Last month, I wrote this post about some knowledge of Lambic I’ve picked up over the past 2 years. There are Lambic lovers all over the world that know more than me and I certainly respect their knowledge. Some are total assholes about how much they know and given that Lambic is a poor-man’s beer in the Belgian country-side and mostly consumed by old people, the arrogance of Lambic experts is pretty annoying.
I try to share as much Lambic as I can with strangers and friends. I happen to be lucky enough to go to Belgium enough that I get my bottles considerably cheap considering what people state-side are paying / trading for. No need to be a jerk about things.
Anyway, over the past few years I’ve had the luck of being able to drink a lot of 3 Fonteinen Gueuze. Most people who drink a lot of Lambic/Faro know that 3F has the absolute best Gueuze and Cantillon has the best Fruit Lambic. These two facts are echoed by people I speak with around the world. There are great Lambic beers coming from others but these two are the kings as far as I’m concerned with Hanssens in 2nd place for their Fruit Lambic and Tilquin in 2nd place for their Gueuze.
I’ve been thinking about the past, present and future of the Three Fountains Gueuzerie in Beersel a lot more than is healthy and frankly, I’m a 3F fanboy. I’ve never had a lambic from them that I didn’t like (except for those 375ML ’06 Doesjel bottles while the 750s were freaking amazing).
The 3F Terroir / Classic Taste. I’ve had 3F Gueuze from 1995 up to 2014 with a few bottles opened right at the brewery, very fresh and just recently bottled. The standard taste you get from 3F Gueuze is easily described as:
3. Basement Musk/Must/Dust
4. Additional Citrus brightness (fades with time)
5. Funky rope, leather
6. A touch of blue cheese
These notes I pretty much pick up in every bottle I’ve had from them.
Where do the 3F Blend’s rank for me? First it’s important to note, I’ve had their Gueuze at the brewery, at trusted cafes and cellars around Belgium and I’ve traded for bottles where a person in the nordic / Benelux area bought the bottle fresh on a shelf and cellared it since purchase. I don’t trade for 2nd or 3rd hand bottles. Some people just don’t cellar properly.
Top 3F Gueuze Blends:
1. Golden Blend (mostly because the lemon & oak are so highly present and the effervescent carbonation is A+++++)
2. Armand & Tomme (So juicy and lemon forward with a funk that is consistent but not overwhelming and so very little must but that may change over time)
4. Oude Gueuze Armand 4 (Lente) This beer to me resembled Armand & Tomme but with slightly less citrus / lemon sour. Incredibly balanced
3. Fresh Oude Gueuze @ 3F….I can’t honestly say much other than this was spectacular.
5. Doesjel 2006 (750ML), The bottle I had initially was flat and meh but certainly had appealing flavors. The 2006 I opened this summer was marginally carbed, had a great cork pop and was no longer lazy and it was spectacular. I immediately traded for 2 more bottles.
6. Oude Gueuze Vintage – I’ve been lucky to have traded for 2002 – 2008 of this and keep a few cases as stock. I open one on special occasions and while I haven’t had the 2002 yet, all others were phenomenal with the 2003 and 2006 being my favorites so far. While the bottling dates may have been different even in each vintage, those were some special years. I’m interested to see how the 2008 progresses.
6. The rest of the Armand’4 seasons. These are all tied in my book. I’ve had each of these beers only twice where the others I’ve had MANY times so I’d say all of the seasons are great and some are aging better than others. (Note: Lambic is similar to Champagne. There are sweet spots in the age and you can only read trade-forums to really know where a Gueuze is in the maturation process. Fresh is great then there’s sometimes a 3 year peak then a rest period and a 10 year peak, etc). I’m holding on to 2 box sets of Armand seasons for this reason. I think these will be great in 5-6 years.
7. J&J Blauw – The bottle I had of this I traded for last year. A guy in Denmark who bought the bottle first hand and sat on it. We did a larger trade, I then put the Blauw in my basement for many months and then enjoyed myself at just below cellar temp. I loved the beer a lot but as you can see, I’d drink regular fresh Oude Gueuze any day of the week. It was overly oaky, very funky, way too much mold and grossness. I’d love to trade for another bottle but that would be difficult now.
8. 1998 50th Anniversary Gueuze – I recently had this and really loved it. I’d say it’s a bit past its prime with very similar flavors of Blauw. If I had any left, I’d drink it sooner rather than later. Super funky, lots of leather, rope, brett and basement mold.
….J&J Roze I haven’t had yet but will soon. I heard this scores under Blauw so I have low expectations.
Having had jonge lambiek,oude lambiek, oude geuze and VERY oude geuze from Armand, I’d say the sweet spot is 5 years in the bottle. Some might disagree with me. There is a VERY noticeable fall-off point at 10 years and recent 3F Oude Gueuze bottlings have a 10 year best-by date and I fully agree with this. Lots of Gueuze will last decades but I think 3F’s blends should be consumed mid-way through to the best buy date to around 7 years after bottling. After that, it’s a big gambit.
Versus Cantillon, which I think their Gueuze should not be consumed fresh. It needs a lot of time (3 years minimum before it starts to shine) and that goes for Lou Pepe as well. I do not like Cantillon Gueuze young and have been at 3 blind tastings now and every time Cantillon scores in the bottom 20% for my taste buds. Armand’s blends general score 1st followed by Tilquin, Marriage Parfait and Girardin Black Label.
I would say almost every single Armand blend fresh has been fantastic. Very rarely do they get HUGELY better over time. Mostly, they just evolve into something different but still very good. Very few become GREAT with age but some do. Lambic is still the safest bet for best results of cellaring for a very long time but furthermore, best results for cellaring in non-ideal conditions. Temperature swings from 45-70 on a yearly basis are actually okay for Lambic as it wakes up and puts to sleep various bacteria in the bottle. I allow and welcome some cellar temp swings for that reason.
For the future of the 3 fountains brewery in Beersel, I am hopeful. Michael is brewing with Armand and is now a partner for Armand and his wife at the brewery. He has just bottled his first blend of beer (w/ Armand’s overseeing of course) and soon that beer will arrive stateside. They are also back to brewing and fermenting their own Lambic again after the 2008 accident that caused so much of Armand’s Lambic to be lost. While I’m not a fan of their Kriek, Schaerbeek Kriek from 3F on the other hand is a different story. Not as great as Lou Pepe Kriek but still fantastic and worth lining up for (if Belgians lined up for beer that is).
I continue to order a quarterly box of 750ML 3F Oude Gueuze from Belgium and arrange trades for older things in Belgium. Easily my favorite producer of blended Lambic.