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Europe Trip: Cantillon Brewery

In my last recap of my trip to Europe I talked about Brussels as a whole and about their beer culture. Today I wanted to share a bit about a specific brewery trip that we made to the Cantillon Brewery. This brewery is known the world over for their wonderful Lambic, Fruit Lambic, and Gueuze styles of beer. If you are unfamiliar with the style, Lambic beers are generally sour and aged for a number of years. They are traditionally served with no carbonation and the fruit variety is, not surprisingly, fermented with some fruit added to the wort. A Gueuze is a carbonated Lambic and the carbonation is achieved by adding “young” Lambic beer, about a year old, to aged Lambic, about three years old.

When you walk up to the brewery you would never know that world class beer is made inside. The only way to identify that the building is the Cantillon Brewery is by the two wooden barrels  at the barn style doors along with a metal sign at the top of the door. When you walk you are are met with more barrels and a you can see a glimpse of a bar/seating area ahead on the left. A woman quickly approached us when we entered and told us the ground rules of the brewery tour. 1. It costs 6 Euro a person 2. For the 6 Euros you get a books of your language choice (its really a three page pamphlet) and two free samples of their beer. 3. Stick to the numbered signs and 4. Feel free to ask questions.

I’ve never been to a brewery that basically gives you free reign of the place. The reason for this is that they only brew for two months of the year and the summer is not that time of the year.

We began our tour by passing through thousands of bottles stacked one on top of another. Each batch of bottles was dated with a month and year. The oldest bottles that I saw dated to 2009. We then entered the mash tun room where hot water and grain are combined to produce wort. The amazing thing about the mash tun, and for that matter most of the equipment at the brewery, is that it is very low tech. The mash tun looks like it has been there for a hundred years and it is powered by a belt drive. Belts also power the pumps and other necessary equipment.

We then went upstairs where the boil kettle is and I still couldn’t stop marveling at the belt power. In all honest, most boil kettles look the same, so they are not terribly interesting. On the next floor up is where the mystical open air fermentation happens. There is a large copper table and open wooden slat walls that allow the natural yeast in the air to land on the beer. After 72 hours (and well after fermentation has started) the beer is put into barrels where it sits for 1-3 years.

The barrel room is impressive. Hundreds of barrels line the room and the smells of funky fermentation fill the room. While I was there works were milling about the room topping off the barrels that lose water due to evaporation. Upon leaving the barrel room we passed an old bottling machine on our trip to see the new bottling machine. And that’s pretty much the tour of the brewery.

In total it took us about a half hour to see everything. Once the tour was finished we received our free samples in a quaint bar area. I loved the lights, which were bottles with their bottoms cut off (see pictures below). The beer was marvelous. I have never been a big Lambic fan but the subtle complexity of the Cantillon’s beers were a real treat. I also loved the mix of new technology (like the bottling machine) and the traditional brewing techniques. I highly recommend this tour to anyone who wants to see a traditional Belgian brewery. (more…)

Europe Trip: Brussels

On my last post about my trip to Europe I covered our trip from Philadelphia to Brussels. Brussels is a very interesting city. Before I dive into my trip, I should mention that I expected Europe to be pretty different from the US in terms of looks and culture. Largely I found that we are remarkably similar, they just have older buildings.

After leaving Gare Centrale (a.ka. Brussels Centrale) we walked around for a bit trying to find our hotel, which was supposed to be right next to the station. Being the male that I am, I began walking in the direction I felt was correct. It was not. So my wife dove into a corner shop to ask where the location of our hotel was and three minutes later we walked into the front door. To my credit, I was on the correct road, just went the wrong way on it. It was also cloudy so I couldn’t use the sun to get my north, south, east, west heading.

It was about 7:00 AM so we couldn’t check in, but the hotel was nice enough to allow us to leave our bags there. Once we unloaded our bags we began to walk around the city, with our ultimate goal of seeing the Grand Place at some point in the day.

Brussels looks much larger on a map than it does in real life so we quickly knocked out the typical sight seeing places within a matter of hours. The Grand Place is pictured below.

There are some beautiful building in the Grand Place and in the areas around it. Located around this area are several narrow roads that are only open to foot traffic. There are not shops for the most part, but hundreds of restaurants. There are multiple Belgian beer bars located in this area as well and I made a mental note of where they were so that we could come back to later, since it was only around 10:00 AM.

My wife and I decided to go see the Atomium, which was built for the World’s Fair in 1958. According to Wikipedia,

The Atomium is a monument in Brussels, originally built for Expo ’58, the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. Designed by André Waterkeyn, it stands 102 meters (335 ft) tall. It has nine steel spheres connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.

You can go inside of this “building” but we opted to just take some pictures and walk through the park located around the structure. The Atomium is pictured below.

It was soon time to eat and if you must know one thing about food in Brussels, it is expensive. A normal plate of food is going to cost you around 12-18 Euros (17-25 USD). Since this was the first stop on our trip, it was also the country where we discovered that water and soda are more expensive than beer. So we had a lot of beer. It isn’t exactly cheap (2-5 Euros) but I would rather have a world class Belgian beer for 5 Euros and bottled water for the same price. My personal favorite of the beer bars we stopped at was Delirium Café, from the Delirium beer fame. They had dozens of beers to pick from and about a dozen or so on draft. Draft beers were available in .25L, .5L, 1L, and 2L glasses, even the Tripels!

All of the beers are served with their correct glassware and draft beers are filled and then have their head leveled off. Bottled beers are uncapped or uncorked in front of you and poured by the waiter. In Brussels most bars will give you free chips to go along with your beer. I sampled far too many beers to remember but you can view them in the images below.

My Europe Trip

Later this week I will be traveling to Europe for a two week vacation. I have always wanted to travel to Europe and when it came time to decide between a house and a fun vacation, my wife and I decided that the housing market just wasn’t stable enough. We also don’t know how long we will be in our current area, and with that type of uncertainty, Europe was an easy decision.

Smalls, my wife, wants to travel everywhere and do everything. I’m much less adventurous when it comes to travel, but Europe has always been interluding to me. Now that I’m into craft beer, Europe becomes even more interesting. I’m really looking forward to relaxing with Smalls and traveling all over the place and trying the beverages of the different countries.

We will be traveling to five countries during our trip, but only actually be staying in three of them. We will be traveling to Belgium, German, Austria, Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. Austria and the Netherlands will be day trips for us. Does anyone have any tips or any beers in particular to try when I am over there? We will be in each country for 2-3 days so we aren’t going to get to travel deep into an area to explore something special. We will also be mostly sticking to the major cities of the countries that we are going to; Brussels, Munich, Prague, and Amsterdam.

I’m really excited about this trip. On a side note, I’ve written some posts ahead of time and scheduled them to come out during my time in Europe. If you leave a comment or try to contact me, chances are I’m not going to see it until early July. Please leave any suggestions for my trip, I appreciate it.