Fast trains, slow maturation, bad guts – Beer Warriors in Brussels

The country which taxes car radios, is famous for its incontinent statue and produces some damn fine beers is now just a few hours away by train. If you’ve got the fare, do what we did and leap on the Eurostar via the Chunnel to Brussels.

Round the corner from Midi station is the Cantillon brewery-where Monday to Saturday you can walk through the door, hand over 70F (1.60) and have the run of the place. You don’t get to drink it dry but you do see an amazing piece of working history.

Cantillon is one of the last remaining gueuze manufacturers, a local style made from blends of lambic beers.

Lambics were once the most popular beers of Brussels. They ire created using wild, airborne yeasts which descend overnight through louvres in the brewery’s roof onto the exposed liquid which will then ferment in oak barrels. Once fermentation has died down the huge barrels are sealed and the beer left to mature for up to three years. We tasted a two year-old and agreed that it was a beer equivalent of scrumpy.

Eventually this flat beer is blended with younger lambics and bottled. Sugars in the younger beer promote a secondary fermentation and therefore some sparkle. Even so, the bottles are left racked on their side in the cellar for another two years.

Ours being a summer visit, there was no brewing in progress. Cantillons lambics are not artificially cooled so use the colder nights from October to May for the process. We did, however wonder through vast rooms piled high with dusty, oak casks and around cellars walled with horizontal green bottles, all containing silently maturing beer. Surely no British brewery could offer such sights!

Often described as Belgian champagne, when you do eventually get to drink it, you may, as we did, struggle to finish a glass. Fantastically sour and a little acid tasting, at home youd take it back to the bar, but here in this cobweb-ridden old building you grit your teeth and persevere. After all, this is a classic beer style youre drinking and the brewer and his family are watching you sample their wares. We were also offered some kriek, gueuze fermented with cherries, but declined.

Call us cowards, but stomachs were rumbling and Brussels fine culinary fare had yet to be sampled, along with hundreds of other Belgian beers!

Cantillon Brewery can be found at: Rue Gheude 56, just 10 minutes walk from Brussels Midi/Zuid station, the Eurostar terminus.

Beer Warriors in Belgium were Chris & Steve

Oct. ’95