F u n k y F o u n t a i n s
Driving southwest out of Brussels and into the Pajottenland, a thick cloud of morning haze blanketed the greening landscape in a brilliant orange mirage. The road ascended up a rare Belgian hill; approaching the apex, streaks of bright, yellow light broke above the horizon and drew speedy, straight lines through the hanging dampness. Just before the peak, sunlight shattered through the windshield and collided with my sunglasses: the big, orange ball showed herself and welcomed us to the day.
Our destination, 3 Fonteinen’s Lambik-O-Droom, awaited in Lot. 3 Fonteinen, a celebrated lambic brewery, sits in the heart of the Pajottenland, a stone’s throw from the Wallonian border; the Lambic-O-Droom (which after some linguistic research means Lambic of Dreams…I think…) houses their barrels of lambic, tasting room, and shop. We arrived to the sleepy town for opening at eleven sharp. Inside the Lambic-O-Droom we walked down a long window-lined corridor. To the left, sunlight fell upon the circular, wooden table tops resting on old barrels; to the right, embrasures revealed rows of stacked wooden barrels containing aged lambic. Wild, yeasty esters fluttered above invisibly, periodically wafting fruity and funky aromas into our noses. The bar stood at the end, paneled in wood, supporting the hefty weight of a lambic beer menu. We asked the bartender for some advice, eliciting an unfortunate response: “Uh, I’m actually pretty new here and not too sure what to tell you.” In retrospect, it was before lunch on Saturday morning. We perused the menu listing their best bottles and pondered our selection.
3 Fonteinen (pronounced Dree Fohn-TAY-nen…possibly) started operations back in the 1950s. The name references a natural spring in a valley below Beersel; long ago, local residents would dam up the flow and flood their village square on summer weekends. The impromptu reservoir served as a swimming hole and the ideal backdrop for community picnics featuring warm bread, plattekeis (fresh white cheese), radishes, and Geuze. Since this idyllic past, Geuze and traditional lambic beer has wavered in popularity and until recently seemed dead. 3 Fonteinen’s own history followed this sinusoidal path with changing tastes and a terrible fire in one of their warehouses, carving troughs in their business’s path. But now, beer enthusiasts around the world desperately pursue affordable bottles of 3 Fonteinen.
Considering our decision concerned beer not blood transfusions, we chose an Oude Kriek from 2011. A bartender opened the dusty bottle with a pop, set it in a whicker basket, poured around the interior of the glass to cover the surface in a layer of Kriek, and finished by pouring down the center releasing aroma and carbonation. We carried glasses and basket out to the patio where a group of middle aged men shared weekend morning conversation over several bottles of Geuze. The Oude Kriek shone ruby red in the glass with a persistent bead bubbling from the glass’s bottom. A thin foam accumulated at the surface. Everything about this beer was bold and intense after bottle conditioning for seven years. The nose emanated tart cherries with notes of straw and barnyard. I smelled manure, but looking up I could see and hear cows across the street and a pile of manure nearby. The palate unfolded in many layers: mouth-puckering cherry with creamy raspberry and strawberry notes; oaky, leather notes with some hay; and a metallic cleanness to round things out. The finish, clean-mineral with subtle hints of cherry, exhibited a spicy sensation: the feeling and flavor coated my mouth and cleared my eyes as a beautiful Spring day unfolded.
We finished the day in Mons. Walking a town rich in martial history, (it was the location of the first and last battle of World War One) the peacefulness of the clear, quiet weekday juxtaposed the past. We wandered through the Collegiale Sainte-Waudru, a Gothic Cathedral, and followed the cobbles to the L’Excelsior on the Grand Place. Examining the menu, I crossed a Blonde from Brasserie des Legendes named Quintine. From the hazy, copper-blonde a bouquet rose malty and lemon. The palate started tangy orange balanced by a strong malt background, finishing clean and dry. I sunk in the seat as alcohol coated my perspective in glaze: the day continued moving around us while we sipped and basked in the sun.