Today, our friends at 3 Fonteinen are honoring the life of Armand Debelder with an open house at the Lambik-O-Droom in Lot, Belgium. On March 17, 2022, our proprietor Tom Peters shared the following story about the day he met Armand, when we hosted A Toast to Armand in unison with pubs, breweries and bottle shops across North America.
There are times that bring great sadness to all of us in the world beer community. There are few people who cut across all boundaries – cultural, language, religion and national borders – simply because of their excellence and passion for their craft.
My first real encounter with Armand was during one of my many trips to Belgium in search of new beer and to see old friends. I remember taking the train from Brussels to Beersel for one visit in March of 2000. I trudged up that steep hill from the station to the brewery – it really is steep. We wandered around the barrel room, tasting from a few. When we headed to the bottle storage room to snag a bottle to share, I noticed the silk-screened label for Oude Geuze 1999 aging in bins. That’s not what he chose to share – it simply wasn’t ready to drink yet. He popped a bottle of a different Oude Geuze for us to share. It was delicious. After hanging out for about two hours I was about to head back to the train station, which be much easier since it was downhill.
Just before leaving I asked if it would be possible to purchase a bottle of the 1999 Oude Geuze. Armand said they were not for sale, adding that most of them had been promised to his accounts. As I was gathering my things to depart, Armand reappeared with a small-handled box containing three bottles of this legendary vintage. They were not for sale – they were a gift. What a kind, generous and thoughtful man.
Off I went down the hill to catch my train – but I missed it by 5 minutes. It would be a 2 hour wait for another train. Across from the “station” was a small restaurant and I thought I could go in there to use the pay phone to summon a taxi. I had no coins, so I conjured up my best French to ask for change. It was then I received a lesson in the division between the French and Flemish speaking areas of Belgium. She refused to give me change or sell me a beer because I asked for it in French…that’s another story I will tell someday.
I trudged back up that now even-steeper hill with my small knapsack and my three bottles of 1999 Geuze. About ¾ of the way up the hill, the bottom of the box gave way and two of the bottles fell out. I managed to keep one in the box by quickly tilting it. Another had its fall cushioned by my extended foot and the third miraculously did not shatter when hitting the ground. The two bottles started rolling down the street – did I mention it was STEEP?
With my jacket off, my knapsack and lonely bottle of geuze secure on the path, I started running down the hill to retrieve the two bottles. They were picking up speed and while it seemed hopeless, I was determined. Then I see one car stop and the driver’s door swung open as the driver reaches down to snag one of the bottles. The other two cars on the hill also stopped and a woman chased down that last bottle. Where else in the world would drivers stop their car to rescue a bottle of Lambic? These two, fine, beer loving people cradled those bottles until I reached their car.
I trudged back up that hill for a third time – did I mention it was steep – to ask Armand to phone a taxi for me. Instead, we had lunch in the 3 Fonteinen restaurant and he drove me back to my hotel in Brussels. That was the beginning of a great friendship.
Frank Boon, Brouwerij Boon; Jean Van Roy, Cantillon; and Armand Debelder, 3 Fonteinen; photographed in June of 2010 at Monk's for their first-ever meal together.
Photo credit: Bryan Kolesar of The Brew Lounge.
Armand Debelder and Tom Peters at Monk's, June 2010
Guests toast to Armand on March 17, 2022 at Monk's Cafe. Breweries, bottle shops and pubs across North America joined us for this Toast.
Tom Peters, and Adam Harbaugh of lambic.info, joined America the Brew-tiful podcast to share their loving memories of Armand, and all that he taught us. You can listen to the episode here.