On my last full day in Belgium I did one of the main things I wanted to do and that was visit the Cantillon brewery which is conveniently located in the city centre. A metro ride and a 10 minute walk away found us walking though a fairly dirty run down area, not quite a ghetto but similar to Talbot street or Thomas street in Dublin except much more rubbish everywhere. Still I felt perfectly safe so it is not a dangerous area by any means.
The sight that greets you on walking in. This is where you come at the end of your tour to take a taste of the beer. You get two glasses of beer, a Gouze and a Kriek and you can buy the others if you like. I should probably explain what lambic is because not everyone will have had one and even some people who have had a kriek might have enjoyed it, they might find Cantillon not to their taste. The reason is, Cantillon still brew in traditional style. A Lambic is a beer that uses spontaneous fermentation. What that means is basically that instead of introducing a human bred yeast strain, they leave the beer exposed to the elements and the wild yeasts in the air ferment the beer. The beer is then aged for a minimum of one year and up to three in wooden casks. If they make a fruit beer, such as a kriek where they add cherries, they usually take a lambic that has been maturing for over a year and add the fruit and this is then fermented again for a few months before bottling etc. Then it is aged for up to 5 months in the cellars. The point here is that a lot of time goes in to making a proper kriek and all of the sugar is turned to alcohol which means not only is this traditional kriek not in the least bit sweet, it is actually very sour. Imagine sucking a ripe lemon and you get the idea. It is very acidic and sour and if it is your first time tasting one, you will probably make a face you do not wish to have photographed.
Once you get used to it though, this sour unsweet beer is very refreshing and quite lovely.
The mashtun is small by commercial standards but is massive compared to my converted picnic cooler mashtun.
This is where the beer gets exposed to the wild yeasts and the spontaneous fermentation begins. Although the real activity only starts after the beer has been transferred in to the wooden casks and the yeast cells have multiplied. The Beer Nut managed to get there in March for the public brewday and has a great article. He has a picture like the one above but with activity going on.
Cantillon is completely organic from the grains to the pest control You can imagine that plenty of flies will be attracted to the sweet fruit aroma coming from the attic. Thankfully Mother Nature long ago designed the perfect fly trap and they still use the loft spiders for this purpose.
This grain is just for show but there are hundreds of sacks of the stuff in the attic for use in the beer. Oh and those barrels contain young lambics fermenting.
This is where they age the beer. Long corridors of maturing lambic sitting in barrels.
Once bottled, they are left to mature for a few months before being shipped.
Well there is a lot more to the tour than I showed you here but I think that this was one of the highlights of the Belgium trip. It only costs €5 for the tour (self guided) and since you get two glasses of beer at the end it is more than worth it. I would have happily stayed longer and had some more lambic but my wife was not feeling very well and it was time for lunch anyway. I felt the brewery had given me more than I had given them so I bought a hoodie and T-Shirt. I had no way to bring back beer so I had to leave it all behind. I wanted some Gueuze though. I have never seen a Cantillon product in Ireland and my sole experience has been an introduction in Italy and the two glasses I had in Cantillon. I am actually kicking myself because I had been looking forward to Cantillon so much that I did not bother drinking any Lambics in Belgium thinking I would have my fill there. Unfortunately my wife's got ill and wanted to leave. Damn....
If anyone (TBN?) knows where to find them in Dublin then please let me know. The style has grown on me.