Boon Vat 109 Oude Geuze Boon Mono Blend, Lembeek, Belgium
Date: November 23, 2018
The Story— When we first discovered the appeal of first class lambic beers in the mid 80s the name Frank Boon was on the lips of every connoisseur of the style, but this legendary blender had yet to produce his first beer. By the early 90s, he was producing some of the best lambic beer we have ever tasted.
A partnership with Palm gave him working capital and an ability to get his product to new markets and while he’s still a small brewer by modern standards, he’s producing over 10,000 barrels a year — far greater than, I suspect, he ever imagined. Palm’s share of the business is now in the hands of a holding company and Boon has escaped Palm’s takeover by Bavaria (now Swinkels), a Dutch brewery. Swinkels is trying to reinvent itself as a craft-holder. When we first encountered them it was at the height of the can collecting craze. They produced some of the most disappointing beers we’ve run into, but they did fill a shelf or two of our collection.
Boon, however, has soared from triumph to triumph, and this is one of his best. The “mono blend” means that 90% of the beer comes from the single foeder — Vat 109, but it’s blended with about 10% of young lambic to give it carbonation and just a distant hint of sweetness. Frank has done several of these sort-of-single-vat lambics, and I wish we had a reliable way of getting each one as they come out.
This one apparently kicked around someone’s shelves for a couple of years before we tried it, but whatever’s happened to it in the intervening time hasn’t done any harm for sure.
And a word of explanation about the description: we’ve talked about habituation before — especially in terms of Schlenkerla’s smoke. It refers to the brain’s tendency to downplay a distracting sensory input (think annoying ventilation fan) so it can better register everything else that’s going on. In Schlenkerla’s case, the smoke that could choke in the initial taste fades to a distant spice by the time you’re working your way through the second liter. Lambics, we contend, depend on the same kind of habituation to get past the fecal, urinal and barn flavors that smack your palate as you begin. We’ve found when we’ve had the motivation, money, and opportunity good lambics are just gentle enough to let you get to a point where more subtle flavors come into play.
The Beer—Gueze in your face starts with fecal, woody dryness and very ripe and dried fruit. As it drinks, the fruit grows and by the very end it’s much smoother with increasing roundness increases. I know there’s lots of habituation going on and I’m not even sure what flavors are diminishing, but it is getting smoother as I drink it. Ellie who has not had enough to habituate (and possibly never will) comments “Yuck, sorry.” going back over our lambic ratings in the last 20 years, she’s always been able to sort out the great from the awful, but she, I don’t think, has ever really liked the task of doing so.
Value — Very good. It comes in a relatively small bottle that makes it affordable for a trial. It’s a green bottle which is sort of OK since the only hops in a lambic are aged long enough to destroy their ability to bitter are therefore less subject to skunking. I’d still guess that this bottle’s been kept in the dark, though.
This week we feature a half dozen really good European beers that we found in the United States. We make pilgrimages to some of the best beer stores in Eastern America once or twice a year and we also just bump into incredibly good beer in places we don’t expect. Not all of these are on the shelves, but beers much like them are.
Next week we return to the US to highlight some great American craft beers, some of which we’ve found in researching out first US Beer publication: Brews and Snooze-– Breweries you can visit and walk back to a fine place to spend the night. Look for it in 2019.
About these posts: We taste and evaluate over a thousand beers every year. The beers posted here rank in the top quarter of those tastings. Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.