Senne Valley, Belgium
Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen is a producer of traditional lambic beers, unique to the Belgium Senne Valley region. They started at the end of the 19th century as a lambic blender (i.e. buying freshly brewed lambic wort from other brewers and blending these) and became a lambic brewery in 1998, when interest was at a low. Once a group of approximately 300 blenderies and breweries combined, there are nowadays only a dozen producers left, of which 3 Fonteinen can be considered one of the most stubborn and traditional one’s, if not the most. Besides a brewery, 3 Fonteinen is still the only lambic producer that is also a blender; They still buy wort from other lambic brewers Boon, Lindemans, De Troch for exampel. They are Humble but proud to say that they are rated amongst the top-10 best breweries in the world, according to the Untappd databases.
The beer style
Producing traditional lambic takes time and patience; it takes several years before its ready for the market and they actually sell a bottle. Its just like our wines! Unique are the grains (40% wheat, 60% barley) and hop, the long boiling time (4-5 hours) and the open and spontaneous fermentation. Airborne wild yeasts inoculate the freshly brewed wort overnight in an open container, a coolship. No yeasts or anything else is added and the beer is not filtered nor pasteurized. It can only be brewed during the cold nights (October – May) as they would otherwise affect the beer. In the morning the beer is being put into barrels, where it stays for at least a year up to 4 years for refermentation.
Afterwards different lambics are being blended pure or with fruit. After bottling, the beers stays another 6 months in a warm room for refermentation in the bottle. On average 3 Fonteinen beers have an age of 2,5 years before it is being released. It is a 100% natural and spontaneous process with a minimum of human interference.
This makes that every beer and blend is unique as so many factors determine the taste, aroma, ABV-level… thus they cannot make a standard lambic beer that is always the same. And they do not seek that neither. As it is a natural product with active yeasts and residual sugars you can easily store away for decades and you will see that the beer ages gracefully and with a continuous development of all these factors. A bottle of lambic beers needs to be dealt with with care.
3 fonteinen beers
In general 3 Fonteinen have two main types of beers; gueuzes and fruit lambic. A gueuze is a blend of typically lambics of 1, 2, 3 and 4 years old lambic. This does not mean they just blend three barrels (one of each age), but who do the blending part select 5 to 10 barrels which can have had 5 to 12 brews in them. The complicated art of blending makes that they cannot make a standard beer and that every batch and even bottle is unique.
To make a fruit lambic they macerate fruit on young lambic in either a stainless steel blending tank or a wooden barrel. At 3 Fonteinen the fruit maceration ratio is very high, 50% whole handpicked fruit and 50% lambic. They do a long maceration time (5 to 6 months). This makes very intense fruit lambics.