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Wild & Spontaneous Beer Tour
Featuring the 10th Anniversary of Toer de Geuze
April 22-27, 2016 
April 26-May 1, 2017
Six Days, Five Nights

Lambic, geuze, kriek, Faro, Flemish Reds and Browns. It’s a small, but enthusiastic segment of the beer-loving population who enjoys these special mysterious brews and this group is expanding more and more each day.  Some Americans call these "sour beers." If you are reading this, you likely already have these beers on your radar and have a basic understanding of them.  This tour will take you to the next level in the heart of the Payottenland, an area southwest of Brussels and in the Flemish Brabant Province of Belgium.

This tour will include the Toer de Geuze in odd years and the Zythos Beer Festival and the Rondje Rood Bruin (RRB), even years.  RRB is a special event that , organized in even years by the four brewers of the authentic West Flanders (Flemish) red-brown beer:  De BrabandereOmer Vander Ghinste,Rodenbach en Verhaeghe.

Learn more about Toer de Geuze by Chuck Cook and Belgian Beer Specialist. 

While all spontaneous beers are wild, not all wild beers are spontaneously fermented.

There’s a lot to know about how these beers are produced and the whole history of it and process is fascinating.  Gaining an understanding of behind-the-scenes of these special beers will make you appreciate them even more and cause you want to explore even deeper.

It’s a mature palate that enjoys these often tart beers, they are not initially for everyone.  But once your palate matures and you are able to appreciate the history, nuances and characteristics of these beers, a whole new beer world opens up to you.

This tour will visit lambic brewers and blenders.  In many instances, you will have a chance to meet the brewer and or blender and experience first hand their passion for this ancient craft.  You will have a look inside a world few beer enthusiasts will ever see.  It’s all very fascinating, enjoyable and inspiring.

We will also explore Flemish Red and Flemish Brown ales, which are in a wild beer league of their own and employ different techniques to achieve their enjoyable flavors, as opposed to lambics.

The exact places we will visit will vary depending on the schedules of the brewers and blenders, but rest assured you will be satisfied in in our sortes into this uniquely Belgian beer world.

We will also visit De Lambiek Lambic living history center and eat and drink at some of Belgium’s finest atmospheric beer cafes specializing in Lambics, geuze and Flemish ales.

All this combined with the bucolic landscape, palpable history and fine cuisine of Flanders makes for a memorable beer tour.  Join us, won’t you?

$1795 Wild & Spontaneous Beer Tour land only, $325 Single Supplement. Deadline to sign up is one month prior to the start of the tour.

Or consider combining the Great Zythos Beer Festival Tour and the Wild & Spontaneous Tour! Combo Tour $2495. 

To request a registration form to sign up for tours and more information, please contact beersanta63@gmail.com or call (231) 215-0173.

Included: Nice centrally-located hotel, ground transportation via luxury motor coach and rail, brewery visits, museum visits, all breakfasts, two lunches and three dinners, Deluxe BBM! luggage tags, a BBM! beer cooler (one per household), name badges and professional guide services.  Beer is included during group meals (aka company meals) and brewery tours, festivals(unless noted otherwise), but not informal pub crawls or café visits.  The tour does not include airfare or airport transfers.

                    Wild & Spontaneous Beer Tour '16 Itinerary

Day One, Fri., April 22 • Leuven: We begin our tour as we meet in Bruges at 11 a.m. in the lobby of our hotel, then board our coach to Breendonk for a grand tour of the Duvel Moortgat Brewery and the Duvel Depot hospitality room, where they feature most of the beers made by the company, including Duvel, Maredsous, Achouffe, Vedette, De Koninck and Liefmans.  Afterward we’ll have our welcome dinner at the nearby taproom of a famous regional brewery.  Then this evening you will attend the Night of the Great Thirst International Gueuze & Kriek Festival.    Afterward, we continue on to the historic university town of Leuven, where we will spend the first two nights of our tour.  You’ll have the late night free to explore the city.  Members of the Zythos Beer Tour of Belgium will join us today and the two tours will overlap for two nights.  (Breakfast & Dinner)  

Day Two, Sat., April 23 • Leuven: The morning is yours free to sleep in, hold up in a coffee shop and people watch, and further investigate this intriguing and picturesque city.  This afternoon, we depart to what this whole week has been building toward, the legendary Zythos Beer Festival, where you can drink all the beer you want and it’s included in the price of the tour.  This evening we dine together at one of my favorite cafes in Leuven, featuring a special regional cuisine a la biére three-course menu.  This dinner is also the Farewell Dinner for the Zythos Beer Festival Tour.  So, tonight we say goodbye to our new ZBF Tour friends.

