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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Boon Geuze

As it turned out, I did end up blowing off the Spring Beer Fest (I may have a guest correspondent with some reax, though). Instead, I pulled a bottle of Bone Geuze out of the fridge and had it instead. Originally intended as a yeast-culturing project, I got busy, six months went by, and I finally decided to bag the culture and drink the beer. I don't report back all the non-Oregon beers I try, but some, like this one, are worth a mention.

Gueuze (Bone's spelling is idiosyncratic) is generally a blend of young and old lambic. It goes through a secondary fermentation in the bottle and, unlike some lambics, is extremely lively. This is perhaps the origin of the name, for "geyser," or maybe not. (Pronunciations vary, depending on who's speaking, but the Flemish is gerz or gerz-ah. Oh, and incidentally, Boon is pronounced "bone.") As with other lambics, gueuze is made with a partly-wheat malt bill, is originally spontaneously fermented, is mostly absent hop flavor, and is characterized by a flavor spectrum ranging from sour and tart to dry and sherrylike. Since they are spontaneously fermented, these characteristics are uncontrollable and variable not only brewery to brewery but year to year.

Frank Boon
As proof that the microbrewing phenomenon was international, in Belgium a wave swept the country that was roughly contemporaneous with the US's. Frank Boon founded his traditional brewery in Lembeek on the River Zenne in 1982--in the town lambics were originally born.

Tasting Notes
There are two versions of Geuze: one featuring his best lambics ("Mariage Parfait," 8%) and the standard version, which is milder (6.5%) but still one of the most complex lambic-family beers I've ever tasted. It is corked, and true to the "geyser" of possibly apocryphal fame, the cork rockets off in the manner of champagne. The beer doesn't bubble out of the bottle, but it does have an almost violent bead that roils off the bottom of the glass, feeding a fluffy white cloud of sustained head.

The aroma was dominated by grapefruit and sourness at first pour. When it opened up with warmth, I found elements of coriander, lavender, and a wheat-breadiness. The palate was remarkable: aggressively sour and acidic on the first taste, so that I expected it to overwhelm any other note. But like a grapefruit, it gave fairly quickly away to bitterness. As it continues to evolve on the tongue, there's a soft, bready middle, and a long, dry, sherry-like finish. There's also a salty quality, sort of like bicarbonate, that combines with the wheat to taste a little like Irish soda bread. In passing, I also discovered some pepper and that lavender note from the nose.

It is a little beyond rating in its singularity, but I would strongly recommend it for anyone who likes the sour ales of Belgium.


  1. In Bruges, I heard it pronounced by native Flemish speakers (and repeated a few times after I asked for clarification) two ways:

    "Goo-sza" (at t'Brugs Beertje) and
    "Hoo-sza" (B&B owner)

    Anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but different from what you've got down.

  2. I listened to the pronunciations you linked to, and those sound a little French-y - might be pronounced differently in a more French-speaking area near Brussels, for example. Of course, that's also the area from where the style originates ...

  3. Well, since I didn't just return from Belgium, I'll leave this to your world-traveling wisdom.

  4. Frank Boon blends his Geuze with at least a young Lambic and a Three year old Lambic, sometimes the ages can differ. Since normal hop character is not the standard within the Lambic or Geuze style, the hops put into Lambics are STALE, some even rancid smelling and tasting. While they don't add a typical Hop aroma or taste they do add some of the complex flavors that people note while drinking this style of beer.

    Within the tasting notes of Lambics and Geuze, one would usually note the Woody, Cheesy or barnyard flavors and aromas. All brought into the beer by the wild yeast fermentation.

    While Cantillion is know for it's "BRETT" Horse blanket smell, taste and sourness, Boon's beers have the BRETT tastes restrained, while other wild yeasts are more prominent...

    According to the tour I made of Boon's Brewery about six years ago, the "Mariage Parfait" is not usually a blend of new and old lambics, but more of fortified 3 year old lambic.

    Lambics and Geuze goes very well with the local Belgian Cheeses and the ever present cheesy spreads on rustic bread that you'll find in Belgium. These beers make lovely cheese and beer tasting sessions...

    In regard to the pronunciation of the word "Geuze," it depends on which part of Belgium you are in... as Dave said. Belgium flanks 3 countries which all influence the Belgian language or add to the language. French Belgians, German Belgians and the actual Flemish pronunciation are all a little different.

    How ever you want to pronounce the beer, they can be a wonderful experience for the mouth and soul...

  5. As a Dutch (Flemish) speaker, I can confirm that the gerz or gerz-ah pronunciation is perfectly correct. The voice on the sound recording has an authentic accent, problably from Antwerp or from the wider Antwerp region. (Sometimes hearing one word pronounced is enough to pinpoint an accent.)

    Boon's spelling "Geuze", however, is not really idiosyncratic. It's the Dutch spelling of the word, while "Gueuze" is the French spelling, which admittedly you'll see more often on bottle labels.

  6. Now that I've listened to a few other sound files on the same website, I say he's not just probably but most definitely from Antwerp. :-)

  7. Just one more comment. The region just outside Brussels where the style originates, known as Payottenland, is actually Dutch-speaking.

  8. With regards to the Flemish accent in the g sound people from west Flanders might pronounce the g in gueZe or goudenband as an h. People in Antwerp saw this as funny maybe kind of the way people in ny hear someone from north Carolina. Just a slight variation in accent. I found this very interesting having made a recent trip to most of the provinces.

  9. Probably most of the pronunciation options are correct as there are many Flemish dialects depending on what city you're from. The info on the Mariage is a good way to sum it up. It's pretty much straight 3 year lambic with a bit of young lambic added in so spark secondary fermentation. I visited Boon last fall. The write up is on my blog. I had a great time.