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Moeder Lambic

Posted in Beer on 2014-05-06 15:26

Moeder Lambic Fontainas, Brussels

I haven't really explored the Brussels beer scene much, and had never been to Moeder Lambic, so I had very little idea of what to expect. At first glance it seems rather ordinary. Some cafe tables outside, kind of sterile inside. Huge number of taps, a little over 40. Obviously well-chosen selection, with a strong emphasis on Belgium, but also some foreigners. (This is part 1 of the Scandinavian beer bloggers' tour.)

A little later, Jean Hummler, one of the owners, showed up to tell us about the bar. To me, this was really interesting, because we got to see the place from the owner's point of view, and appreciate the thinking that had gone into creating it. And that was actually quite a lot of thinking.

For one thing, they're really picky about what beers they serve. It has to be quality stuff, and Jean's definition of quality is a little stricter than most. For example, he doesn't approve of the collaboration brews so popular among craft brewers today. Usually, he says, they just improvise a recipe, throwing it together on the spur of the moment. "That's not brewing a beer," he says, pulling a face. In his opinion, many iterations are necessary to get something of the right quality.

Jean in full flow

Later we discuss Timmerman's, one of the more commercial lambic brewers. They have a new brewmaster, and we want to know Jean's opinion. Well, he says, Timmerman's new traditional-style lambics are good, but "I cannot work with that brewer. If 1% of their output is good, that's not enough." Like I said, he's kind of strict.

His goal is to serve the beer as the brewer intended it to taste. The entire bar had in fact been designed around this goal, as we saw when we were invited down into the cellar. There was the coolroom, where the kegs for the bar were kept. This was positioned to minimize the distance from the keg to the tap, thus reducing the amount of CO2 pressure necessary.

At this point Jean launched into a minor talk on his various options, including nitrogen, and what would happen if pressure were too high at the low temperatures he keeps his beer at (it would dissolve into the beer). Jean thinks too much carbonation is bad for drinkability, it fills up the stomach. Hence the bar layout we see today.

Jean was asked what he thought of the new bar about that just opened in Copenhagen with 61 taps: Taphouse. Could that many taps in a single bar really work? Well, Jean, said, everything would depend on their system. If the system were well constructed and thought out, there would be no reason why it couldn't work. And in his opinion Denmark has enough experience with craft beer by now that bar owners there should be able to manage.

The bar

The beer temperature is another key variable. Jean uses two different temperatures in his fridges for different beer styles. The keg room is kept at between 4 and 6 degrees Celsius. Since Belgian customers is used to having their beer served at 2 degrees (ridiculously cold, if you ask me), this actually caused people to complain, but Jeans says customers are used to it by now.

Jean talks a little about foreign brewers, the difficulties with getting beers from the good ones, then veers into an anecdote. He managed to beg a keg of Russian River Supplication. Russian River has always been one of the brewers very highly rated on Ratebeer, possibly because of their rarity. Jean's single keg, sold at a fairly average price, was drunk by local customers in a single day. None of these had any idea what it was, they just loved the beer. So maybe it's not only the rarity.

Coming back up from the cellar we're served a light lunch of cheese, cured meats, and bread. It's absolutely outstanding. Delicious! Jean draws our attention to the mustard, which is made by the small producer Tierenteyn in Ghent. They've been making it for two centuries, and Jean claims it's the best in Europe. The Guardian appears to agree.

And on that suitably Belgian note we pack up and head for the minibus, because our tour is only just beginning.

Cheese platter and beer







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