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Posts Tagged ‘Cantillon’

Maturing bottles

For the years to come

On arrival in Brussels, I met most of my fellow travellers at the Cantillion brewery. We were not given any special tour, and I will not  waste your time retelling the information in their brochures. But if your are seriously interested in beer, this is a place you need to visit once. It is a living brewery museum, where lambic, the spontaneously fermented beer of the Brussels region, is brewed the way it used to be. If you want to see the active process, you need to turn up during the winter, as this beer can not be brewed during the warm months. There are open brewing days when you can participate more actively, too. Check their web site for details.

After finishing your trip, taking in the aromas of the beer alchemy taking place in the oak casks, there are two beer samples waiting for you. But there are also some special bottles you are unlikely to find anywhere else. We shared a bottle of the Zwanze 2012 Geuze with rhubarb. A fresh, well-balanced geuze with a hint of sweetness. Some rhubarb in this blend, but, while there is some fruitiness, it is impossible to detect any particular flavour from that.

Since my last visit – about seven years ago, I suppose, they have rearranged the reception area, expanding the shop and adding a sit down bar area. There used to be just a very basic counter and a few empty barrels, now there’s a lot of blond wood and a place where you could actually hang out and sample some beers.

But that was not for us. We had places to go. Many places.

Cantillon glasses

As real as they come

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A nap on the plane, a coffee on the train, ready for some sponanous fermentation. First stop of the Grand Tour of Belgium: Brasserie Cantillon.

As they say on their web site: A time machine. Back to beers from another age. Saved from extinction by a handful of enthusiasts. A museum, but a living, working museum.

We share a bottle of Swanze 2012, if there were rhubarbs involved in this they are hard to detect now.

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I don’t know how long the good people over at mo’time will keep my inactive old blog up, so I’ll republish a few of the best posts of 2007 here. I haven’t found a clever way to migrate the whole blog. The first offering is from the end of February:

This micro brewery in Brussels also functions as a museum for lambic brewing and has a tasting room for its products.  Both Cantillon and the lambic beers are covered extensively in any guide to the beer styles of the world, so I’ll just give you some personal impressions.

The concept is simple – you turn up at the brewery, enter and pay a 4 Euro entrance fee. You then get a leaflet explaining the brewing process, and you are free to wander around as long as you like. The start of the brewing process is like in any brewery, the difference comes at the point where you’d usually add the yeast. The lambic beers use spontaneous fermentation, which means that no yeast is added. Instead they expose the cooling wort to the open air, and yeast spores then, like Tinker Bell, come dancing on the breeze and settle in the beer. Theses spores could be anywhere in the environment, so they have to be extra careful when doing any alterations to the building. And they leave cobwebs and dust in some corner – the food control authorities are not too happy about that!

After the wild yeast has started to do its job, it’s time to fill the lambic into oak barrels, which, for the first three or four days, are overflowing with foam. After this has died down, a slow fermentation starts in the barrels, and this can go on for years.

Some of the lambic is bottled as geuze, some has fruit – cherries, raspberries or grapes – added in the process. At the end, a mix of new and old beers (up to three years in the cask) is bottled and sent to the market.

When you walk through this shrine to old fashioned brewing, you have the smell of beer evaporating everywhere, from open vessels and from barrels of various vintages. The strong smells tells you that this is a rather more expensive way of brewing than in large plants where everything is hermetically sealed to make sure you can bottle every drop.

And at the end you get to taste two or three varieties. The Geuze is a blend of 1, 2 and 3 year old lambics. It is more sour than bitter, with a lot of acid. You have no feeling of the malt or hops, it is a cider-like beverage, but extremely dry.

The Lou Pepe Kriek is their premium brand of cherry lambic. It is very smooth, with the cherries adding a new dimension. A little sweetness in the finish, but the sourness lingers, too. Very refreshing.

The last beer I tried was their Faro. This is lambic where they have added caramel and candy sugar. The yeast is still so potent that this will only keep for a few weeks. This was very sweet, had a peach-like fruitiness, but with the sourness underneath. A bit too syrupy for me, more interesting than outstanding. I guess that this was the form they drank much of the lambic in the old days, adding sugar as it suited the customers of a particular cafe.

You can get Cantillon lambics all over the world, and they even make special beers for other countries, with additions like blueberries and cloud berries.

If you want to really explore the world of beers, this is a family of beer styles you need to look into. Be warned, though, the sourness is not to every one’s liking.

I raise my glass to the enthusiasts who keep this running, keep it open to the public, and even sell their beers at a very nice price to people dropping by.

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