INTRO by Gordon A. Ponce- CEO, BELGIAN BEER JOURNAL
BRASSERIE CANTILLON and their GUEUZE 100% LAMBIC BIO is our seventh BrewView for our LAMBICS, SOURS, AND WILD ALES feature that carried over into March from February 2016.
We first learned of the Cantillon Lambics from reading about them in beer writer Michael Jackson’s books back in the early 80’s. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to actually taste our first Cantillon Lambic until 1990-91. Our first one was the Rosé de Gambrinus – since we were familiar with the Lindeman’s Framboise, and how that beer tasted, we were excited to experience a Framboise that was unsweetened. What a revelation that was!
Since then, the Cantillon Lambics were beers that we had some tasting experiences with over the past 26 years, but not as much as we would have liked. This was due to sporadic availability in the early days in our area. In the 90’s, as Lambic as a beer style was holding on to dear life in the industry as a whole, it became more challenging to obtain Cantillon products. Thankfully, the interest in Lambic beers has greatly increased in the past 16 years, and availability is better than ever before. However where we are (Redding, California) the availability is still nil… we hope to change that! Actually, a change of “scenery” for us may be in order.
We obtained our bottle from our good friend Stu Stuart of BELGIAN BEER ME! BEER TOURS. It was one of the many beers he sent us in late 2015. Quite the treat indeed… 🙂
ABOUT BRASSERIE CANTILLON
Cantillon is the only traditional lambic brewery located within the city of Brussels. Founded in 1900, today Cantillon operates both as a brewery and as a living museum, the Brussels Gueuze Museum (Musée bruxellois de la gueuze). Cantillon uses 100% organic grains and hops in all of its beers. Cantillon brews traditional lambic products, using 65% malted barley and 35% unmalted wheat. Cantillon’s beers are spontaneously fermented using a large coolship in the attic of the brewery and fermented in oak barrels.
The roots of Brasserie Cantillon stretch back even further than the brewery’s officially recognized founding date of 1900. According to Van den Steen in Geuze & Kriek: The Secret of Lambic Beer, the forefather of the Cantillon brewing family was a grain merchant named Auguste whose son, Paul, had no intention of continuing his father’s craft. Auguste then began to search for a business that would suit his son’s brewing hobby. Since starting a brewery was too expensive, Auguste made several attempts to take over breweries in the Lembeek area. By 1894, Auguste had bought the Vandezande-Van Roy brewery located in Lembeek’s Hondzocht district.
By 1900, Paul Cantillon and his wife Marie Troch began a gueuze blending business in the industrial quarter of Cureghem which was part of the southern Brussels community of Anderlecht. The brewery was located in a very busy area near the Bruxelles-Midi train station, the Mons boulevard, and the canal that ran through the city. Jean-Pierre Van Roy, who wrote the forward to La Gueuze Gourmande, calls the period between 1900 and 1937 the “première periode de la brasserie.” During these first thirty-seven years, Cantillon never actually brewed a beer. Instead, they bought lambic from a variety of producers in the area to blend and sell on their own, considering Cantillon a biersteker (beer blender) and marchand de bières (beer merchant). They would house their beers at Gheudestraat 56-58, where the brewery is located today.
Paul and Marie had four children, two sons named Robert and Marcel, and two daughters named Georgette and Fernande. The early years of Cantillon produced unblended lambic, mars, faro, gueuze, kriek, and framboise. After the First World War, Paul was ready to expand the business and bring his two sons into the fold. In 1937, Paul, Robert, and Marcel purchased the Brasserie Nationale du Néblon, located in Ouffet, which had closed the previous year in 1936. They moved the brewing equipment to its current location and the first batch of Cantillon’s own beer was brewed in 1938 shortly before the brothers were called to mobilize for World War II.
During the Second World War, with supplies in demand for the soldiers, it was more difficult to continue to brew beers. The period during the war saw the brewery at a near standstill. The immediate post-war years did not see the same demand and production of beers as the 1930s had. To make matters worse, a massive heat wave in Belgium destroyed many breweries’ stocks including Cantillon’s. Sometime around 1950, the brewery began to recover and reached an all-time high production in 1955. Paul Cantillon passed away in 1952, while his wife Marie lived until 1958. Starting in 1960, the demand for traditional gueuze and lambic began to decline once again, and Robert sold his share to Marcel and left the business. Marcel, too, was on his way out of the brewing business when his only daughter, Claude, married Jean-Pierre Van Roy. By 1969-1972, Van Roy had taken the reins of the brewery.
To keep the brewery afloat, Van Roy sweetened his gueuze with artificial sweeteners to keep up with current tastes. Sadly, this did not help the brewery and it continued to operate at a loss. By 1975, Jean-Pierre began to abandon the artificial sweeteners and stopped the practice altogether by 1978. In 1978, he also decided to create a working exhibit dedicated to the art of lambic brewing. Opening Cantillon to the public allowed the brewery to bring some extra revenue to help balance the books. It also helped to spread the word to both locals and to tourists.
