Via 3 Fonteinen’s Instagram:
It is with a heavy heart and great sadness that we announce the passing of Armand.
The inspirer of 3 Fonteinen and an inspiration for many, a gentle teacher to his team, Opa Geuze to the brewery kids, and as a second father to some of us.
Armand, you will leave an immense gap in our lives. We will never forget how your warm and charismatic personality and passionate enthusiasm has ignited us to continue your life’s work. We are forever grateful for the chances that you have given us. We will carry our task of leading 3 Fonteinen into the next generations with pride, humbleness, and dignity, as you have always done.
It was an honour and a privilege to have had you so close to us. Godspeed to you, you mighty Armand!
When you are reading this, open a good bottle, raise your glass to Armand rejoice Life. Armand wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Michaël & Werner & Team 3 Fonteinen
Armand turned 70 just this past October. Heather and I this morning spent time reminiscing on our time at the 3 Fountains brewery, blendery and bottle shop over the years. I’ve visited 13 times starting in 2011 not to mention a few chance encounters over the years at beer events. Of every individual in the Lambic family, Armand and his wife, Lydia were always the two I looked forward to most on my visits. The warmth and non-pretentiousness of a 3 Fonteinen visit where the lambic flowed like water and the people, always gracious and friendly…the loss of Armand feels like losing a friend despite never spending more than 5 to 10 minutes with him at any time.
I wanted to share a few stories and some photos.
In 2013, I was with a group touring their barrel room which was cramped and far too tiny. I think even Karel at De Cam and Day at Fantome have more space than Armand did in their small ally off the main road. I asked Armand how business is going and he paused and said it’s better. People are visiting and buying his Lambic and he’s exporting more but he has no one to take this business when he retires. Funny enough, this was the same narrative just a year prior when I visited. No one to pass down this business that his father, Gaston Debelder passed down to him in 1982. Running this brewery, now blendery through the death of Lambic fans, a 2009 incident that destroyed almost all of his beer with a thermostat failure and the fact that he was then, 61 years old and still had not found a partner to take over was heavy on his shoulders.
I visited again in 2014 and a new younger man was pouring beers with Lydia and Armand was laughing and telling jokes and talking about having Wort again from the new brewery that was just installed a year prior and he was very optimistic. Here’s a photo in 2014 of that first Brewery 3 Fonteinen Wort almost ready for blending:
The spirit of the small team and Armand’s smiles were proof enough that in his mid 60s fast approaching, he felt like things were really looking up. They had also started planning to move locations so they could increase production to meet the demand of a global Lambic customer base.
Armand’s wife below operating the hand pump for us of Faro Lambiek:
Fast forward to 2017-2019, I visited their new location Lambik-O-Droom and by then, they had expanded the catalogue of beers from just Gueuze & Kriek and a few one-offs and rebranded to a new bottle logo and brand. It was now a more modern brewery ready for the 21st century primarily driven by Armand’s new partners, Michaël Blanquaert and Werner Van Obberghen.
Yet, Armand was still in the tasting room every time I visited exploring his new found love, Coffee.
Every time I visited, he’d say hello and offer me a coffee and I always stood at the bar as the Armand, the man responsible for a lifetime devoted to Lambic beers would ‘fuss’ over a cafe americano just like a 21 year old Brooklyn Hipster. He’d find the perfect cup atop the espresso machine that was hot and he’d check it for dust and dirt and he’d perfectly measure out the expresso portafilter and tamp it with intention and thoughtfulness and I’d watch as he carefully served up a coffee and placed the sugar pack just perfectly on the serving cup and hand it to me. I’d always take a sip at the counter as he watched and asked, “okay?” And I’d always nod approvingly and he’d put on a small smirk. At that time, he had handed so much of the work to his new team and partners but still found time to offer people coffee to go along with their beers, bread and cheese plates. From 2014 on, I always saw him smiling.
One last story and one that just makes me laugh in retrospect. On my final visit to the brewery before COVID-19 kept me away from Belgium, I was at the blendery and I had made friends with a dozen or so Americans so we could order bottles and share them which is a common thing. One of the Americans went up to Armand and refused the coffee service and said he had brought a beer to share. You have to understand brewers get free beers thrown at them all of the time and the novelty of it wears off pretty quickly. I thought it would be a well kept and thoughtful gift like a Saison or something from one of the American breweries he loves but no, it was a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. One of my favorites but to give a man a beer who admittedly primarily just drinks his Zwet.be, a flemish porter and his own beers is being offered a 15% American bourbon barrel aged imperial stout. He tries so hard to refuse the gift and the man insists. Finally, with a smile he walks away and says “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this?” And it just makes me laugh.
His life had so many pitfalls and issues and mountains to climb yet he persevered. I think of all of the things he went through and how he managed to persevere. Yes I love the beers he brewed and blended but man, it’s going to suck visiting and not getting to appreciate his beer or his coffee. The brewery is in good hands, no doubt about that but there will always be an emptiness for many of us who visit forever more.
I checked, I’ve enjoyed beer from Armand and family 250 times in the last 10 years. I’ll enjoy a couple of more today in honor of a great man and a great life he lived.
This morning, I caught up on a few blog posts I missed over the last couple of years. They’re worth reading and listening to:
I’ll leave a few more photos I took over the years, some at 3F others just enjoying 3F beer: