Cantillon Brewery, 56, rue Gheude Straat, Brussels, Belgium, tel 02 521 49 28,
GPS: 50.841525o N, 4.335677o E
Truly one of the World's Greatest Breweries
Cantillon produces beers for which Brussels and the Pajottenland, an area to the South and South West of Brussels, is world famous. They are an ancient style of beer: Lambic and its derivatives, Gueuze/Geuze and Beers produced by steeping fruit in Lambic. Lambic is a spontaneously fermented beer, i.e. it is particular air-borne wild yeasts, unique to this area, that convert wort, the sugar solution produced in the brewing process, into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. For conventional beers, their alcohol and CO2 are produced using yeast that is added to the wort at the fermentation stage. No wort is pitched during the fermentation stage of Lambic beers. A number of strains of wild yeast have been identified as being present in the area, two often cited being Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces lambicus, names both implying that they are unique to the area; "normal" yeasts are Saccharomyces cerevisiae, for top fermented beers (Ales, etc), and Saccharomyces carlsbergensis (Saccharomyces uvarum), for bottom fermented beers (Pilsener style). Interestingly, for the famous Trappist beer, Orval, as well as standard yeast, wild Brettanomyces strains are used for the secondary fermentation at the lagering phase, but these are actually pitched; click here to see the White Beer Travels Orval page for more details. Orval, like Lambics, is often said to have a Brett character.
However, Mr Claussen's 1904 paper makes no reference to Brittanomyces, but it does have the words "... I have thought proper to propose a particular name for it, and with regard to its close connection with British brewing industry I have called it Brettanomyces.". Interestingly, Brettanomyces is not referred to as a wild yeast in the 1904 journal quoted, since the following appears in the transcript of the question and answer session that followed Mr Claussen's presentation of his paper: "The Chairman asked if Mr. Claussen could say whether the Brettanomyces would exert its actions in the presence of these wild yeasts." Brettano is Greek for British and Myces is Greek for Mushroom or Fungus (plural Fungi); Yeast is a type of Fungus, i.e. Brettanomyces means British Yeast, c.f. Saccharomyces, which means Sugar Yeast, in Greek, this being given as its etymology in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) (www.oed.com).
Of course, Saccharomyces carlsbergensis was also discovered in the Carlsberg Laboratory (by the person mentioned in the title of Mr Claussen's 1904 paper, Professor Emil Christian Hansen (1842-1909), in 1883).
Many describe Lambic and its derivatives as being winey. Interestingly, Brettanomyces yeasts are generally regarded as being spoilage yeasts by producers of wine, since the Bretty characteristics they produce are regarded as being off-flavours. However, Brettanomyces yeasts play a part in the production of some highly regarded wines, such as: Barolo, from Piemonte (Piedmont), in Italy; and those from a famous vineyard, in the Beqaa (Bekaa) Valley, in The Lebanon, Château Musar (www.chateaumusar.com.lb).
Traditionally, Gueuze is a blend of Lambics of differing ages. Typically, these would be a one-year old, a two-year old and a three-year old Lambic (on a December, 2005 visit we were offered a tasting of a blend of such Lambics, just prior to bottling; it was in the proportion 600/600/900 of 3y/2y/1y Lambics). They could come from the same brewery, two breweries or three breweries, the choice being down to the blender. At Cantillon, only their own Lambics are blended. For those blenders that use different Lambics, each batch of Lambic is delivered to the blender a day after being brewed, after having cooled down in the brewer's Coolship, i.e. in an open, shallow rectangular vessel with a large surface area, to allow maximum exposure to wild yeasts. Cantillon's Coolship can be seen in the photo, above left, which was taken by John White, in July, 2005. Note the open vents in the roof, to allow wild yeast-laden air in. Immediately on arrival at the blending facility, the Lambic is transferred to wooden barrels, which have had burning sulphur in them, the sulphur dioxide produced arresting the fermentation, as per wine production. Blending takes place in a barrel or tank, the contents being bottled immediately after mixing, a further fermentation taking place in the bottle, to produce sparkling Gueuze from flat Lambics. The wort that is put into the Coolship comes from a relatively conventional, albeit old brew house, with its Mash Tun and Copper, etc. In the photo above right, which was taken by John White, in July, 2005, Cantillon family member, Patrick Huyberechts, see above, is alongside the Mash Tun, explaining the process to a group of visitors.
Note that there are some exceptions to how Gueuze is produced, even at Cantillon. For example, their Lou Pepe Gueuze is only produced from two-year old Lambic, the bottle fermentation being produced by the addition of liquid sugar. Lambic and Kriek are available in keg in Belgium, but Cantillon also produces a number of its other products in kegs, even Gueuze, for serving on draught. They are mainly seen in the USA, see below, and in places such as Sten "Stene" Isacsson's Akkurat Belgo Bar (www.akkurat.se), a famous Speciality Beer bar/restaurant, in Stockholm, in Sweden, and in the One Pint Pub, in Helsinki, in Finland (Santakatu 2, tel 09 562 6101); the Finnish importer is Ultimator Ltd's Olli Sarmaja (Box 192, Helsinki, tel 050 599 4529). Some fermentation actually occurs in the kegs. Click here for a discussion thread on Cantillon on draught on the Burgundian Babble Belt (www.babblebelt.com), a message board covering Belgian Beer. Note that Kappeli, a Brew-Pub/Restaurant, in Helsinki (Eteläesplanadi 1, tel 09 681 2440), has a selection of Cantillon beers in bottle. Closer to home, to celebrate the move that took place, in August 2005, of the top-class Belgian Beer Bar/Restaurant, Le Bier Circus from 89 to 57, rue de l'Enseignement (Onderrichtsstraat/Onderwijsstraat) (GPS: 50.848822 N, 4.364924 E), in Brussels (www.biercircus.be), they produced "The Dernière Cuvée du 89 pour Le Bier Circus" (The Last Batch/Vintage from 89 for Le Bier Circus). Its name is also in Dutch on the label, "The Laatste Cuvée van 89 voor Le Bier Circus", the words for "Last", "of" and "for" being stacked on the label; click here to see a close up of the label. This is an eighteen month old Lambic, dry-hopped successively with Tettnang and Goldings hops, which I sampled in March, 2005 at the brewery: truly superb. Click here to see a photo, taken by John White, in September, 2005, of Le Bier Circus's proprietor, Patrick D'hane pouring this beer in the newly relocated place.
As has just been made clear, fruit can be steeped in Lambic to produce fruit beers, the classics being Kriek, made from a special type of cherry, and Framboise, from raspberries. Cantillon also produce superb fruit beers from grapes and apricots. For the "standard" Cantillon Kriek and Framboise (Rosé de Gambrinus), 200 g/l of fruit is added, but for the Lou Pepe versions, 300 g/l are used, the Lambic being two-years old, as per the Lou Pepe Gueuze. The name Lou Pepe comes from SW France, an area that the Cantillon family is very fond of. Here, the grandfather is called Lou Pepe, which is what Jean-Pierre's grandchildren call him, the Lou Pepe of the North.
The above two photos were taken by John White, in July, 2005. They both feature cherries that were put into a barrel during this visit, after which the barrel was filled up with Lambic from the 2003-4 brewing season. In the photo on the right, Jean-Pierre Van Roy is pouring cherries into a funnel that has been made from part of a barrel. Jean-Pierre is being helped by Louis Huyberechts, one of his six grandsons at the time, see the next photo, below. Louis is astride the barrel in which a batch of the brewery's great Kriek will develop from the Lambic and the Cherries. Louis is the son of Patrick Huybrerechts, see above and above, and Jean-Pierre's daughter, Magali Van Roy. Louis was born in 1998; he was seven years of age when the photo was taken. With so many grandsons, there will clearly be no problem finding a Cantillon brewer in the future! Praise be! Note that it is often stated that cherries from the Schaarbeek suburb of Brussels of cherries of the Schaarbeek variety are used to produce "Cantillon Kriek", but this is no longer the case, the Kellery variety being used, these coming from Sint-Truiden (www.sint-truiden.com), which is fifteen kilometres (ten miles) from Hasselt, in Belgian Limburg (St-Truiden is home to an excellent, 250+ beer bar, De Eglantier Stationsstraat 21, tel 011 68 60 29). These are the type of cherries featured in the above two photos; 4,000 kilos (4 tonnes) were delivered to Cantillon in July, 2005. Jean-Pierre had a few kilos just to eat - I tried them on my July, 2005 visit and found them absolutely delicious - the rest went into barrels to be topped up with Lambic. They did however, get 500 kilos (half a tonne) of Schaarbeek Cherries, these being used to make the Lou Pepe Kriek that is covered in the previous paragraph.
Cantillon Baie d'Argousier Lambic (Tyrnilambic) is produced from sea buckthorn berries (Hippophae rhamnoides, Tryni in Finnish) and two-year old Lambic for the previously mentioned One Pint Pub, in Helsinki, and Cantillon Soleil de Minuit (Midnight Sun) Hjortronlambic, is the Swedish equivalent, commissioned by Akkurat, the fruit being the raspberry-like Hjortron (Cloudberry, Rubus Chamaemorus), the Swedish national fruit; click here to see a photo of the fruit. I got a chance to taste this very special beer, in December, 2004, accompanied by Cloudberry Jam! This was a truly stupendous experience. Many thanks to Swedish Burgundian Babble Belt regular, PeterP, who was visiting Belgium at the time, for making this possible.
Another interesting beer that Cantillon has produced for Akkurat, in Stockholm, in Sweden, see above, is based on grapes that have been allowed to "Nobly Rot" on the vine, the type of grapes used to produce class Sweet White Wines such as Sauternes from France, and Auslese (Special Selection) and above (Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese) category wines from Germany and Austria. The grapes (Welschriesling (Welsh Riesling) and Sämling (Samling) varieties) were obtained from Willi Opitz, on the Neusiedler See (Lake), in Illmitz, in Burgenland, in Austria, www.willi-opitz.at, who you will see, if you go to the following page of the Willi Opitz website, does indeed produce Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines: www.willi-opitz.at/suessweine.html (Süssweine means Sweet Wines). Interestingly, not only have Edelfäule (Noble Rot, Botyritis cinerea, pourriture noble) grapes been used to produce this beer, but, for the bottled beer, some actual Willi Opitz wine (Goldackerl Beerenauslese) was added to produce the secondary fermentation in the bottle (5cl of wine per 75cl bottle); rather than the usual practice of using a Young Lambic to achieve this. The bottled beer is called Goldackerl Gueuze (10.1%). A draught version of it, Goldackerl Lambic (10.1%) (called Goldackerl Botrytis Lambic on the Akkurat website), was available in Akkurat, from May, 2005, with the bottles being first on sale at Akkurat's Lambic Festival the same month. Note that, it states on the wine producer's website that Goldackerl is their name for a Beerenauslese wine (or a Trockenbeerenauslese one) that is produced mainly from Welschriesling grapes, without naming the second variety: Sämling.
