Brasserie Cantillon

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Website (French, Dutch, English): http://www.cantillon.be
Brasserie Cantillon

Phone: +32 2 521.49.28

Address: 56 rue Gheude B-1070 Brussels

Overview

Cantillon is the only traditional lambic brewery located within the city of Brussels. Founded in 1900, today Cantillon operates both as a brewery and as a living museum, the Brussels Gueuze Museum (Musée bruxellois de la gueuze). Cantillon uses 100% organic grains and hops in all of its beers. Cantillon brews traditional lambic products, using 65% malted barley and 35% unmalted wheat. Cantillon's beers are spontaneously fermented using a large coolship in the attic of the brewery and fermented in oak barrels. The brewery's flagship products, which are discussed further below, include:
Wall of Gueuze at Cantillon

In addition to these beers, Cantillon brews a variety of beers for special occasions and experimental releases. The brewery hosts Zwanze Day, Quintessence, and Cantillon Public Brewing Sessions. Cantillon also participates in the Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation, the Night of the Great Thirst, and a variety of other festivals worldwide.

History

The roots of Brasserie Cantillon stretch back even further than the brewery’s officially recognized founding date of 1900. According to Van den Steen in Geuze & Kriek: The Secret of Lambic Beer, the forefather of the Cantillon brewing family was a grain merchant named Auguste whose son, Paul, had no intention of continuing his father’s craft. Auguste then began to search for a business that would suit his son’s brewing hobby. Since starting a brewery was too expensive, Auguste made several attempts to take over breweries in the Lembeek area. By 1894, Auguste had bought the Vandezande-Van Roy brewery located in Lembeek’s Hondzocht district.[1]

By 1900, Paul Cantillon and his wife Marie Troch began a gueuze blending business in the industrial quarter of Cureghem which was part of the southern Brussels community of Anderlecht. The brewery was located in a very busy area near the Bruxelles-Midi train station, the Mons boulevard, and the canal that ran through the city. Jean-Pierre Van Roy, who wrote the forward to La Gueuze Gourmande, calls the period between 1900 and 1937 the "première periode de la brasserie." During these first thirty-seven years, Cantillon never actually brewed a beer. Instead, they bought lambic from a variety of producers in the area to blend and sell on their own, considering Cantillon a biersteker (beer blender) and marchand de bières (beer merchant). They would house their beers at Gheudestraat 56-58, where the brewery is located today.[2]

Boiler

Paul and Marie had four children, two sons named Robert and Marcel, and two daughters named Georgette and Fernande. The early years of Cantillon produced unblended lambic, mars, faro, gueuze, kriek, and framboise. After the First World War, Paul was ready to expand the business and bring his two sons into the fold. In 1937, Paul, Robert, and Marcel purchased the Brasserie Nationale du Néblon, located in Ouffet, which had closed the previous year in 1936. They moved the brewing equipment to its current location and the first batch of Cantillon’s own beer was brewed in 1938 shortly before the brothers were called to mobilize for World War II.[1]

During the Second World War, with supplies in demand for the soldiers, it was more difficult to continue to brew beers. The period during the war saw the brewery at a near standstill. The immediate post-war years did not see the same demand and production of beers as the 1930s had. To make matters worse, a massive heat wave in Belgium destroyed many breweries’ stocks including Cantillon’s. Sometime around 1950, the brewery began to recover and reached an all-time high production in 1955. Paul Cantillon passed away in 1952, while his wife Marie lived until 1958. Starting in 1960, the demand for traditional gueuze and lambic began to decline once again, and Robert sold his share to Marcel and left the business. Marcel, too, was on his way out of the brewing business when his only daughter, Claude, married Jean-Pierre Van Roy. By 1969-1972, Van Roy had taken the reins of the brewery.

To keep the brewery afloat, Van Roy sweetened his gueuze with artificial sweeteners to keep up with current tastes. Sadly, this did not help the brewery and it continued to operate at a loss. By 1975, Jean-Pierre began to abandon the artificial sweeteners and stopped the practice altogether by 1978. In 1978, he also decided to create a working exhibit dedicated to the art of lambic brewing. Opening Cantillon to the public allowed the brewery to bring some extra revenue to help balance the books. It also helped to spread the word to both locals and to tourists.[1]

Sales began to increase. In 1986, Cantillon began exporting to the United States.[3] Jean-Pierre continued to take steps to increase quality control, including discontinuing sales to stores that stored the beer upright. Storing the bottles upright caused the cork to dry out and let all the carbonation out. Jean-Pierre eventually brought his son, Jean, into the business in 1989. Like his father, who had no formal brewing experience before working at the brewery, Jean Van Roy learned lambic on the job.
Brewery signage, translated: "Time does not respect what is done without it."