(Breakfast, dinner)

Day Three, Sun., April 24 • Bruges: Get ready for a marathon day of beer hunting.  Today we shift gears, adjust our palates and attend the famous Rondje Rood Bruin, which is a special open-house event that is organized in even years by the four brewers of the authentic West Flanders (Flemish) red-brown beers: Omer Vander Ghinste (Formerly Bockor), The Brabandere (Formerly Bavik), Rodenbach and Verhaeghe, brewers of the famous Duchesse de Bourgogne.  Food will be available at some of these breweries and lunch is on your own.  Tonight we have dinner at one of the most famous lambic cafe/restaurants in the region.  It is known for having one of the best  kitchens in Belgium. With a great menu, extensive beer list and comfortable atmosphere, it is sure to please.  Afterward, we continue on to nearby Bruges,  which will be our home for the next three nights. We were originally going to base in Aalst, but a large conference during this time caused us to change plans, which turns out to be a bonus, because Bruges is beautiful, full of great beer cafes and you cannot spend too much time in Bruges.  (Breakfast & dinner)

Day Four, Mon., April 25• Bruges: Today we visit De Cam with blender Karel Goddeau and then have lunch at one of my favorite nearby beer cafes, featuring Karel's beers. The afternoon, we trek a short distance to the village of Beersel and Oude Beersel Geuzestekerij (geuze blender) for a tour and tasting.  Upon our return to Bruges the evening is free to discover its many beer cafes. Dinner is on your own. (Breakfast & lunch)

Day Five, Tues., April 26• Bruges: Morning is free to explore Bruges.  This afternoon, we have lunch at one of my favorite cafes in Bruges. Afterward, we visit the new Bourgogne de Flanders Brewery and tasting room. This brand has had roots in Bruges since 1825 and for years has been brewed in other locations. It's a delicious Flemish red ale made with mixed fermentation with lambic as its base. The lambic comes from Timmerman's, the oldest lambic brewery in the world. Anthony Martin Drinks Company has brought this beer back to Bruges. We are excited to be some of the first to see the results, now years in the making. The rest of the afternoon is free time. Dinner is on your own. This evening we'll gather for our Farewell Beer Session at hour hotel. (Breakfast & lunch)

Day Six, Wed., April 27: Breakfast at your leisure, concludes our grand tour and you say your goodbyes to your new beer friends and figure out how to carefully pack the dozens of bottles of fine Belgian beer you have somehow amassed.  A quick and direct train ( Approx. 1 1/2 hr.) is available to BRU airport and Brussels rail stations for those heading home and those continuing on your own in Europe. (Breakfast)

Wild & Spontaneous Beer Tour '17 Itinerary

Day One, Wed., April 26 • Aalst: We begin our tour as we meet this morning in Aalst in the lobby of our hotel.  From there, we visit  De Lambiek Lambic Visitors Center in Alesemberg. “The center immerses the visitor in the flavors, aromas, sounds and textures of Lambic beer. With its welcoming, spacious and stylish interior, the centre has a charm all of its own. Start your voyage of discovery here in the world of Lambic brewing, Gueuze blending and explore the wider region around.  Lambic is a beer that ferments spontaneously and matures in wooden casks. Optimum conditions for this spontaneous fermentation only occur in the Senne Valley and Pajottenland. Lambic beer provides the basis for the traditional Gueuze and Kriek beers.”  We’ll see a movie, view some exhibits then sample some lambics in their cafe.  From there we head to the historic village of Oudenaarde, for a tour and tasting at Liefmans Craft Blenders and to begin our study of “wild” beers.  In this case Flemish red/brown ales.  You’ll learn about how wild yeasts are used with mixed fermentation and blending to achieve the desired results of these eventful beers.  Liefmans is perhaps best known for their award-winning Goudenband and Oud Bruin.  It’s also known for having one of the best tours in Belgium.