35kg each of the two grape varieties used to produce Goldackerl Lambic and Gueuze arrived at Cantillon on the 19th of November, 2004. They were placed in a 350 litre cask that had been used for Cognac maturation. This was topped up with 280 litres of two year old Lambic, as per the Lou Pepe Fruit Beers. This is equivalent to a fruit concentration of around 250 g/litre, i.e. half way between the 200 g/litre for "conventional fruit beers from Cantillon and the 300 g/litre of the Lou Pepe versions. After fermentation in the cask, some was put into kegs, the rest was bottled, using actual Goldackerl Beerenauslese wine for the secondary bottle fermentation, as detailed in the previous paragraph, on the 8th of February, 2005. For the "normal" Cantillon Kriek and the Lou Pepe version, the Alcohol By Volume (ABV) is declared by the brewery to be 5%. It was Sten Isacsson, Akkurat's proprietor, who commissioned the analysis on the Goldackerl Lambic and Gueuze, this coming up with the figure of 10.1%. This very high alcohol content is a direct consequence of the extremely high sugar content of the shrivelled up, nobly rotted grapes used to produce the two beers. This is further exemplified by the fact that the two Grape-based beers that Cantillon market themselves are both 5%: the white Vigneronne, which is made from late harvested Italian Muscat Grapes; and the red Saint Lamvinus, which is made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc Grapes. Note that with traditional Lambics, the maximum alcohol level attainable with the classic wild yeasts of the Brussels and Pajottenland area is around 8%. However, grapes are generally also fermented with wild yeasts, i.e. the ones on their skins, although some wineries do also pitch additional yeast. Therefore, with regard to the Goldackerl Gueuze, with such a high concentration of grapes added to the Lambic, then an ABV of 10.1% is totally feasible, since wines are seen with significantly higher alcohol contents than this.
Note that Cantillon have produced two further Grape-based Gueuzes for Akkurat; Reed Muscat Gueuze and Reed Pinot Noir Gueuze; their labels, along with the Goldackerl Gueuze are reproduced above; they were supplied to me by Sten Isacsson, of Akkurat; as you can see, they are all specials to mark the tenth anniversary of Akkurat, in 2005. As per the grapes for the Goldackerl Gueuze, the Pinot Noir (Red) and Muscat (White) grapes were supplied by Willi Opitz, in Austria. Once again, they are not ordinary grapes, since they have been dried on reed or straw mats, to become raisin-like, and, thus, they have a higher concentration of sugar than normal grapes; this is the same method used for a famous wine from near Verona, in Italy: Amarone, traditionally the last wine partaken of at a Veronese banquet. Sten reckons that they will be more like Cantillon's "normal" grape beers, albeit with a higher ABV of around 7%. The secondary fermentation in the bottle, is produced using a solution of Candy Sugar, as per Cantillon Iris. I am very grateful to Per Samuelsson for sharing bottles of Reed Muscat Gueuze, at a gathering of ratebeerers (www.ratebeer.com) and members of the Burgundian Babble Belt mesaage board (www.babblebelt.com), in Auguat, 2006, at The White Horse, Parson's Green, in London. Stockholm-based Per is responsible for "Ohhh... My Head" (www.ohhh.myhead.org), a famous beer ratings site, the ratings coming from a group of his friends. In RateBeer, Per (omhper), is the number one rater.
All this detail on real rarities actually exemplifies the very special nature of all Cantillon Beers; you may never have Goldackerl Gueuze, or the two other unusual Willi Opitz Grape Beers, but you can be sure that the Cantillon Beer that you do sample will have been meticulously produced to ensure that you have a very special tasting experience. As you will note elsewhere on this Web page, regular visitors to Cantillon are often in line for tasting something unusual; on the same day that I got the Goldackerl Gueuze, our group was offered a most wonderful Lambic: it had been matured in a White Burgundy Barrel.
Jean Van Roy kept a handful of bottles in Brussels, which John suspected he would have done, so he could not resist pleading for a bottle of what clearly proved to be a very special beer. As you can see in the photo, above left, John was most pleased to receive it. Note that the bottle has a different shape to the ones used for "normal" Cantillon Beers, see below, and it is made of unusually dark, browny green glass; they are sourced from Italy, where they cost €1, but with transportation costs, the bottle alone for these very special beers cost around €2. The photo was taken by Ben McFarland, on a visit to Cantillon, by the British Guild of Beer Writers (www.beerwriters.co.uk), in July, 2005. At the time that the photo was taken, Ben was the Guild's current "Beer Writer of the Year", i.e. the one voted as such in 2004. The Guild's visit to Cantillon was part of a trip organised by the "Belgian Tourist Office Brussels - Wallonia" (Office de Promotion du Tourisme Wallonie-Bruxelles), who have the cleverly named website, www.belgiumtheplaceto.be. Click here for a White Beer Travels Web page giving further details of the trip.
The photo above right, which was taken by Joyce White, in July, 2005, features the Goldackerl Gueuze, back in England, in Cantillon glasses, of course. In the photo, Jez Blake and John White are alongside a makeshift table made from Real Ale (Cask Ale) casks; the rim of the top one stabilised the bottle very well, such that the beer delivered to the glasses was clear throughout. The "table" is in front of one of the fermenters of the Highwood Brewery (www.tom-wood.com), in Lincolnshire, England, where Jez, who is rauchbier (Smoke Beer) on the famous ratebeer website, www.ratebeer.com, is the Assistant Brewer. The brewery is in Melton Highwood, Barnetby, DN38 6AA (GPS: 53.598722o N, 0.391140o W (brewery), 53.599534o N, 0.387554o W (drive off "main road")). The Highwood Brewery is housed in buildings that form part of High Wood Farm, which is on land owned by the Earl of Yarborough. The second Earl, Charles Andrew Worsley (1808-1897), is responsible for the bridge and whist term, yarborough, which is a worthless hand of thirteen cards, none being higher than a nine and containing no Aces. The Earl laid big odds against the occurrence of such a hand and lost. The Highwood Brewery is run by Tom Wood, who gives his name to its range of beers. But what about the Goldackerl Gueuze. Well, it was sensationally good. It is decidedly darker than Cantillon's own White Wine based, Vigneronne, and, as would be expected, more obviously alcoholic. It had both the characteristics of the two year old Lambic, that it is derived from, as well as the luscious grapes that have been steeped and then disappeared in it. Yes, decidedly sweeter than any other Cantillon beer that I have ever had, but wonderfully so; Jez's Saccharimeter reading gave it an FG (Final Gravity) of 1020, which compares with around 1008 for the Real Ales that he produces, so clearly there is a significant amount of residual sugar in the beer. With just the right level of carbonation, this was a drink that you wanted to just drink and drink, and with each mouthful, a different, but always agreeable new nuance came to the fore, such as evidence of beneficial oxidation of the Lammic component. Well, all I can say is, many thanks to Akkurat and to Cantillon, for making all this possible. I hope there is some still left by the time I can schedule the inevitable trip to Stockholm. Click here to see Jez's and others rating of this great beer on ratebeer.
In Akkurat, a 75cl bottle of Goldackerl Gueuze costs 495 SEK, in July, 2005. Using the Discount Currency Exchange website www.discount-currency-exchange.com, this is £36.33, $63.74 or €52.37. A limited number of bottles went on sale in Systembolaget (www.systembolaget.se), the State Liquor Stores that have a monopoly on alcohol off-sales in Sweden. They were actually be dearer than in Akkurat, for some reason, i.e. 600 SEK (£44.03, $77.28 or €63.48). To compare prices with a more readily attainable Belgian Beer, 33cl bottles of Orval are 21.50 SEK (£1.59, $2.79 or €2.30) in Systembolaget and 62 SEK (£4.55, $7.98 or €6.56) in Akkurat. The latter price is over double the price one typically sees in a Belgian Bar. Note that, in Sweden, one cannot buy beer to take home from a pub, which is why a number of Swedish Specialty Beer fans that I know purchased Goldackerl Gueuze from a liquor store, so highly did they regard this beer.
I don't know what it is about Scandinavia, but a further special Cantillon Beer emanates from there, this time from Copenhagen, the Danish Capital. Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, of the marvellous beer shop, Ølbutikken (Beer Shop), Oehlenschlægersgade 2, www.olbutikken.dk, has a Blueberry Lambic (Blåbær Lambik), produced from Danish Blueberries, which is expected to be produced annually. This rare and wonderful beer is only available in the shop in Copenhagen, which is rightly declared on its website to be "Københavns ølmekka" (Copenhagen's Beer Mecca).
In September, 2006, I went to Brussels with a group of White Beer Travels Beer Hunters. We visited the Bruxellensis Beer Festival, where Cantillon were offering a very special beer, at the normal token price: a 1996 Gueuze, "Cuvée Florian", Florian being Jean's son, who was born that year. 1,000 bottles of this were produced, of which there are around 500 left (September, 2006). These are essentially the first beers that they have lain down in significant numbers, but they are going to do more of this.
We also paid our customary visit to the brewery. Some days earlier, a bloke had arrived at the brewery. His mother had died and he had to clear out her cellar, which contained some old Cantillon Gueuze and Kriek. Not being a beer drinker, he brought them to the brewery. Both had no labels, but the Gueuze had plastic foil over the cork, with the lettering "Brassée en/Gebrouwd 1975"; Jean surmised that the Kriek was about the same age. They had tried one of the Gueuzes a few days earlier, and it was in good condition, with full carbonation, but clearly, at this age, it is a bottle by bottle thing, as the corks can leak.
Anyway, Jean first opened a Gueuze, after noting that the outside of the cork at the top of the bottle was dry below the foil. Then he very carefully opened it, and there was a pop denoting carbonation left, and there was, as evidenced by the ample, persistent head when poured. The beer in the glass was clear, but there was a substantial sediment in the bottom of the bottle. The beer was magnificent: very lively, substantially less tart than the "normal" Gueuze, and having a wonderful burnt taste, as if it had been maderised. Smoke was the first word that Jean used to describe it, and most of us readily also detected this.
But the sensation was the Kriek. Again there was a good hiss as the cork was removed; when you remove the cork from a bottle of Trappist Beer, of course, there is a Trappist silence, no matter what the carbonation level. Jean-Pierre was very sceptical before its opening as he frequently tells one that the Fruit Beers should not be stored, as their fruit characteristic quickly goes. However, he, and everyone else were amazed when we tasted it, as it was intense, unmistakeable Cherry, with no sourness. It was just too good! Jean and Jean-Pierre were genuinely amazed and called everyone working in the brewery, so that they could experience it. Once again, the Kriek had a substantial sediment in the bottom of the bottle, which Jean poured into a glass, which he named "Cantillon Stout"!
Although Cantillon is a brewery and museum, it is possible just to turn up and have a tour, these being followed by a beer. Of course, a visit is absolutely essential if one is in Europe. On entry, one is likely to first notice people, who, having finished a tour, are drinking beer standing around some barrels, which are used as tables for the glasses in which the place's world-class products are being poured. There is, however, a pleasant drinking area just beyond, which really could be called a bar. One can also have a pre-arranged guided tour. These are generally done by Brussels City Guides, who do a very professional job, but some may wish to arrange a visit guided by someone from the brewery itself.