In the years since 1992, the brewery has continued to flourish as one of the most sought-after producers of traditional lambic in Belgium. Though still involved in the brewery, the elder Van Roy brewed his last official batch in 2009. Jean Van Roy, who spent a full twenty years working beside his father, now directs the brewery’s operations after having officially taken over in 2003. Unlike his father before him, who was rooted in the strictest tradition, Jean Van Roy has grown to experiment with a number of small batch lambics and fruits not native to Belgium, like Finnish red currants and Danish bilberries. As of now, the future of the brewery seems to be quite stable with no less than seven grandsons of Jean-Pierre and Claude ready to carry on the Cantillon name.[4][1]

In August 2014, Cantillon announced via Facebook that they would be expanding with enough space to double their production. They purchased an adjacent building that once housed a lambic blender, Brasserie Limbourg. The increase in production will be realized during the 2016-2017 brewing season.

Underground Cellar

In 2011, Jean started a long-term lambic aging process in cooperation with the city of Brussels. The city is providing the underground cellaring space free of charge where Cantillon plans to eventually age sixty- to eighty-thousand bottles in long-term storage over twenty years. He plans to focus primarily on aging Gueuze, Bruocsella Grand Cru, and Lou Pepe Kriek but also try smaller aging initiatives with other Cantillon beers [3]

This cellaring project is the largest of it's kind for aging lambic. Chuck Cook at drinkbelgianbeer.com visited in 2014 and wrote of his experience.[5].

Production Notes

Cantillon-Koelschip-1.jpg

Cantillon follows traditional lambic brewing processes, with the following notable facts:

  • Until 1990, Cantillon used a foeder for blending. Since then however, fruit additions and lambic blending is done in stainless tanks to allow for larger, more consistent blends and ease of blending and cleaning.[3]
  • The fruit is flash frozen, allowing the beers to be brewed throughout the season using consistent fruit. Previously, because fresh fruit drove the brewing process, Cantillon would potentially have to use older or younger lambic to time the process around the fruit harvest.
  • Cantillon uses pipes (primarily wine barrels from France, Italy, and Spain) rather than foeders for aging lambic.[1]
  • Small blends and test batches are done in 20 liter vessels rather than the stainless tanks. Due to the size of these experiments, many of the beers discussed below are not intended for public consumption
  • Late in the season, the 1 year old lambic is closer to 18-20 months old and no longer has enough residual sugar for natural secondary fermentation in the bottle. In those cases, Cantillon will add 2 to 3 grams of liquid saccharose per liter. [6]
  • Cantillon historically sourced hops from large local hop farms in cities such as Asse and Afflegem, Belgium. Over time, these farms have shrunk. In the 1970's, Cantillon was sourcing hops from the Yakima Valley in Washington. Currently, most hops come from Germany, however in 2012 and 2013, the hops did not age well and Cantillon is looking to move back to US hops.[3]

Beers

Gueuze

Faro

Fruit

Jeune Lambic

Vieux Lambic

Cantillon Zwanze Day

Main article: Cantillon Zwanze Day
Since 2008, Cantillon has released a special beer known as Zwanze. The beer itself is usually an experimental beer that may or may not be brewed again. Since 2011, there has been a coordinated celebration around the world to introduce this beer.

Zwanze Series

Breweriana

Photos

Podcast

Basic Brewing Radio May 30, 2013 Podcast with Jean Van Roy, 2013

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The Sour Hour May 7, 2015 Podcast with Rob and Jason from Allagash, Jean from Cantillon, and Vinnie from Russian River

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Videos

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Jef Van den Steen, Geuze & Kriek: The Secret of Lambic Beer, 2012
  2. Nicole Darchambeau, La Gueuze gourmande, 2006
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Lambic.Info Interview with Jean Van Roy and Jean Pierre Van Roy, May 2015
  4. Tim Webb, Chris Pollard, Siobhan McGinn, LambicLand: A Journey Round the Most Unusual Beers in the World, 2010
  5. Chuck Cook, Cantillon’s Bomb Shelter Cellar, 2014
  6. Basic Brewing Radio Podcast, May 30, 2013