Lambik and geuze have helped shaping the identity of our region. After all, the lambik region once counted more than 90 lambik brewers and 250 geuze blenders. Naturally, traditional old-Brabant cereals were fully part of that time frame. However, nowadays, those are not around anymore. After the World War II, orginal landraces have been completely wiped out by industrial agriculture. In order to revive them, we joined forces with some ten farmers.
It was in a spur of the moment, in the summer of 2017, that Armand Debelder cursed under his breath and banged his fist on the table. "We must go and find our (brewing) cereals in our own backyard again! The Little Redhead from Brabant, that's the wheat we're after.". That is why in 2018, Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen started the search for local wheat and barley, driven by the stubborn vision of Gaston and Armand Debelder. It was not long before we got to know farmer Tijs. Tijs Boelens had long been looking for the old landraces and grew several varieties of wheat on his fields in Pepingen, Pajottenland. He was already talking to Lucas Van den Abeele, still a student in agro-ecology then, and who was developing a farmers' collective in the Pajottenland area. By now, Lucas works full-time at Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen and coordinates the network.
The works of the Cereal Collective.
Together, the farmers grow about 40 hectares (almost 100 acres) of wheat and barley at a fair and mutually agreed price. We organise the cleaning, the storage and the malting of the barley.
This goes well beyond the traditional tale of ‘growing and selling’. Together, we:
- extensively research and propagate more than 25 old barley varieties and 50 original wheat varieties, all originating from our region and specifically intended to brew lambik beers.
- work on the field and in the brewery, so we can coordinate the techniques and the learning points used on the land with the dynamics of the brewing kettle (and vice versa).
- coordinate which farmer grows which variety on which piece of land.
- are looking for a stable cooperation between farmer and buyer, in the long term and with a balanced spread of risks. As such, we pay on the moment of sowing, per hectare (acre), and on the moment of harvesting, per ton. In the case of a bad harvest year, the farmer has a guaranteed income.
- are driven by the same sustainable vision, a mutual appreciation for each other's craft and an absolute focus on quality.
- break through the monocultures in the field and expand the cultivated biodiversity.
- are looking into how agro-forestry can balance the agrological landscape with Schaarbeek sour cherry trees, old damson and plum varieties, rhubarb etc.
The ultimate goal is to find a selection of cereal varieties that are adapted to:
- The Brabant climate and its loamy soil.
- The agroecological and organic cultivation methods with the utmost care for the soil, the biodiversity, the cultivation techniques and the farmers’ craft.
- The specific needs of the buyers, such as malt houses and brewers, millers and bakers.
It is our conviction that a farmer should be able to live from his craft. Hence, farmers in the Cereal Collective receive a price that grants them a future. It is an entirely different way of thinking about the agricultural economy: start with quality at a fair price instead of insisting on the lowest possible cost. The Cereal Collective hopes to inspire more farmers, brewers and bakers to turn this model into a new standard.
Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen pays more than triple of the current industry prices for wheat and barley, directly to the farmers. The brewery also carried the investments in a grain selection machine and grain silos.
In the long run, Brabant’s agriculture must become resilient again. The search for new adapted varieties also makes the harvests more resistant to climate change. And no, it is never easy to compete with the big commercial players, but a fair price does a lot. Consumers, too, are starting to realise this. The Cereal Collective continues to actively support the exchange of knowledge in order to get as many farmers as possible on board, and brewers, and other makers.
The first beer.
The seasons pass, the cereals grow, the lambik ripens.
Meanwhile the first local lambikken – organically certified since 2021 – are ageing further on their barrels, and around 2024, we will be able to blend the first true heirloom geuze. That just takes time.
In the meantime, we already released a faster beer, brewed with befriended breweries, but always with the same cereals. The name of this series is ‘Terf’. Terf is the local dialect word for wheat. And these were brewed by the colleagues of Brasserie de la Senne and Brasserie De La Mule.