Impromptu brewery visits generally mean going round the brewery and its incredible storage areas, full of maturing Lambics and derivatives, with one of the place's excellent leaflets (which are available in English, French and Dutch) in hand. One comes across barrels such as the one above left, which was taken on an Open Brew Day, see below, by John White, on the 6th of March, 2004. The "L" signifies that it is a Lambic, the "G" signifies the 2003-4 brewing season and the "14" signifies that it is the 14th brew of the season. In fact it was brewed in the previous week in which it was put into the barrel, i.e. on the 24th of February. Note the yeast activity on the top of the barrel and in the one below it, on the bottom left. As can be seen from the picture on the right, which was taken by John White, in March, 2004, the Cantillon brew house has some superb old vessels. Click on the vessel for a detailed photo of the plaque, which states, in French, that the vessel was made by Deneef, Bruwier & Co., from nearby Hal (Halle in Dutch), in the Pajottenland. It was commissioned by Cantillon for the commencement of brewing in 1937 (see below for a short history of Cantillon).
After a visit, one gets a drink, which is included in the price of €3.50 for the tour (March, 2005). One can then order further drinks, these being at bargain prices, see below. The equally amazing take-out prices are given below.
In the photo, above left, the four photos on the wall, are of, from left to right: Paul Cantillon, the father of; Robert Cantillon, the father of: Marcel Cantillon; and Jean-Pierre Van Roy. The photo, above right, is of Marcel's daughter, Claude Cantillon, who met Jean-Pierre in 1962; they were married in 1967. When they met, Jean-Pierre did not know that Claude was the daughter of such an illustrious brewer. In the second photo, Claude is in the "shop" inside the brewery, which is close to the "bar". The above photos were taken by John White, in March, 2006. Note that the flowers in the photo are daffodils, not Irises; it was too early in the year for the latter, see below.
Take-out prices include, some of which can be seen in the photo above, include (75cl bottles): Gueuze at €2.90; Kriek and Rosé de Gambrinus (Framboise), both at €3.80; Vigneronne, Grand Cru and Fou' Foune, all at €4.50; Saint Lamvinus and Lou Pepe, both at €6; and Iris at €4. The low prices are even lower per bottle when buying three or six, for example, the Kriek and the Framboise are €11.10/21.30 for 3/6 bottles. 37.5cl bottles are also available. To these prices, deposits for the champagne bottles in which they are bottled, are added. These are March, 2005 prices.
Fou' Foune is a Bergeron Apricot Beer, which is named after François Daronnat, the apricot grower, from the French Département of Drôme (Rhône-Alpes), who is nicknamed "Foufoune". This information is given on Cantillon's website, but what it does not mention is that Foufoune is a risqué name for a part of a woman's body!
Cantillon was founded by Paul Cantillon, at its present address, 56, rue Gheude Straat, in 1900. The building was originally a Warehouse, that was built in 1874. Paul was the son of a brewer, who came from Lembeek, in the Pajottenland. Initially, Cantilllon was not a brewery, but a Gueuze blending facility. Later, his two sons Robert and Marcel Cantillon purchased equipment from a brewery that had closed down in 1936, the Brasserie Royale du Néblon (Alfred Godet), in Ouffet (Warzée), which is to the South East of Huy, in the Province of Liège. The Néblon is a river that flows just to the South of Ouffet (www.ouffet.be). The second-hand equipment from the Royale du Néblon Brewery was augmented by equipment that Cantillon had manufactured specially, such as the splendid Mash Tun, built locally, that can be seen on visits, see the photo above. The first wort produced in its new location in rue Gheude Straat flowed into the Coolship, in November, 1937.
Jean-Pierre Van Roy, the long-time brewer at Cantillon handed over the reins to his son, Jean, at the start of the 2001-2002 brewing season. Jean Van Roy, see photos featuring him below, told me, in March, 2002, that he thinks that Iris, an all-malt beer first produced in 1996, is the brewery's best beer. Classically, Lambics are produced with a mash that typically includes 30% or a little bit more wheat, the balance being malt. In Iris, both old hops for preservation, and new ones for aroma, are used. There is dry-hopping in the casks, which typically, for all Cantillon Beers, have seen former use in Bordeaux wineries. Until 2006, these had had French Red Wine in them, but, in 2006, barrels that had the famous sweet White Wine from Bordeaux, Sauternes, were additionally introduced, along Red win barresl from Rioja, in spain, and new oak barrels from Hungary, The dry hopping is called cold-hopping on the website description of this beer, which, of course, points out that the Iris is the symbol of Brussels. The "Marsh Iris" is a plant that grows in wet areas. The centre of Brussels is built on swamps where this flower used to grow abundantly. Jean-Pierre told me that his inspiration for Iris came from a beer produced by the defunct, Brussels-based Aerts Brewery. Note that Palm now brew a beer called Aerts 1900, but this has no resemblance to Iris. Apart from being an all-Malt beer, Iris is also unusual in that it has hop character, since classically, Lambic derivatives are produced using aged hops which preserve the beer, but do not impart any noticeable hop bitterness or aroma. However, at the Cantillon Open Brew Day, in March, 2006, I was very privileged to taste a Cantillon Lambic that had been produced with fresh Cascade hops from the USA. It was sensationally good, with very well defined citric (Grapefruit) notes. I really hope that it is commercialised.
In 2003, Cantillon announced that its Gueuze was produced from Lambics that were 100% Organic. On a visit, in 2002, I noticed that organic malt from Boortmalt (www.boortmalt.com), in Boortmeerbeek, was being used in the brew, this having been introduced a couple of years earlier. Since Gueuze is a blend of Lambics of different years, but see above, 2003 was the first year that Cantillon could produce a wholly organic Gueuze. Note that the source of organic malt has subsequently been changed to Weyermann Malz (Malt) (www.weyermannmalt.com (English pages), www.weyermann.de (German pages, with links to pages in many other languages), White Beer Travels Web page), in the wonderful Baroque city of Bamberg, in Germany, who can guarantee the quantities required for 100% organic brews.