Sales began to increase. In 1986, Cantillon began exporting to the United States. Jean-Pierre continued to take steps to increase quality control, including discontinuing sales to stores that stored the beer upright. Storing the bottles upright caused the cork to dry out and let all the carbonation out. Jean-Pierre eventually brought his son, Jean, into the business in 1989. Like his father, who had no formal brewing experience before working at the brewery, Jean Van Roy learned lambic on the job.
In the years since 1992, the brewery has continued to flourish as one of the most sought-after producers of traditional lambic in Belgium. Though still involved in the brewery, the elder Van Roy brewed his last official batch in 2009. Jean Van Roy, who spent a full twenty years working beside his father, now directs the brewery’s operations after having officially taken over in 2003. Unlike his father before him, who was rooted in the strictest tradition, Jean Van Roy has grown to experiment with a number of small batch lambics and fruits not native to Belgium, like Finnish red currants and Danish bilberries. As of now, the future of the brewery seems to be quite stable with no less than seven grandsons of Jean-Pierre and Claude ready to carry on the Cantillon name.
In August 2014, Cantillon announced via Facebook that they would be expanding with enough space to double their production. They purchased an adjacent building that once housed a lambic blender, Brasserie Limbourg. The increase in production will be realized during the 2016-2017 brewing season. (Source: Lambic.info)
THE underground cellar
In 2011, Jean started a long-term lambic aging process in cooperation with the city of Brussels. The city is providing the underground cellaring space free of charge where Cantillon plans to eventually age sixty- to eighty-thousand bottles in long-term storage over twenty years. He plans to focus primarily on aging Gueuze, Bruocsella Grand Cru, and Lou Pepe Kriek but also try smaller aging initiatives with other Cantillon beers.
THE BREWING PROCESS
The mash at Cantillon consists, by long tradition among lambic brewers, of two-thirds malted barley and one-third unmalted wheat. The hops that are added to the boil in great profusion have been aged for several years, eliminating all trace of hop flavor or aroma, but not diminishing their original preservative powers. Twenty or more different strains of wild yeast may be represented in any one batch of lambic beer. The fermenting casks are all at least 40 years old and most held French wine, while a few held either wine, port, or sherry from the Iberian peninsula. They are laid to rest in every nook and cranny of the brewery, where they will stay unmolested through at least one summer. They watch over every cask in the brewery, periodically tasting the contents of each to determine whether it should lie for one year, two years, or three years. During the late winter and early spring, he will match and blend one, two, and three-year old lambics to arrive at a balanced texture and flavor. Generally, younger lambic is thinner, livelier, and milder on the palate; the older lambic is harder, more complex, and resoundingly sour. The beer in every cask is unique, however, and one three-year old lambic may taste radically different from another. There is no formula for blending, and no expectation of consistency from year to year. Brasserie Cantillon says that they merely hope to achieve the same “harmony” each time.
The artfully blended lambic is bottled immediately, and another wondrous event occurs: the mixture of lambic from several different casks sparks a second fermentation in the bottle. This is the essence of the méthode champenoise by which champagne is made. The end product is called “gueuze.” A few months’ time in the bottle “conditions” the beer – building carbonation, and concentrating and organizing the flavors – until it is ready to be sold as Cantillon Gueuze. The classic lambic, Cantillon Gueuze is a perfect blend of old and new brews and is unabashedly sour and highly complex. Under proper storage conditions, fermentation in the bottle will continue for years. (Source: Shelton Brothers)
BEER STYLE AND COMMERICAL DESCRIPTION
Style category: Belgian Gueuze Lambic
In the 18th century, a Benedictine monk, dom Pérignon, discovers the champaign method by blending different non sparkling white wines. One century later, a Brabant brewer blends different lambics and brings about a spontaneous fermentation in the bottle. The Gueuze is born.Up to the 19th century, the people from Brussels and Brabant mostly drank two beers, Lambic and Faro. The glass bottle and the discovery of Dom Perignon will bring about a revolution in the small world of the Brussels brewers. The Gueuze became the icon of the Brussels beers.
Lambic, which is the base for the making of Gueuze, is a spontaneous fermentation beer. All beers made with Lambic are naturally sour, but some will be more sour, more bitter or “softer” than the others.
The Gueuze is the result of a well-considered blending of Lambics of different ages and with different tastes.
The Lambic beers from the Cantillon brewery, which are conserved in oakwood barrels, are called “young” after one year, but they will reach their full maturity after three years. The young beers contain the sugars which are necessary for the second fermentation in the bottle. The three years old beers will contribute their taste and their flavour.
The main task for the brewer, however, is tasting. He will taste about ten Lambics from different barrels in order to select five or six which will be used for the Gueuze 100% Lambic presenting the typical characteristics of the beers from the Cantillon brewery.
