Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Brussels and Lambic

We only had a single day in Brussels on our travels, but I had been avoiding lambic and related sour beers up until this point of our trip, knowing that we'd be in the heart of lambic country in Brussels at least long enough for some fresh samples.

The plan was to hit the Cantillon brewery in downtown Brussels for a tour & tasting.  Unfortunately, we didn't account for the fact it was May 1 (May Day) - which is a public holiday in Belgium, unlike in Canada.  It's always May 1, even if it falls on a Tuesday.  So cafes were open, street festivals were on, but everything else was closed.  Including Cantillon!  The horror...

Putting a brave face on our tragic timing

Fortunately, it wasn't that far of a walk to a great Belgian beer bar featuring many (fresh) Cantillon beers: Moeder Lambic (Fontinas location).  Most Belgian beer bars seem to feature a few taps plus a long list of bottles - many of which we get in Vancouver (thanks RainCity Brands!).  Moeder Lambic Fontinas has gone the other direction and focused on taps - 46 in all, including about 6 cask engines.  That's right - fresh lambic/gueuze/etc. from a cask.  Drool.

Um, yes, I think this will do nicely

For those beer nerds who want to break out the magnifying glass, here's the tap list:

Nice bar inside, and all tap lines are limited to about 4m in length (kegs are directly underneath the bar):

One of the advantages of drinking with Mrs. Hoplog is that we get to share beers.  We had:

  • Cantillon Mamouche (lambic made with Elderflowers)
  • Cantillon Lambic on Cask (unblended, young lambic)
  • Cuvee St. Gilloise (dry hopped lambic)
  • Cantillon Rose De Gambrinus on Cask (lambic made with raspberries)
  • Dupont "Monk's Stout" (stout made with decidedly wild/non-standard yeasts)
  • Cuvee De Rank on Cask
Oh, that was worth the wait.

Unblended young lambic on cask, and Mamouche (w/Elderflowers), both by Cantillon

I have to admit, the first smell/taste of the young, unblended Cantillon lambic brought me right back to many beers I've judged in competitions: cheesy old hops and the weedy/vegetable taste of a beer infected with wild bacteria.  These are usually bad things, but I had to set previous notions aside as the whole point of lambics and related styles is that they're produced using only wild yeasts/bacteria.  So that "infected" aroma/flavour is expected, it's not a flaw.  With time and care (and possibly blending) the bacteria will produce a wonderfully complex drink - the vegetable taste will fade, and the bacteria will eat up the cheesy flavours of the aged hops, and woodsy, sour and earthy barnyard flavours will appear.  Really interesting to taste the early stages of that process, and this is one of the few places you can do it.

Elderflowers made for a fine beverage

Mrs. Hoplog's Rose De Gambrinus (cask) was an attention-getter - unbelievable raspberry aroma and flavour.  The freshness was a real advantage for such an aromatic beer.

Cuvee St. Gilloise (dry-hopped sour beer) and Rose De Gambrinus on cask

The standout for me was the Cuvee De Rank on cask.  I had tasted it from bottles, but this was a totally different experience.  Less sour, much more fruity.  White grape juice to begin, then quickly flavours of - no kidding - a nice Reposado margarita appear; and finally a finish of toasty wheat.  Wow.

For dessert later on in the evening, we had a bottle of Lindeman's Grand Cuvee Kriek to finish before the next day's flight, with spoonfuls of cheap Belgian chocolate fondant we picked up at the grocery store. Drool.

Thank you Belgium.  Tomorrow we're off to Dublin, and an entirely different beer culture.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Chad, nice post. Too bad you couldn't actually go into Cantillon, I hear it is quite interesting. Would love to head to Belgium one day and check out some of the breweries you've been too. Have a bottle of Rose De Gambrinus here right now. Do need to crack that open one day soon.