The organic hops required also come from Germany, but the organic wheat is Belgian, it being sourced very close to Cantillon, from Molens Dedobbeleer, in Halle, in the Pajottenland. Note that the aged hops required are purchased aged, since Cantillon does not have enough storage space at a stable temperature to age young hops.
The Cantillon website states that organic fruit beers will not be produced, since it is too difficult to find supplies of sufficient organic fruit of the varieties required, although Jean-Pierre stated he was looking into this, so watch this space! Of course, Organic Lambic is available in bottle. It is called "Grand Cru Bruocsella Lambic Bio". The bottles dated with the year of brewing, the first one being the 2001 one. However, as the Lambic in this beer is aged in oak for three years, the 2001 was only available from 2004.
Le Temps de Cerise, a booklet about Kriek (Cerise, Cherry) beer is €5.50. "L'Étoile" vinegar is produced from Cantillon Kriek. The excellent posters, depicting the Lambic brewing process are €2.50. There is an English version as well as French and Flemish ones. These are an excellent, easy-to-carry souvenirs.
Much of the research for an excellent 1990 book on Lambic was carried out at Cantillon. It is called Lambic, and is by Jean-Xavier Guinard (ISBN 0-937381-22-5). This 159-page book is one of a number of books in the top-class Classic Beer Styles Series, published by "Brewers Publications", which is a division of "The Brewers Association" (www.beertown.org), who are based in Boulder, Colorado, in the USA. It provides much insight into Lambic, with superb detail on its history, how it is brewed, and its chemical composition. Most of the books in the series can be obtained from the website quoted, but they no longer have the Lambic one. In July, 2005 www.beerbooks.com still stock this must-have book. Note that "The Brewers Association" was formed from the January, 2005 merge of the "Association of Brewers" and the "Brewers' Association of America".
Cantillon is open to the public on Monday to Friday from 8.30am until 5pm and on Saturday from 10am until 5pm. It is not open on National Holidays. On two special Saturdays each year, Open Brew Days, see below, Cantillon is open from 6.30am.
The Cantillon brewery is outside the Petit Ring. Most of the Brussels region is surrounded by a motorway, called the "Ring", numbered R0 in the national road numbering system. There is a smaller ring of wide, differently named boulevards, in a roughly pentagonal shape, called the Petit Ring (Kleine Ring, Small Ring), the R20. This follows the path of the city's former 14th Century city walls. Cantillon is fairly close to the Gare du Midi-Zuidstation, see below, and to the Clémenceau Metro station, which is on Line 2 (end station Delacroix and eventually Gare de l'Ouest-Weststation, which is on Metro Line 1b). The opposite direction on Line 2 is Simonis.
After getting off the Metro at Clémenceau, walk down the platform in the same direction that the train was travelling to leave by the Chaussée de Mons (Bergensesteenweg or Steenweg op Bergen) exit/entrance to the Metro station and carry on walking in the same direction as the exit from the station, to join the rather scruffy street of the exit's name. Carrying on straight, one should soon cross Avenue Clémenceau (Laan). The Cantillon Brasserie-Brouwerij is on rue Gheude Straat, which is the third right after this (it is a one-way, no entry for vehicles), the turn being opposite a VW/Audi dealer called D'Ieteren. It is on the left, at number 56, after crossing rue de la Clinique (Kliniekstraat). Cantillon looks more like a car repair shop than a brewery, and often appears shut when it is not.
The 46 bus that runs between Moortebeek and De Brouckère/De Brouckere, stops close to the brewery, on the Chaussée de Mons/Bergensesteenweg, at a stop called Liverpool (near the junction with rue de Liverpool Straat. A stop en route is rue des Halles (Hallenstraat), which is very close to the popular Sainte-Catherine (Sint-Katelijne) area (plenty of hotels and atmospheric restaurants), which is walking distance of the city's famous, impressive square, the Grand'Place (Grote Markt). The stop on the return journey is rue de la Vierge Noire (Zwarte Liewevrouwstraat), which is parallel with rue des Halles.
Many planning to visit Cantillon will arrive at one of its three main railway stations, one of these, as already mentioned, is close to Cantillon: Gare du Midi-Zuidstation. This is the station that one arrives at when coming from London to Brussels on the Eurostar (www.eurostar.com). Should one, say, be coming on a train from Amsterdam or Antwerp, Gare du Midi-Zuidstation comes after the Gare du Nord-Noordstation and the Gare Centrale-Centraalstation. From the Gare du Midi-Zuidstation, leave by the exits signed to the Tour Midi-Zuidertoren (South Tower), which is on the low platform numbers side of the station, as is the Eurostar terminal. Once outside the station, look for the South Tower, which is a tower block, and get beyond it by putting it on your right, and then walk through a bus station. Cross a couple of roads in Place Bara (Baraplein) and leave this square on rue Limnander Straat. At the end of this short street, the street on the opposite side of rue Brogniez Straat is the required rue Gheude Straat, with a shop badged "GMG Cuir" on its corner. Cantillon is on the right, at number 56; try all the doors, to find the one that lets you in, see previous paragraph. To go elsewhere in Brussels, after visiting Cantillon, one can: go to the Clémenceau Metro, see previous paragraph; go to the Gare du Midi-Zuidstation, from where one can get a Metro or a tram; or go to the Lemonnier tram station on the Boulevard du Midi (Zuidlaan).
