Thursday, 14 May 2015

Cantillon Brewery

Despite having been to Brussels quite a few times, I've never been to Cantillon, mostly because E hadn't fancied going. She doesn't like sour beer.  This time we are with others who are well up for it, so off we go.  We arrive reasonably early when there is just a handful of people inside the brewery which looks pretty damn unassuming from the outside. Inside we pay a modest €7, have our nationalities noted in a ledger and are given an informative leaflet and a family member takes the three of us (the rest arrive later) round the lower reaches of the brewery. Now I have read elsewhere that is is fusty, dusty and cobwebby, which I have always doubted.  It isn't. It is spotless as any brewery should be, but just rather old, dimly lit and made largely of wood.  It is intensely atmospheric.

We are shown a very elderly mash tun which wasn't the original, being acquired in 1936. I ask my intelligent question "Did the Germans not steal any of the copper during the war?"  Now this isn't as daft as it seems, as they were a light fingered lot the Germans, during occupation. They didn't it seems, though our guide doesn't know why not.  Maybe the sense of tradition fazed the occupier? Or the almost church-like reverence the place exudes? Who knows, especially as there is a fair bit of copper to be had.

After that we are left to wander around. We look at the cool ship, empty and gleaming. This is key to the whole business and where the wild yeasts do their stuff. I remember my second intelligent question and ask it when I have the chance "Does the fermentation vary by much in its quality and taste?"  Surprisingly it is very consistent I'm told. These wild yeasts seemingly know what is expected of them. We wander round, following directional signs, looking at huge oak casks and return to the bar and shop.  Our €7 entitles us to two samples  of around 15cl.  First up is a cask 18 month old (young) lambic which is flat as a witch's tit with quite a few jaggy edges. E hates it, so I have two. It needs more age and frankly I prefer gueze anyway for its more refined character.  The shop, by now boosted by quite an influx of new customers, is going like a fair. I reckon it makes more money than the €7 admission. The prices for the beer are very fair but I didn't intend to lug bottles back, so passed, which I kind of regret now.  Our main group arrives and swells the shop's coffers further - well the clothing part of it. I'd always wanted a Cantillon T shirt, but in my size they only have two types of brown and green in stock. E, not so subtly puts me off both.  Apparently neither would suit me. I must go back and get one sometime.

Next we sample a bottled kriek which is a tremendous beer, with the cherries and natural carbonation lifting the beer and giving a very satisfying and balanced taste. Again I get E's.  As we wait for the other, I buy some more kriek by the glass. This is a mere €2.50 and the glass is filled to the brim by a smiling gent who explains "When you pay, you get a glass as full as I can fill it."  An excellent policy.  I also have a taste of cask Iris which unusually has no wheat within, just barley.  Not a great experience really. It may well be lifted by carbonation, but it was just flat and to me, Sarson's like.

Cantillon is an experience not to be missed if you are a serious beer drinker. Even if you aren't it is living history.  Go there if you can.

It seems that 70% of the visitors to Cantillon are not Belgian. That's why the collect this info.


BryanB said...

Wasn't it World War One where the Germans stole all the copper?

Tandleman said...

Not just I believe. Though I didn't make it clear, I was referring to both wars really.

Certainly Brussels was occupied during both wars.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

I've heard the expression " as cold as a witch's tit " but never " as flat as a witch's tit. "

I can understand it being as cold as because they tend to run around at night in skimpy attire but surely then, rather than being flat, they'd be perky little chaps.

I'm do realise however that mammary-based lexicon changes the world over.

Perhaps you could confer with Mrs Tandy who shares by dislike of sour beer. Just don't get it I'm afraid.

Andrew said...

When we were at Mort Subite a couple of weeks ago one of the boards said that when the Germans invaded in 1940 all of the coppers were disassembled and hidden in haystacks for the duration and then reassembled in 1946

Beer in a Bottle said...

As someone who's always steered well clear of sour beers in the past I was amazed at the number of people who asked me to get then in when I opened a shop. Alway keen to know about the goods I'm selling I had to wade in and try these, and although one or two were left unfinished I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable some were. Cantillon are next on my shopping list.