Tag Archives: Cantillon

143. Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus

It’s day three in Brussels, and you certainly didn’t think I would come all this way without a return visit to Cantillon. I toured Cantillon last year, and very much enjoyed the Kriek, a sour, cherry-infused version of their world famous Geuze.

There sadly wasn’t time to repeat the tour this time, so you’ll have to make do with my words and pictures from last year, a morning when I practically had this venerable beery mecca to myself.

In a pleasing turn of events, there are still three Cantillon beers to be covered, and the thirsty beer pilgrim can sample this one, the Rosé de Gambrinus in the tasting rooms for a couple of euros. Let’s order a glass, steer clear of the deathtrap furnace in the middle of the room, and pull up a barrel.

Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus at Brasserie Cantillon, Brussels

The Rosé de Gambrinus is a very similar style of beer to the Kriek. Like that one, this is a Geuze, a bottle fermented blend of barrel-aged sour Lambic beers—a style in which Cantillon lead the world—infused with fruit, in this case raspberries.

And oh my, it’s good. It’s a shame the glass used here isn’t big enough to get your face right in there and fully enjoy the aroma, because it is fantastic. Face-puckering sourness laden with gorgeous raspberry fruit and the smell of generations of the same family perfecting their signature brewing style and technique.

To taste, it’s just a lovely beer. The sourness is pretty full on, but unlike the Kriek, which is made with sour cherries, the sweetness of the raspberries hits a perfect balance, without ever straying into Robinson’s cordial territory. Indeed the finish is long, tart and moreishly dry.

Initially light, zesty and refreshing, you imagine you could drink this all day, and yet it’s so complex that you’d still be discovering new depths to it at bedtime. Given that it’s not quite 11am yet and there is other business to attend to before we run for the Eurostar, we had probably better not try anyway.

We will, however, take advantage of the unnecessarily reasonable prices at the brewery shop—£6 for a 75cl bottle of Vigneronne would tempt you to leave London for good—and load up the rucksack with some treats to take home.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij, Rue Gheude, Brussels, Belgium
Style: Lambic and Gueuze
Strength: 5.0% ABV
Found at: Cantillon Brewery, Brussels
Serving: Glass, poured from a 750ml bottle

A Visit to Cantillon Brewery

For the beer lover, no trip to Belgium is complete without a visit to the venerable Cantillon brewery, home to some of the world’s most famous Lambics and Gueuzes, sour beers that are certainly an acquired taste, but have the tendency to make serious beer geeks rhapsodise for days.

Ask brewers at the height of their profession, such as Evin O’Riordain of London’s The Kernel, who they’re inspired by, and the answer is Cantillon.

And so it was that a beautiful spring afternoon saw 300 Beers make something of a pilgrimage to 56, Rue Gheude in Brussels. Here’s the brewery itself, complete with matching van:

Cantillon Brewery

The brewery appears closed at first glance, but be brave and open the door, and you step into a time capsule full of evocative sights, sounds and, in particular, smells. Cantillon have been on this site since 1900, and it shows in the accumulated dust and cobwebs. The brewery remains resolutely family-owned, and brewing methods and equipment are virtually unchanged in generations.

You pay a few euros for the visit, including a self-guided tour and samples of two beers. After a brief orientation you’re handed a detailed pamphlet which explains the workings and history of the brewery, and then you’re left to wander around at your leisure.

You can take all the time you want, and even—as I did—go around twice if you wish. I was lucky enough to have the entire brewery to myself, apart from a couple of Cantillon workers manning the bottling line, and another chap studiously washing kegs. The latter task is perhaps one of the least glamorous yet most vital parts of any brewery’s operations.

