Friday, 4 September 2009

A walk on the spontaneous side

Last weekend me and my lady friend Helen partook in a splendid venture into Brussels, Belgium for a beer hunting holiday. As my first visit to Belgium, I was impressed by the overall diversity and choice of beers available, and the Belgians overall respect for beer in bars, restaurants and elsewhere. Admittedly I have already covered allot of literature on Belgian brewing, and tried many offerings at home, but of particular fascination ifound were the spontaneously fermented Lambic beers, which until recently I had only tried before in commercialized fruit beer form. So much so we decided to visit the Cantillon brewery in Brussels, a tiny little wooden cave like place that actually doubles as a museum. Here we got to see the tools of the Lambic trade, try some samples, and get the head brewers autograph. Following this we used the latest edition of the good beer guide to Belgium, written by Tim Webb to hunt out some spectacular traditional bars filled with elaborate beer ranges. Here allot of new beer hunting territory was covered, but classics such as Duvel and Delirium Tremens were equally welcomed.

Cantillon's mash tun. Old style.
Another interesting aspect of the holiday I found was the pricing of beers, which seemed to ignore the general UK system of higher abv = higher price, and all standard ales ranging between 6-12% abv were of similar price. It was also noted that the most expensive beers on beer lists were usually traditional gueze or lambic brews found most commonly at 5-6% abv. This would probably make little sense to the average Northern boozer but I myself found it quite fitting as these beers prove to be some of the most fascinating of the holiday. At one point I even considered attempting a gueze home brew but until I find some sherry casks (as lambic beers are fermented in wooden barrels) and age some hops till they become incredibly cheesy it wouldn’t be possible. Plus I would have to have the patience to wait 3 years for the Lambic to mature in the barrel, before I could blend it with some young Lambic to create gueze. Alternatively I could blend my younger Lambics with various fruits such as cherries, grapes or raspberries, or even send them off in neat form. So as we have gathered Lambic brewing it pretty unique, and the beers are worlds apart from your average pint of cask bitter.

The famous open ship vessel, used by Lambic brewers to cool the wort overnight whilst exposed to the atmosphere, this allows air born wild yeast to and bacteria to contaminate the brew and initiate fermentation of the brew.

maturation Barrels at Cantillon


Ed said...

The Cantillon brewery is excellent, even though I have a limit to how much lambic I can drink!

You can buy lambic cultures to pitch into your wort if you fancy making something like a lambic but it's still a long process.

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