Beer in Brussels: Drinking unblended lambic in the Cantillon Tasting Room

As I wrote my previous post - which seemed to suck up words like a storm-drain as I scrambled to capture the true magic of Cantillon brewery - it quickly became apparent that to start mentioning the actual sampling of the beers would have forced an exercise in endurance from any reader.

So here it is as a separate post, my experience of the charming Cantillon sampling room and the taste of that jug-poured, unblended lambic, amongst others.

Part bar, part final stop of the tour (a paltry 7 euros allows you to explore the brewery and then sample two beers afterwards), the Cantillon tasting room is as humble and unfussy as you’d hope.

Oversized beer barrels form the makeshift tables, around which wobbly wooden chairs support the scattered beer travellers amongst vintage Cantillon mirrors and logos that no longer see the light of day. The place was pleasingly quiet on our visit, with plenty of room to grab a seat and take our time over these complex, oft-misunderstood beers.

The first beer we tried was in many ways the most special, thanks to its sheer simplicity - unblended, unbottled lambic taken straight from the barrel, via a stone jug, to our glasses. It had all the bracing sourness, lemon peel and tart green apple that I love about Cantillon but there was also a soft fruitiness, even a distant background sweetness which had been coaxed out by the still serve.

Next up was Iris, a very different beer to the others produced by Cantillon in that it contains solely pale malt and no wheat, giving it a slightly darker colour and fuller body - unlike the rest of Cantillon's beers which are brewed using 35% wheat malt and 65% malted barley. This, combined with the unusual method of fresh hopping the beer two weeks before bottling (most Cantillon beers use aged hops, to impart preservative tannins but not fresh hop character), gives Iris a beautiful roundness of flavour, where lightly spicy, citrus hops dovetail with a lemon pith sourness to create a truly wonderful beer. A new beer to me, this is a Cantillon I’ll seek out again in the future.

Next up was the Kriek. Matured on fresh fruit, it’s a cherry-bomb of cough sweets and tartness that has a drying, fruit-stone character in the finish and a puckering sourness that awakens the senses and purses the lips. An invigorating fruit beer that is a million miles away from the over-sweetened offerings often pushed into this category.

The Rose de Gambrinus is produced in exactly the same way as the Kriek, but using fresh raspberries in the place of sour cherries, lending the finished beer an even tarter flavour yet more floral, fresh aroma, in the place of the Kriek’s deeper fruitiness.

The final beer I drank was an old favourite of mine, Cuvee Saint-Gilloise. In brief, it’s a dry-hopped Gueuze, but it’s a beer which I could write pages of tasting notes on if given the chance. A beautiful, floral, fresh citrus aroma, even a touch of orange blossom amongst the sourness, followed by a flavour that is all at once bitter, sour, tart, and infinitely complex.

If you read my previous post and thought that the Cantillon brewery sounds interesting - a welcome break from the stainless steel and computer dials of a modern brewery - then you should really try the beers.

Out-of-the-ordinary just doesn’t cover it.

 

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