Brouwerij Timmermans — The World’s Oldest Lambic Brewery
Lambic fans will want to know about one of Belgium’s oldest lambic breweries, Brouwerij Timmermans. The venerable brewery, located in Itterbeek, Flemish Brabant, is a living, working museum. It’s growing, too; the number of barrels and the amount of lambic production capability have increased greatly in the last five years.
“Since 2013, we have added 25 foeders,” said Anthony Martin, owner of the brewery. “Some of these wooden barrels are over 100 years old and used to hold port wine,” he added. Most of these foeders (huge wooden barrels, generally made of oak) are capable of holding 45 or more hectoliters of beer each. That’s over 38 U.S. barrels!
Martin remarked: “In 2010, we purchased new casks from AXA, a famous port house in Portugal. Most of these casks are of the 650-liter size, which are called pijpen [pipes] in Dutch. In fact, I am very happy that the lambics we use in our beers are generally 18 to 36 months old.” He added: “What we want here is tartness and balance in our beers but not too much acidity.”
There are about 350 of the 650-liter barrels at Timmermans now.
Timmermans has been working on an artisanal lambic project since 2007 and has invested considerable effort to increase production of artisanal beers such as Oude Gueuze and Oude Kriek. Timmermans hired lambic brewing legend Willem Van Herreweghen, who founded Oude Geuzestekerij De Cam in 1997, as a consultant in the summer of 2009. Van Herreweghen is also now a member of the board of directors of Timmermans and is their master brewer. It was Van Herreweghen of De Cam who collaborated with Armand Debelder of Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen to create the now-iconic Millennium Geuze in 1998.
I have visited Timmermans half a dozen times since 2008, and each visit was a memorable one. Van Herreweghen’s experience and expertise brought the brews to a new level, and the dedication of owner Martin and the Timmermans staff to the love of lambic is evident.
I have had the privilege of tasting lambics directly from barrels on every occasion. During a brew day in February 2017, enthusiastic Timmermans brewer Kloris Devillé, a very knowledgeable 27-year-old from a local brewing family, pulled lambic samples of different ages from seven different barrels for me to taste, including two kriekenlambics. It was a great day! Straight lambic is soft and dry, but not acidic, and has low carbonation. It is a great thirst-quenching beverage.
Timmermans is a very historic and beautiful brewery, filled with old breweriana.
Timmermans’s roots date back to 1702, when Jacobus Walravens established a farm a few miles outside Brussels, with a cafe, orchard and malting house. It was called Brasserie de la Taupe, which means “The Mole Brewery.” It is said that the brewing of geuze lambic began the same year. The brewery name was changed to Brouwerij Timmermans in the 1920s.
During one visit, Van Herreweghen and I went to the copper coolship, a wide, shallow vessel where the unfermented beer (wort) cools overnight. As the cooling process occurs, wild yeasts and bacteria that exist naturally in the air will fall into it and begin the fermentation process. “Right now, the wort tastes like tea. You can even see some of the Brettanomyces yeast falling in,” Van Herreweghen remarked. I tasted a glass of the wort, and it did taste a bit like tea. Actually, it was better. I’ll take wort over tea any day.
Van Herreweghen continued: “We have oak and chestnut barrels. Chestnut is neutral and imparts no taste to the lambic. Oak gives a vanillalike flavor usually described as ‘oaky’ and, of course, this is the most common type of wood used by lambic makers.”
Lovers of traditional lambic, also called lambiek, should note that Timmermans began offering straight lambiek and kriekenlambiek to the public in Belgium in bag-in-box form in 2014, something only a few other lambic producers do. Timmermans Oude Lambiek typically spends 12 to 18 months on barrel, and the Kriekenlambiek is composed of cherries matured with year-old lambic for an additional six to 12 months. The cherries are sourced from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland.
Timmermans Oude Gueuze is a blend of the best one-, two- and three-year-old lambics available. It is bottled in 375-milliliter and 750-milliliter sizes, corked and caged, with a dose of sugar to spark a refermentation. Oude Gueuze is tart, dry, funky and complex: a beverage to be contemplated as you savor it. Perhaps it is at the top of the lambic beer hierarchy.
Fans of Oude Kriek, however, might argue with that last statement. Timmermans Oude Kriek is a blend of old and young lambic, matured with cherries and refermented in the bottle. The fruit character is intense, with a dry tartness, restrained barnyard funk and deep complexity. The Oude Kriek and Oude Gueuze are available Stateside.
Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus is a pumpkin-based beer blended with lambic. I’ll freely admit that I am not a big fan of pumpkin beers in general, but this one is really good. It’s moderately tart without any overbearing spiciness. Lambicus Blanche is a sort of witbier mixed with lambic. As is the case with many Belgian white beers, spices such as coriander and dried orange zest are used in the recipe, which gives this brew a light, fruity flavor and a deliberately cloudy appearance.
Timmermans also has added a Faro and a Kriek Retro to its beer lineup. The Faro has candi sugar added for a mild sweetness. The Kriek Retro is tart and fruity, with a very mild sweetness.
Owner Martin summed it up: “The money I have invested in this brewery is all about the love of tradition. It’s very expensive to run, renovate and upgrade a lambic brewery.”
Brouwerij Timmermans is a very historic and beautiful brewery, filled with old breweriana. Colorful enamel advertising plates from lambic breweries decorate the walls of the brewery’s old museum, and there is brewing equipment from bygone days throughout the site, such as a Baudelot heat exchanger. Crates of old bottles are common, as are ancient bottle fillers. An old horse-drawn beer delivery wagon reminds visitors of the days before automobiles.
The brewery complex exists in several large rooms on multiple floors. It’s a fascinating place to visit. Perhaps most impressive is the circa 1911 malt crusher, which still works! I know, because they fired it up while I was there. The brewery still mills its own grain with this old workhorse.
You can have a drink after a tour in the atmospheric cafe and tasting room, and there’s a large festival hall where groups of up to 100 people can be accommodated. Timmermans offers group tours by appointment, and the hall can be rented for banquets, receptions, seminars and more. Individual walk-in visits are welcome on the second Sunday of each month from 2 to 5 p.m. The cost of the tour is 8.5 euros and includes a tasting of three beers.
For more information, see brtimmermans.be and anthonymartin.be/en/timmermans-brewery.