After a leisurely tasting, we’ll head to our 6 p.m. welcome dinner at a traditional Flemish cafe. (Dinner)  

Day Two, Thur., April 27:  You’ll have free time this morning to explore the city and visit some shops.  This afternoon we visit La Brocante, which is old Brussels at its best and one of the most famous lambic cafes in the city. Afterward, we visit the hallowed halls of Cantillon Brewery for a tour and tasting of lambic, gueuze, faro and kriek.  This family owned brewery is steeped in tradition and nothing has changed since it was founded in 1900.  This evening we have dinner at one of my favorite cafes in Brussels. (Breakfast, dinner)

Day Three, Fri., April 28:  Today we visit  Oude Beersel Geuzestekerij (geuze blender) for a tour and tasting.   This is an excellent tour, with a museum of sorts and a fine tasting room and retail shop.  As a sideline, because they don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket, they also make what I consider to be one the best tripels in Belgium. Afterward we have a company lunch at a rustic cafe known for it’s beer list, menu and decor.   

After lunch, we tour  Brewery Glazen Toren with Co-Owner and Brewmaster Jef van den Steen.  This is not a lambic brewery, but with so many lambics it is good to add some variety to the tour and this one will impress!  Glazen Toren started a little more than 10 years ago and is famous for it Saison d’Erpe Mere in its paper wrapped bottle.  If you are not already a fan, you will be.

This evening, we attend the Boon Lambic Festival with food and live music.  (Breakfast)

Day Four, Sat., April 29:  Morning begins with a tour and tasting at De Cam with blender Karel Goddeau. Karel is also the brewer at Slaghmuylder.  Karel’s story is an interesting one, and his magnetic and charming personality makes a lasting impression.  Immediately after have lunch nearby cafe, a favorite of the local people, which also houses a fascinating museum of Flemish culture, which you will be able to explore.

After lunch, as a bonus addition to the schedule,  we head for an informal visit to the fairytale-like lambic cafe of the Insurance Against the Great Thirst (In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst).  This is possibly the best name you will ever hear for a beer cafe.  You’ll have about an hour here to indulge in their extensive list of lambics, some of which are many years old, covered with dust and handled and poured with great care.  Be sure to get a video of the bartenders uncorking these ancient beauties carefully placed in horizontal baskets and delicately pouring them properly into their glasses.  This is an art form to behold.  This is the most famous of Belgium’s lambic cafes with an equally famous story.  Usually open only on Sundays, they are opening especially for our group.  .

Day Five, Sun., April 30:  Get ready for a marathon day of beer hunting at the 11th Anniversary of Toer de Geuze (TDG).  Today is a big day and it will be akin to speed dating with quick approximately 1-hour visits to five lambic producers.

  • Mort Subite--This is a hard place in which to visit as they do not offer tours, so we are going to tick this one off right away.

  • Timmermans--These guys have been gaining their street cred back in recent years and have an extensive program.  They also have a nice, atmospheric, wood-panelled taproom.  Part of the festivities will be outside.  This is a big place!  Founded in 1702, it is the oldest of the lambic breweries.

  • Drie Fonteinen--Brewer and blender Armand deBelder has made a name for himself through the years as one of the lambic rock stars and today you will get meet the passionate man and to experience his works of art.

  • Hanssens--Another one that is practically impossible to visit, except for today.  Look forward to Lambic Cassis, Lambic Raspberry and Kriek Lambic Schaerbeek, made from rarer Schaerbeek cherries from this region.

  • Lindemans--Known for their widely distributed fruity and sweet lambics, they also have a couple rarer and well respected ones such as Oude Gueuze Cuvée René and Oude Kriek Cuvée René.  Lindemans also provided the base lambic for some other prestigious blenders.  Lindemans pulls out all the stops for TDG and this is a nice place to round out the day!