The brewing process begins with the mash tun, where malted barley, wheat and steaming water are combined to make wort, a thick, porridgy stew full of fermentable sugars and other tasty goodness:

The Cantillon Mash Tun

After being separated from the spent grain—known locally as “Draff”, which is used as animal feed—the resulting wort is pumped upstairs to the copper kettle, where it’s boiled with aged hops to sterilise and condense it, and to fill it with delicious hop resins:

The Cantillon Copper

After several hours of boiling, the wort is pumped up to the attic, where it’s left to cool overnight in a giant copper tray called a “coolship”. This is a crucial and unique part of the Cantillon process, as the attic is open to the elements, allowing the wort to become inoculated with wild yeast from the Brussels air. No yeast is added manually, and the wild yeast is what’s behind the distinctive sour flavour.

The Cantillon Coolship

The next day, the cool, yeasty wort is drained into the stainless steel fermenter where, over several days, the sugars are turned into alcohol by those magic little yeast bugs, and the liquid starts to resemble beer.

The Cantillon Fermenter

I can’t for the life of me figure out how they got that wooden cart up into the attic.

Once fermented, the beer is transferred to decades-old wooden barrels and left to bide its time in the barrel store, where it is aged for up to three years before bottling. The smell in here is fantastic:

The Cantillon Barrel Store

The barrel ageing produces a still, wine-like beer named Lambic, which is the base of all Cantillon products. You’ll have to come to the brewery to try it, though, as almost all of the Lambic is used to make Gueuze. This is a blend of one, two and three year-old Lambics, which are then refermented in the bottle in the brewery’s cellars to become the beers that are sold to the public.

Given the amount of time the beer needs in the barrel and subsequently in the bottle before it is ready, the biggest limiting factor to Cantillon’s output is storage space. The whole place is packed floor to ceiling with dusty bottles laid down. Every nook and cranny is utilised.

Bottles of Saint-Lamvinus in storage at Cantillon

Finally, to the bar for a tasting. Visitors are given a taste of the still Lambic fresh from the barrel (left), and then allowed to choose a further beer to sample. I opted for the Kriek, a Gueuze in which sour cherries have been soaked for around six months, and then bought myself a glass of the classic Gueuze (right):

The Tasting Rooms at Cantillon Brewery, Brussels

The Lambic is reminiscent of a high quality apple juice, albeit an unsweetened one made from sour apples, while the effervescent classic Gueuze is full of zesty grapefruit flavours.

If that isn’t enough sour beer for you, the brewery will happily sell you individual bottles or whole cases to take away with you, at prices significantly lower than you’ll find Cantillon products elsewhere, if you can find them at all. All told, a visit to Cantillon is a fascinating experience and quite a treat for the beer lover.

82. Cantillon Kriek

The time has come for 300 Beers to selflessly embark on a brief, shall we say, “research” trip to Brussels to track down a few of the many Belgian beers still required for this ridiculous quest.

In this case, it’s a sour, cherry-infused beer known as Kriek, which I enjoyed in the tasting rooms at the Cantillon brewery in the Belgian capital as part of a tour of the brewery. You can read all about my visit here.


Cantillon Kriek starts life as two year-old, barrel-aged Lambic. Large quantities of sour Schaerbeek cherries are then soaked in the Lambic for around six months, at which point a quantity of fresh, young Lambic is blended in. The resulting blend is transferred to bottles for a period of secondary fermentation, during which time it becomes a delicious, frothy red Gueuze.

I’m not typically a fan of fruit beers, but then it’s fair to say that this isn’t a typical fruit beer. Like all Cantillon beers it’s as sour as can be, and the cherries complement that sourness beautifully.

The result is a satisfying and complex beer, and the tiny hint of sweetness provided by the cherries just offsets the mouth-puckering Lambic sourness, to leave a tart, dry and lingering finish.

Cantillon Kriek is certainly moreish, but its richness means it’s probably best enjoyed in smaller quantities. I’m not sure I’ll become a huge fan of fruit beers just yet, but it certainly makes for a refreshing change, and the chance to enjoy it just feet from where it was brewed, surrounded by the evocative sights, sounds and smells of the venerable Cantillon brewery only adds to the experience.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij, Rue Gheude, Brussels, Belgium
Style: Lambic and Gueuze
Strength: 5.0% ABV
Found at: Cantillon Brewery, Brussels
Serving: Taster, poured from a 750ml bottle