My beautiful wife and I went to Belgium and Germany on our honeymoon back in September, I know, she's cool. Part of our trip was to spend some time in Brussels which is home to a famous true Lambic brewery, Cantillon Brewery, or Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij as the locals would call it. In fact it's the only true lambic brewery in Brussels. And if you ever get the chance to visit get your taste buds ready because these famous sour ales will make your face implode. That's right, I'm talking bitter beer face at its most awesome-ness, but in a good way, trust me.

The Brewery
The brewhouse is something out of a time machine, steam powered belt driven mash stirring thingy, old red copper brewing equipment, cast iron beer filter and so on. Now if you've ever been to a craft brewer in the states I must warn you that Cantillon is a far cry from the cleanliness level you might have seen before. And that's saying something since alot of craft breweries here in the states are based in a freaking warehouse. Cob webs with spiders all over the place, dusty and muggy throughout the wooden structure that is the brewery. All of this are things that the lambic brewer wants, because it is the environment that dictates how the end beer will finish out.

What is a Lambic?
Now being a true lambic brewer comes with some responsibility and, I guess, regulations. First and formost there is no brewer inoculation of yeast into the prepared wort, instead the near boiling wort is transferred to a cool ship. The cool ship is pretty big which allows a large surface area for the wort to cool overnight. When cooled down the naturally occuring airborne yeast and bacteria begin to attack the sugars in the cooled wort. From here the brewer pumps this now fermenting beer into old wood barrels that have been used in the brewery for a long long time. In fact, there is supposed to be dormant yeast and bacteria in the barrel from what beer used to be in that barrel. This dormant stuff is what, in part, is said to give lambic brews their house character. As a side note the brewers at Cantillon only make wort between October and April, that's because during other parts of the year the naturally occuring yeast and bacteria are different and will result in a product that is less desirable.

The Beverage
Unless you get a bottle of straight lambic you will most likely end up with a blended beverage. The brewer does this because no two batches of lambic will result in the same flavor profile. Because of this the brewer will blend two or more batches together to try and get some consistancy in their product, similar to what wineries do. Before you take a quaff, prepare yourself during the first few sips, they will be quite sour. After your palate adjusts to the sour sit back and enjoy some of the most unique beer from Belgium.

Lambic Fakers
Belgium isn't immune to the "wine cooler crowd," there are fake lambics out there that you need to avoid. An example, in my opinion is Lindemans, these super sweetened lambics are most definately made for the masses. Cantillon lambics on the other hand are not sweetened after fermentation which results in a dry, refreshing product. Another sign of a fake lambic are the ones made with fruit that is not typical of Europe. Banana and Strawberry lambics are a dead give away, they will almost always be super sweet versions of a lambic beer, and give you a tummy ache if you drink more than one. Take it from me, a Mort Subite Extreme lambic I had in Belgium was like drinking candy, and it was awful. Other Mort Subite products are good, the Extreme line is the "wine cooler" type of lambic. A true lambic is something that can be drank in quantity and not result in a candy headache.

Final Thoughts
In today's world most everything is driven by the uh in this case....euro. At Cantillon the owners are much more interested in making a product that is true to it's roots and avoiding the "what's hot now" attitude. While the owners want to make money and keep the business going, it seems like they understand that true lambic brewing isn't going to make them rich. At least that was my take after speaking with our tour guide. The process of lambic brewing takes up alot of real estate and it takes a long time to produce, around three years at a minimum. As a point of reference, a normal strength ale (~5% Alcohol) from a homebrewer's standpoint can go from grain to glass in about four to five weeks, and sometimes faster. The tour was greatness and I hope that if you get a chance in your life to visit Brussels you can swing by this historic brewery that makes those sour ales. A Votre Sante Ya'll.

  1. J.R. Ewing May 4, 2009 at 7:41 PM  

    Visited Belgium some time ago and missed this one...won't happen next time, good stuff.

  2. SirRon May 5, 2009 at 10:19 AM  

    I just wanted to drop a comment here... Outstanding post dude. I dig the t-shirt souvenir I got outta your visit too!

  3. Starbucks May 5, 2009 at 10:22 AM  

    Not authentic!? I think over sweetening drinks is just fine.