Posts Tagged 'cantillon'

Honeymoon beers, part 5: Cantillon

Cantillon is the only active, open-to-the-public brewery in Brussels, and it’s the spiritual home of traditional lambic beers. Cantillon lambics have very little in common with the typical lambics you find here in Houston. The ones you get locally are very sweet and very fruity, to the point that they seem to have more in common with wine coolers or European alco-pops than with typical beers.

Traditional lambics are sour. Cantillon brews their lambics through 100% spontaneous natural fermentation, which means the yeast that feeds the brewing process is literally wild, atmospheric yeast. This timely post from Jester King does a much better job than I could describing this kind of traditional farmhouse brewing.

Back to Cantillon. The brewery is in Brussels proper, walking distance from the touristy areas and the town square (Grand Place), tucked into a warehouse in a very urban part of town. Their website has a great feature which I was glad I caught before the trip: a scenic walking tour of Brussels that begins in the Grand Place and ends at the brewery. We followed that route to Cantillon, enjoying the sights and the history along the way.

When you walk into the brewery, you feel like you’re being transported, if not necessarily back in time (they have some modern equipment standing alongside their old stuff), then most certainly to a completely different place. You don’t feel like you’re in the big city any more.

After a short introduction from one of the staffers, you take a self-guided tour of the brewery, with nothing off limits. It’s pretty amazing, really, that you’re able to just walk around from room to room – from the small but relatively modern bottling room; to the copper- and stainless-steel-lined fermentation room; to the bottle room were thousands of unlabeled bottles lay on their sides, stacked practically to the ceiling; to the huge, dark and dingy barrel room, where dozens and dozens of wooden barrels store lambic in various stages of development, aging and blending.

Cantillon’s brewing philosophy is to let nature do the work. That goes for the wild yeast, obviously, but it also explains all the cobwebs and bugs you find throughout the warehouse. As the tour brochure says, any sort of pesticide would interfere with the natural fermentation, so they don’t worry about the bugs – the spiders and their webs will take care of them.

At the end of your self-guided tour, you get small servings of two of their beers. We got two half-glasses of gueuze (a blend of young and old lambic), and then one half-glass each of a raspberry and a cherry lambic. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I don’t love sour beers, although I do like them more every time I try them. Regardless, you can’t help appreciating the way this stuff is made, and drinking these expressions side-by-side really helped me notice the subtle differences. Even the “fruity” expressions aren’t that fruity. They use 100% real, fresh fruit, which is added to already-brewed natural lambic, kicking off secondary fermentation. The result isn’t an overwhelming cherry or raspberry or white grape flavor, but instead it’s subtle notes of fruit and a noticeable but not artificial change in color.

I could go on and on about the place. It was remarkably interesting, and I have to echo the thought that, if you’re in Brussels and you like beer, you simply must visit Cantillon.

One final note – Chez Moeder Lambic (the Fontainas location) is walking distance from Cantillon, situated between the brewery and the tourist center of town. We visited the two places on different days, but I can’t imagine a better way to dedicate a day to beer than by visiting the brewery, and then stopping at CML afterwards for a world-class beer or three.

Near the start of the tour

Mash room #1

Mash room #2

Mash room #3

Fermentation room #1

Fermentation room #2

Storage room

Barrel room #1

Barrel room #2

Barrel room #3

Bottling equipment display

Close-up of bottling display

Bottling room

Bottling line & bottle storage

Hundreds of bottles aging

A glass of gueuze after the tour, gift shop in the background

The bar

Gueuze & guidebooks

Two-for-one lambics...

Raspberry & cherry lambic (not necessarily in that order)

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Honeymoon beers, part 3: Bruges, Erasmus, ‘t Brugs Beertje

A handful of the good beer establishments we visited had impressive lineups of cellared/vintage beers. One such place was Erasmus, a modern, sleek hotel/restaurant that doesn’t necessarily fit with Bruges’ medieval vibe. It looked and felt like it would fit better in a place like Paris, but the beer list was very worthy.