Although one clearly should not drink and drive, it is worth coming to Cantillon by car or coach to buy beer to take home. The following are directions that have been checked out in the field! Leave the Ring Road (R0), at its junction 13, on the N8, in the direction of the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, i.e. in the opposite direction to Ninove. Note that the direct route to Anderlecht, junction 16 (Chaussée de Mons) (Bergensesteenweg) (N6), cannot be taken by coach because of weight restrictions. The road on both sides of the ring road is named Chaussée de Ninove (Ninoofsesteenweg). Carry on down the Chaussée de Ninove until it divides on reaching a small railway station/metro, the Gare de l'Ouest (Weststation). Take a sharp right just beyond the railway lines onto Rue Nicol Doyen Straat - the café au Metro is opposite the turn. Carry on across Rue Birmingham Straat and a canal bridge, noting a large cattle market, with appropriate entrance gates, on the right. Then cross the Chaussée de Mons (Bergensesteenweg) onto Avenue G. Clémenceau Laan. Turn the second left into rue Brogniez Straat. Take the quickly reached second left off this onto the required rue Gheude Straat, a one-way street. Cantillon Brewery is on the right of this street, at number 56, i.e. because rue Gheude Straat is one-way, one cannot simply turn right off the Chaussée de Mons (Bergensesteenweg), as one can on foot, to reach Cantillon by a seemingly easier route.
The Cantillon website includes a list of Cantillon outlets, so is an invaluable source of bars/restaurants/beer shops. Full descriptions of all the beers and the brewing process is also given in the Cantillon website and dates for future events, such as Open Brew Days, see below, and an annual gastronomic event, Quintessence Brassicole Cantillon, also see below.
Cantillon is the only brewery to have its own section in LambicLand LambikLand, a 2004 book on Lambic brewers, blenders and bars, that Tim Webb, of Good Beer Guide Belgium fame, has produced with my fellow Beer Hunt organiser, Chris (Podge) Pollard. More details of this don't-enter-the Pajottenland-without book are to be found on Tim's "books about beer" website, www.booksaboutbeer.com, and in a White Beer Travels Web page featuring it. Signed copies of the book can be purchased from Tim's site along with signed copies of his Good Beer Guide Belgium, which can also be purchased from CAMRA.
For a White Beer Travels Web page featuring a photo of Dan Shelton, taken at England's premier beer festival, the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), click here. The GBBF is run by the UK's premier beer consumers' organisation, CAMRA (www.camra.org.uk).
The Webmaster of Cantillon's excellent website is Frédérick Lepage, who is generally to be seen at the brewery on Open Brew Days. He has a website, www.oo-fred.net, that has a selection of photos taken in Cantillon and in the Orval Trappist Brewery (www.orval.be, White Beer Travels Web page).
Of course, Cantillon is a real shining light in the Brussels, nay the World beer scene. Further information on Speciality Beer in Brussels is given in the sixty-eight page White Beer Travels guide to the city, which is available from the Downloads page. There is also a White Beer Travels guide to the Pajottenland available from this page.
Close by Cantillon, on the other side of the Chaussée de Mons (Bergensesteenweg) is the Maison d'Érasme (Erasmushuis) (**) (www.erasmushouse.museum), at 31, rue de Chapitre (Kapittelstraat) (tel 02 521 13 83 ) this being a place where the mega-famous, Rotterdam-born humanist, Desederius Erasmus (1469?-1536) lodged for a few months in 1521. It is open every day except Monday and between 10am and 5pm, and on all National Holidays except the 31st of December and the 1st of January.
The above photos were taken by Joyce White, in March, 2002. The one on the left shows Jean-Pierre Van Roy pouring out one of Cantillon's world-class Gueuzes for John White, who was making a preliminary visit a couple of days prior to one of the brewery's twice-yearly Open Brew Days, which take place on a Saturday in March and a Saturday in November, the actual dates being given on the place's website.
The photo on the right above is at the Open Brew Day itself, which is attended by luminaries from the beer world, in addition to those who work at the brewery. Here, for example, is John, in discussion with Professor Guy Derdelinckx, from the famous brewing school at the Catholic University in Leuven (Kuleuven-CMBS, Kastellpark Arenberg 22, B-3001 Heverlee, tel 01 632 16 34, www.agr.kuleuven.ac.be/lmt/cmbs/home.htm). CMBS stands for the Centre for Malting and Brewing Science. Clearly, Professor Derdelinckx is a good contact for arranging a group visit to the Brewing School in Leuven. Professor Derdelinckx has done a lot of work at the Orval Trappist monastery, click here to see the White Beer Travels Web page on Orval for more details.
Should you wish to attend one of the Open Brew Days, as they start very early in the morning, it is worth considering a hotel fairly close by. For my visits at this time, I use the Michelin-listed Van Belle in Anderlecht (39, Chaussée de Mons (Bergensesteenweg), tel 02 521 35 16). It has a free shuttle bus that picks up and drops off near the Bourse, which is very close to the Grand'Place. I got a good rate for this hotel using the website www.hotels-belgium.com. Talking of the Michelin Guide, an interesting location for a restaurant with a coveted star is actually in the Anderlecht Football Ground, the Saint Guidon (2, avenue Théo Verbeeck, tel 02 520 55 36).
