Traditionally, lambic is made by soaking Schaarbeek cherries in beer. The brewery’s blenders have now done the same with other Belgian heritage varieties of plum and peach, quince, rhubarb and grape. Another way to add more complexity to a lambic is to age it in barrels that used to contain other beverages. The brewery likes to seek out producers of top-class sherry, vin jaune, cognac, calvados and whisky and bring the barrels back to Belgium. The aromas imbued in the wood give the spontaneously fermented beer a subtle extra dimension. “These hybrid bottles are proof of our willingness to try new things.”

“Working with a natural product is humbling,” Raf concludes.“The longer you work with geuze, the more you understand that you will never be fully in control. The taste is up to nature. All we can do is create the best possible conditions and wait for the magic to happen.”

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