All the members of the HORAL contribute lambic to make a special Oude Gueuze call HORAL Megablend 2016.

After a full day at TDG getting our fill of tart and acidic brews, we’ll shift gears and retreat to the taproom for the Abbey of Affligem (Gasthof d’Oude Brouwerij) for a nice three-course farewell dinner and their namesake Abbey beers.  Affligem’s blond, dubbel and tripel are exquisite.  There are two abbeys here, the newer one and the ruins of the old one destroyed during the French revolution.  At dinner, you’ll get to recall the many great events of the week and formally say goodbye to your new friends, all with some of the finest abbey beers in the region.  After a satisfying dinner and beers,  it’s back to the hotel in Aalst.  Tonight you’ll have time to carefully bubble wrap all the magnificent beers you have acquired on the tour for journey to your beer cellar and then to be consumed leisurely with great pleasure! (Breakfast & Dinner)

Day Six, Mon., May 1: Breakfast at your leisure, concludes our grand tour and you say your goodbyes to your new beer friends and figure out how to carefully pack the dozens of bottles of fine Belgian beer you have somehow amassed.  A quick train ride (Less than 1 hr.) is available to BRU airport and Brussels rail stations for those heading home and those continuing on your own in Europe. (Breakfast)

* Itinerary subject to change.

A Beer Is Born

By Jacques De Keersmaecker

“So little is known about the origins of lambic that there are three different versions of how the word itself came to be. It might have come from any one of four Belgian villages: Lembeek, Borcht-Lombeek, Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Lombeek or Sint-Katelijne-Lombeek. Another possibility is the Spanish word lambicado, which means “carefully prepared.” The creation of lambic has also been attributed to Duke Jean IV of Brabant, who in 1428 supposedly tired of the same old brew and hit on the idea of macerating and boiling barley and hops in a still, then known as an alambic. The experiment was a success, and the resulting beer has ever since been known as lambic, according to this version.

Old, unblended lambic, close to what was consumed centuries ago, is now easily found only around Brussels and in the Payottenland. Tart and barely carbonated, it tastes more like fine sherry than beer. Much more common are gueuze (pronounced “gerz”), faro and the various lambics sweetened and flavored with fruit.

Gueuze, like champagne, is the product of a secondary fermentation process. It takes place when young and old lambic are mixed in a bottle. Gueuze was apparently first produced commercially early in the 1 9th century, to make a more bubbly, beerlike beverage suitable for export. Documents have been found attesting to the export, in 1844, of gueuze to Constantinople and to Rio de Janeiro.

Faro is a blend of lambic and mars, a weakly alcoholic and pale liquid obtained by rinsing the grist of a lambic brew. It is generally sweetened with brown crystallized cane sugar. The name comes from the soldiers of the 16th-century emperor Charles V, who called the product “gold liquor” or “barley liquor”–farro in Spanish. Fruit lambics include the traditional cherry (known as kriek, the Flemish word for “cherry”) and raspberry (or framboise, from the French). Other fruits have also been used, with varying degrees of success. They include peaches, grapes, black currants, plums and pineapples.

Essentially all beers–with the possible exception of lambic–are either ales or lagers. All share certain basic kinds of raw materials, such as malt and hops. Malt is barley grain that has been steeped in water, has germinated and has then been dried in a kiln. Malting produces in the grain the enzymes necessary to transform starch into sugar during brewing. The process can be varied to produce certain desired characteristics; lambic malt, for example, is pale and very rich in enzymes. Hops, which are derived from a spicelike plant, are available in dozens of varieties and several different forms. The most popular form for lambic brewing are the dried petals of the hop flowers, also known as cones.”

--JACQUES DE KEERSMAECKER is managing director of the Belle-Vue Brewery in Brussels, an affiliate of the Interbrew-Labatt group. A connoisseur and gustatory adventurer, he was born in a lambic brewery and studied at the Brussels Institute’s Meurice Brewing Engineers’ School. He was formerly director of the Lamot Brewery in Mechelen, Belgium.