This post (which is a bit of a long one) about Gueuzerie Tilquin is based on what I've learned from a couple visits there as well as general visits in the lambic region of Belgium. Gueuzerie Tilquin is Belgium's newest lambic blender. The Gueuzerie is run by Pierre Tilquin, who trained at both Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen before opening up his own blendery and releasing his first products in 2011. Pierre is not as outspoken as other lambic producers, but he's serious about quality products and I've found him to be very welcoming and willing to share information with those passionate about lambic who make the effort to get there (and you should definitely make that effort and visit if/when you are in Belgium).
|In front of Gueuzerie Tilquin
|Boon Meerts (top) and Girardin lambic (lower 2 rows)
|Cantillon Lambic at Tilquin (L = lambic, P = 2012-2013 season, 24th brew)
So far much of the lambic microbe development research has been focused on following a batch or two as they age in one brewery. This has given a great profile of the evolution of lambic, but this work is limited in its coverage of lambics from different producers. Cantillon has been the center of some of the work (see Spitaels et al., 2014), and based on their very urban location and high tourist traffic, they may be different in terms of microbe presence and balance than other locations, most of which are more rural and see fewer visitors (or maybe Cantillon is not different in regard to microbes, which would be interesting as well). This is not to pass any quality judgement as I quite like Cantillon and am happy whenever I get a chance to stop in, but just that Cantillon's fermentation may or may not be representative of all lambic breweries. And so far the lambic of other breweries has been under-represented in lambic research.
|The Lindemans symbol on a barrel at Tilquin.
Tilquin is one of the few producers using a 'Meerts', or March lambic. This is a lower strength lambic that was traditionally brewed along with 'normal' lambic. A post on march lambic is in the works (-and it will be linked here when it is up-) so I don't want to spill all the beans about what this historically was. In the case of Tilquin the March lambic comes from Boon and it is used for the draft gueuze (which helps to differentiate it from the bottled version) as well as the faro. The March lambic finishes around the mid 3% abv range, so that would make the OG roughly 6-7° Plato or so, assuming a low FG.
Pierre likes to see a healthy start to fermentation rather that a prolonged (weeks to 1+ months) delay in active visible fermentation. He was previously seeing this sort of delay at times when he received deliveries in colder stretches. So he is now warming his cellar when he receives deliveries at times when it is especially cold to help encourage a good fermentation. In the warmer months Pierre is cooling the cellar to keep temps around or below 21° C (70° F).
In the blendery, each wort has its own character based mostly on the origin. In that way, for example, Girardin lambics of different ages are identifiably 'Girardin' and the same can be said for the other producers. Of course there will be some batch to batch differences and differences with ages, but the 'origin signature' remains a feature. This is found not only in the flavor of the lambics but also how they behave during fermentation. For example lambic from some producers starts sooner and/or ferments more vigorously (and may blow off more) while other producers may have a longer lag time and/or more sluggish fermentation.
The 'origin signature' of different lambics gives Tilquin and other blenders a pretty unique tool when it comes to producing a house character in their gueuze - they can establish a house character by incorporating different proportions of different origins. Pierre does exactly this, choosing proportions and ages for each constituent origin but keeping the general balance of different origins relatively stable in his blends from batch to batch, which in turn helps keep his house character relatively stable. Desired ages for use of different lambic sources are based on their fermentation behavior and flavor. Pierre chooses certain origin lambics to use when young, others to use when older, and some that he feels are good to use at anytime. The main blending tank at the Gueuzerie is 3800 L, so blends are generally composed of 10 x 400 L barrels.
|Lambics and empty barrels, warehouse room 2.
The generally accepted driver of gueuze carbonation is that the younger lambic provides the sugars for bottle refermentation. In the case of Tilquin, it is actually the opposite. The lambic origin that he is preferentially using young may be at 0° P (1.000) as quickly as 6 months from brew day, while the 3 year old lambic that he is using may still be as high as 2-3° P (1.008-1.012) at 3 years old. So the carbonation is derived from the extra gravity in these older lambics, which based on their origin (and microbes and/or brew process) characteristically don't finish as low/as quickly. At one point Pierre was using a bit of sugar in addition to unfermented gravity points to achieve carbonation, but that is no longer the case.
|Warehouse room 1, with a heater for warmth in winter
Barrels are thoroughly cleaned with multiple steps of spraying with increasingly hot water (top temperature = 80° C/176° F). This washes out anything in the barrel (including helping to strip stronger wine characteristics in new barrels). After this the barrels are left open for a few days to dry a bit and then sulfur is burned in them and they are bunged up and stored stacked on their heads until their next use. Before the next use, the barrels are swelled by putting a bit of water on the outside of one head and some water inside the barrel (and therefore inside the other head). The dry storage time is ideally minimal and gueuze blending occurs in the wintertime shortly before batches of wort are due to arrive. In the case of prolonged dry storage the barrels remained sealed and no additional sulfur is used.
|The new second warehouse space. Stainless tanks for fruit, empty barrels on their heads and full barrels pyramid stacked.
The cellar capacity at the Gueuzerie is expanding and now the barrels are split into two warehouse spaces side by side in the same building (in 2013-2014 the barrels were all in the original cellar space in one of the warehouse rooms). Pierre has recently acquired the whole building, which gives him more space to work with. This expansion will allow more production volume as well as more efficient processes. He is first expecting to expand production of the gueuze and draft gueuze, and then possibly fruited products. Of course, with something like lambic which takes multiple years in the making, expansion won't happen overnight...
On the facilities and equipment side, Pierre is looking into getting a new bottling line. It currently takes two days to bottle the 3800 L blending tank. He will be moving the warm conditioning room from the back of the warehouse next to the bottling line to one of the two barrel rooms. He's also planning on moving the office from its current location in the back of the warehouse to the front of the warehouse, and possibly opening up a tasting room toward the front of the warehouse. This will free up more storage room at the back, which in turn will free up even more room for barrels in the two barrel cellar rooms.
In addition to the new spaces and changes being brought with that, there are also some new projects/offerings in the works. I'll leave disclosing details of these to Pierre when he feels it is time. Keep an eye out on the Tilquin Facebook page if you want to know when those projects in the works come to fruition. Something that I think it is safe to say - future batches of Quetsche (both Alsace plums and Prunes de Namur) as well as future batches of Mure are in stainless tanks now.
This is all great news for lovers of Tilquin lambic!
Last updated 30-Oct-2015