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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 barrelsĀ  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…)

Beer rating

I was recently watching an episode of Beer Buzz on Beer Tap TV where they made mention of beer ratings. The base argument of what they had to say was that they do not give beers scores or ratings. There is a place for every beer and there can be something positive found in any beer, just like people I suppose. They also read an e-mail they received from a fellow beer blogger whose name/blog escapes me at the current time. He decided to go ahead and remove all the ratings on this site because if people only come for the rating, they miss the point of hi writing.

In general I agree with these thoughts. Brewery Reviewery has never had a rating system in place and there is a good reason for that. I am in no way an expert in beer tasting or writing for that matter. My tastes vary and my appreciation for different styles varies. For instance there has never been a review of a Lambic on this site because that is a style of beer that I just don’t get. They are also pretty tough to find around here. I also refuse to give a beer points or a grade because what I find in the beer might be completely different than what someone else sees in it.

I like the idea that there can be good found in every beer. Those who know me personally would consider me an eternal optimist, much to my wife’s displeasure. It makes sense that I should try to find the good in beer. My most negative review was of Hamm’s Beer. At the end of the article I said “I would not recommend this beer to anyone.” That was really harsh and perhaps out of place. There are people out there who love that stuff, so why should I bash it?

Sometimes I get my lines blurred on the audience that I am talking to. In general I would conisder the people who read this blog craft beer drinkers. However, there are those out there new to the “scene” or those just looking up info on there favorite beer. Who am I to say their beer stinks. I would agree with the stance that each beer fills a void. Every drinker can find something that is pleasing to their palette even if their palette does not agree with mind. On future reviews I will be looking to find the good in every beer and also keep in mind that my tastes will vary greatly from some of those of our readers.

Let me know if you have any notes for me or any thoughts on reviewing beers.