The bottles are closed with a cork, capped with a crown-cork. They will remain horizontally in a cellar for a year on average, in order to allow the sugars to be converted into carbon dioxide (second fermentation in the bottle). The saturation of the beer is slow and natural. When the Lambic becomes sparkling, it is called Gueuze. At that moment, this crown-jewel of the Cantillon brewery will leave the cellar of the brewery and find its way to the cellars of the lovers of the traditional Gueuze.
Every blending will produce a different Gueuze. Since we work according to a natural process, it is impossible to make a standard beer.
This beer is not only unique because of its brewing process, but also because it can be conserved for a long time. When kept in a good cellar, a Cantillon Gueuze will still have an exceptional taste and flavour after 20 years.
The Gueuze 100% Lambic Cantillon represents half of the production of the brewery.
The Gueuze 100% Lambic is available in 37,5 cl (1/2) or 75 cl (1/1) bottles.
Bottle date: February 2, 2012
OUR BREWVIEW on BRASSERIE CANTILLON – GUEUZE 100% LAMBIC BIO
APPEARANCE / THE POUR:
5% ABV. Poured into a beveled tumbler glass (we tried to find a glass similar to the classic beveled tumblers used in Belgium to drink Geuze and Lambic beer from) and served at 55°F. Pours a pale gold color. SRM value, 4. The dense, white colored head poured an easy 2- finger height, with large and small bubbles (we did ensure that it was a “Beer Clean” glass).
Because of the acidity of the beer, the head collapsed somewhat quickly- (This picture was snapped within seconds of pouring the Gueuze into the glass.) The rim variation color is pale straw.
There was nice gentle bubbling in the beer as we held it up to the light. The meniscus is medium rising. We did not rouse up the sediment in the initial pour, as to experience the overall complexities with and without it in the glass. It did have a slight cloudy haze to it, and after 9 minutes of pouring it, the head sustained an 1/8″ height. There was no lacework on the sides of the glass as the head collapsed.
AROMA / BOUQUET:
Classic Gueuze aromas- super musty, horse blanket, cidery, mild oak, wet hay, old hops, some butyl esters, super funky Brettanomyces. It is very well balanced; there is not one domineering factor over the other.
Vinous, cidery, wheat malt, soft oak flavors. White pepper, grapefruit, meyer lemon, but not ultra tart. Again, very well balanced in the flavor profile, unmistakably Cantillon.
MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
Light to medium bodied, this beer was not mega intense as we remember a Cantillon Gueuze to be. It hits the tip of the tongue, but it wasn’t as sharp as expected. It coats the back of the mouth, with a citric, puckering dryness, yet there is a very faint malt roundness to it.
FOOD PAIRING SUGGESTIONS:
APPETIZERS: Raw milk cheeses, Boterhammen / Tartines, Charcuterie, Salade Liégeoise, Tomate-crevette / Tomaat-garnaal.
ENTRÈES: Moules-frites / Mosselen-friet, Waterzooi, Gegratineerde witloof / Chicons au gratin, Kip met frieten en appelmoes / Poulet-frites-compote, Paling in ‘t groen / Anguilles au vert. Chicken Marsala (instead of using Marsala wine, use the Cantillon Gueuze) with white asparagus, or hop shoots if you can find them!
DESSERTS: As usual, plain cheesecake, blueberry pie, lemon tarts, key lime pie, grapefruit-vanilla curd, Grapefruit Meringue Baked Alaska.
Since it is mild in alcoholic strength, you could easily serve this as an aperitif or a digestif. We would easily consider this a sessionable beer due to how well balanced it is. You drink long-held tradition when you drink a Cantillon Gueuze.
This is a beer that would suit many moods, and moments. Skilled chefs could use this beer to mix with white balsamic vinegar to make salad dressings, or to use it as a component for meat tenderizing.
One has to admit, the effort that Jean-Pierre Van Roy put towards the conservation of the classic Gueuze beer style, was highly noble. Inhabitants of Brussels will forever be grateful. Jean Van Roy continues to innovate and take the brewery to new heights.
If you get the chance to visit the Musée bruxellois de la Gueuze (Brussels Gueuze Museum) do it! To witness it in person, is like shaking hands with a living legend. History has a way of repeating itself. In this case, it does so on a fabulous daily basis at Brasserie Cantillon. World Class, one of the top Gueuzes in the world, it is a must have. Buy as many as you can and cellar some- up to 20 years! “Beer with taste evolution.”
Our sincerest thanks go out to the following people:
Stu Stuart from Belgian Beer Me! Beer Tours for your generosity and kindness in sending us yet another world class Lambic! If you haven’t been on one of Stu’s great beer tours, you owe it to yourself to go!
Chuck Cook from Drink Belgian Beer for the great picture of Cantillon’s underground cellar!
GORDON A. PONCE is the main driving force behind Belgian Beer Journal.com. Since 1983, Gordon recognized that beers from Belgium were special, set apart from the typical craft beer.
He views beers from Belgium (plus Belgian-style and Belgian Inspired beers from other countries) great examples of the brewer’s art. Gordon and his wife live in beautiful Northern California- a great place to enjoy Belgian beer! Ecclesiastes 8:15