I walked past Erasmus on the way to a generic Irish pub to watch a soccer game, while Mrs. Beernerds took a nap in the hotel. When I saw the cellar menu I just had to stop in, and I luckily had about 40 minutes before kickoff.

My timing – it was the middle of the afternoon – was perfect, and when I walked in I was the only customer in the place. I asked the waiter if it was OK to sit down for a beer, and he gave me the green light and their beer menu. One bottle immediately jumped out at me: De Dolle Stille Nacht 1986. I had read about Stille Nacht (Silent Night) before, and since this was the first time I had ever seen a 25-year-old beer for sale, I quickly ordered it.

The waiter pointed out that the beer was in their cellar, meaning it would not be cold. I appreciated the warning, but was obviously even more excited about this beer, especially as I had never before been to a place with a true cellar.

De Dolle Stille Nacht 1986

Since I was drinking alone, I took full tasting notes. Here they are, mostly unedited:

Reddish caramel, bright and clear. No head on the pour, tiny bubbly ring. Body is fizzier than it looks, but still quite smooth and somewhat full. Smells of sweet port, prune juice, some leather and booze. Candied sugar, hint of spice. Fruity, dry, a touch of sneaky sour in the back, finishes somewhat ashy/dirty. Surprisingly smooth despite the obvious heft (12%). I like the smell slightly better than the taste, if only because I don’t love the sour touch in the back. But I don’t mind it either. Really interesting, certainly enjoyable too.  A sipper for sure. Could smell it for days too. Careful pour from waiter left 1/5th of the bottle behind. I poured that into the empty glass, predictably sludgy with lots of floaters.

I would have loved to savor it for a while longer, but kickoff was fast approaching. I paid (9.50 euros, which I thought was a very good deal), and rushed off to the pub, where a bottle of Duvel and a pint of Guinness kept me company through the game.

Later that night, we went to another truly great beer bar, ‘t brugs Beertje. It’s small (with room for ~20 people in the front room, maybe 10 people at the bar, and another 15 in the back room), meaning it’s one of those European places where you and your neighbors are pretty cozy. It wasn’t far removed from the main square, and even though our immediate neighbors were Italian and Scandinavian, and the loud conversation at the bar was in English, it felt like a locals place. The walls and ceiling were covered in a wide range of beer signs and nostalgic paraphernalia, which was very cool.

From the extensive menu, I quickly picked out a Rodenbach Grand Cru, a classic Flanders red. Many of you know I’m not a huge fan of sour beers, but they’ve been growing on me. Plus, I was dead-set on taking advantage of the opportunity to try beers such as this one, even though I knew I probably wouldn’t love it.

Rodenbach Grand Cru

The Rodenbach Grand Cru reminded me somewhat of my “gateway” sour, Petrus Aged Pale (a Flanders Oud Bruin), although there are some key differences since they’re slightly different styles. The Grand Cru is darker, with vinegar and cherries at the forefront. Sour is the name of the game, though. I enjoyed it, and would love to drink it again.

While I was working on that, Mrs. Beernerds had ordered her first sour, Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. We didn’t expect her to love it, but she wanted to at least try some traditional lambics, if only to compare them to the sweetened lambics that she enjoys. As expected, this wasn’t up her alley, or mine for that matter. But I was thrilled to finally taste a Cantillon brew, and it certainly wouldn’t be our last. You’ll hear all about Cantillon and traditional lambics in a couple of days.

Rodenbach Grand Cru (left) & Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus

Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus

For my last beer in Bruges, I opted for another vintage selection, this time of a beer I’ve had before: a 2008 De Struise Pannepot Reserva. I’m a huge fan of De Struise, and this is one of my favorites. It’s a big, dark, oak-aged old ale with plenty of character, and it’s one of those old ales that really feels and tastes “old”, and I mean that in a good way.

2008 De Struise Pannepot Reserva

2008 De Struise Pannepot Reserva

I didn’t have access to my notes, so I couldn’t compare my impressions with the fresher bottle I drank previously. But it was a very good beer, and a worthy finale after two great days in Bruges.


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