Vignette 30: Frank Boon

Frank Boon started learning the craft of lambic-making in the 1960s, and has become the leading maker of lambics in Belgium. I visited him at his brewery in Lembeek in 2011. See more vignettes in this series here.

“I had the ambition to make the finest gueuze. Forty years ago, this was a time when breweries were closing and all the local styles were disappearing. Everywhere in Belgium. Louvain white disappeared, Peeterman disappeared, [ascot beers?] disappeared in the 1950s and 1960s. If gueuze had disappeared in the 1960s, nobody would ever have imagined to make such a beer. It’s an absolutely crazy way to make beer.”

“I remember my uncles said that in the summer they could keep their beer for two weeks. Mid-sized breweries had beer that could keep one month or six weeks. In the 1960s, Stella Artois was the first to make beer that could keep for six months. Consumers were used to drinking from local brewers, used to drinking from the crate in five days. They switched to cheaper and technically better beer. In every village and small town, brewers said the only thing we can do is sell the brewery. There is no future for small breweries. Maybe they were right when it concerned just lager beer.”

Referring to the state of lambic-brewing in the 1960s. “It’s like the old professor said, ‘these old lambic brewers, they sell gueuze like they sell pigs: everybody wants the best meat, but you have to sell the whole pig.’  When customers complained that there was no head on the beer, they said it was proof that there was no additives in it. If it was cloudy, they said, 'see, it’s the proof that it’s unfiltered.' If it was foamy, they waited until the winter to sell the beer.”

“If your brewery is on the top of the hill, you will always have less wild yeast--temperatures in the night, difference of temperature in the night, and wind also. If you look at it from another side, the old English books will tell you if you’re going to build a new brewery, put it on the top of a hill and make the opening of your cellars from the north. To keep the wild bugs out. So if you put it close to the river and put the openings to the south … you will have much more wild yeasts. If you count wild yeasts in the air, you will find much more wild yeasts near a river than at the top of a hill; if you count bacteria, it’s about the same. And that is very interesting.”

VignetteJeff Alworth