If you are luck on an Open Brew Day, Jean-Pierre will plonk some glasses on your table and pour you a real rarity. Here, with Joyce White in the background, he is pouring Loerik (see the label reproduction on the right), at the March, 2004 Open Brew Day; the photo was taken by John White, who can't wait to try what turned out to be an exceptional beer. Loerik means Lazybones. This is referring to the fact that it is a blend of Lambics that have been too lazy to react together to produce a "normal Gueuze". This particular example had some carbonation, but other bottlings of Loerik can be flat, for example, the equally superb one that I had on the visit with Roger Protz, in May, 2003, see above. Note that the Loerik that Jean-Pierre is pouring is contained in one of the baskets that can be purchased at the brewery shop, see above; it has no label, these being reserved for the ones that go on sale, this taking place mainly though Shelton Brothers, see above, in the USA; it can also be purchased at the brewery, subject to availability. The label was designed by comic book (bande dessinée) artist Louis-Michel Carpentier, who has produced a number of other labels for Cantillon. He does the labels for La Brasserie à Vapeur (www.vapeur.com), in Pipaix, in Wallonia, see the top of the White Beer Travels Links page. Louis-Michel's website, www.topgame.be, contains more examples of his labels. Click on the above Loerik label for a larger, higher resolution version, in which Louis-Michel's signature can be seen on the bottom right.
En route, to Cantillon from this hotel, one passes no pubs of interest to the Speciality Beer Hunter. The Café de l'Église, near the Notre Dame Immaculée Church (Église), on rue Dr De Meersman, which is parallel with Cantillon's street, rue Gheude, has four taps of different fizzes, the only bottle of interest being Duvel. However, it is a most friendly, atmospheric place, run by a Portuguese lady with Portuguese clientele. The Spanish-run El Retiro is a similar place opposite, with customers of Arabic origin, there being a lot of Arabic shops, etc on the Chaussée de Mons (Bergensesteenweg) in this area. In September, 2005, an Orval here was €2.40.
The photo to the left was taken at the Open Brew Day, in March, 2005, by John White. On the right is a blackboard for prices for extra beer, over and above the one that is included in the admission charge on this day, or for beers additional to the one included in the cost of a brewery visit on another day. The prices (July, 2005) are as follows, for a glass and a 75cl bottle respectively: Gueuze at €1.50/4; Kriek and Rosé de Gambrinus, both at €1.50/5; Lambic and Faro, both at €1.50/4; Vigneronne, Grand Cru and Fou' Foune, all at €-/6; and Saint Lamvinus and Lou Pepe, both at €-/7. For take-out prices, see above. The posters on the door are for the Zythos Beer Festival that started on the day of the Open Day, and the 10th Bierjutterij, the Beer festival run by the DOB branch of Zythos on the 9th of July, 2005; click here for more details. The photo on the right is a photograph of the same blackboard featured in the photo on the left. It was taken by John White, in July, 2005. Note the new item at the bottom of the board: Fromage à la Gueuze (Kaas met Gueuze, Cheese with Gueuze) at €3.50. This proved to be a truly excellent cheese, but these are superfluous words; we are in Cantillon! It was made at a "Fromagerie", alongside the hallowed Wallonian brewery, the Brasserie Dupont (www.brasserie-dupont.com), in the village of Tourpes, in the Belgian Province of Hainaut. The Cheese that I had at the time of my visit was not the final product, excellent though it was; Pascale Wauthoz, the wife of Olivier Dedeycker, Dupont's brewer, is experimenting with the amount of Gueuze used and with Gueuze of different ages, the idea being to come up with a Cheese that is unmistakably made from Gueuze.
As can be seen on the blackboard above, Faro is available to drink on the premises, particularly on Open Brew Days, by the glass and in "bottle". However, this is freshly made, the "bottle" being a jug, and is not sold outside the brewery, apart from one place that has it on draught, Jean Hummler's Chez Moeder Lambic in the Sint-Gillis/Saint-Gilles suburb of Brussels. The Faro is aimed at partners of visitors (of either sex) who want something less tart. Cantillon have always said that it would be impossible to bottle this and sel it outside the brewery, as there would be too much fermentation in the bottle. However, on a visit, in September, 2005, I was shown a container with the wording "Burnt Syrup BS 5000" (it was in English). This is being experimented with, as an alternative to Candy Sugar. In the future, it is possible that bottled Faro will be commercialised.
Note that both Cantillon and Dupont are featured at a world-class beer festival in Brussels: Bruxellensis (www.festivalbruxellensis.be, White Beer Travels Web page). The inaugral festival took place in September, 2005. In 2007, it will be held on Saturday, the 8th (from 11am to 11pm) and on Sunday, the 9th (from 11am to 9pm). It is jointly organised by Yvan De Baets, formerly of the Institut Meurice, in Brussels, see above, who also works for Cantillon, In addition, with Bernard Leboucq, the other co-organiser of the Bruxellensis beer feestival, Yvan brews a marvellous range of beers at the "Brasserie de la Senne" (De Zenne Brouwerij) (www.brasseriedelasenne.be). Note that the English pages of the Bruxellensis Festival website, were translated from the site's French ones by yours truly, John White. Full details of my French to English Translation Service can be found by clicking here, for the information in French, and here, for it in English.
This is an annual food and drink event at Cantillon, which is typically on the last Saturday in April, i.e. the 2007 one was held on Saturday, the 28th of April, from 10am until 4pm.
There are nine food items on the menu (well ten, if you count the "Trou bruxellois" Cantillon Gueuze Sorbet after the fourth), all produced by organisations renowned for their quality and use of natural ingredients; for a number of them, Cantillon beers are used in their preparation, such as Clafoutis à la Kriek (Tarte à la Kriek), produced by Emmanuel Logghe, in the Brussels suburb of Ganshoren; this really does taste of the beer.
For each of the nine dishes, which are served from counters, in different parts of the brewery, there is an accompanying beer. The food items for the event and the beers can be seen, in English, on the Cantillon website, by clicking here, in French by clicking here, and in Dutch by clicking here.
And what does all this cost: not €100, not €50, not €20, but a truly amazing €13 (Thirteen Euro)!