Comme vous le savez peut-être, j’ai récemment terminé mes études de Sommellerie. Elles se sont conclues par une soutenance de mémoire face à un jury, mémoire que j’ai choisi de mettre en ligne (en partie) !
Il est en anglais tout simplement parce que j’ai suivi toute ma formation en anglais. Être formée sur la bière par un Canadien, c’était cool ! Bien sûr, il y a probablement des erreurs grammaticales dans ces pages, j’espère que vous ne m’en voudrez pas 😉
J’ai donc choisi d’écrire sur la brasserie Cantillon, et plus largement sur les Lambics et Gueuzes. Pourquoi seulement des extraits ? Parce que je ne suis pas vraiment satisfaite de tout ce que j’ai écrit !
La mise en page du site ne permet pas de le rendre très lisible, j’essayerai de corriger cela.
I. Where the Lambic comes from : history and tradition
1. History of the Lambic
Lambic beers are among the oldest types of beers still brewed. They are the result of
a spontaneous fermentation process that lasts from one to three years. The region that is now Belgium has been one of the most heavily trafficked crossroads in Europe over the past 2,000 years. Throughout the centuries, different civilizations came and went to rule
the territory, occupied in 57 BC by the Celts. The Romans invaded Belgium, followed by
the Normans, the Merovingians, the German, the Dutch, the Burgudians, the Austrians,the Spanish, the French and the Dutch again. Each of them brought their own culture and pattern, their knowledge and habits in art, cuisine, and brewing. This succession of rulers in the region contributed to diversify and enrich the local culture.(1)
Some historians believe that the Romans brought in the region a brewing process, maybe already ancient at the time it was known when it came to the area of Brussels.
The Roman process consisted in exposing the beverage to the air, causing it to be
seeded by the wild, wind-borne yeasts. Although the Romans were not aware of that seeding, the right mix of airbone spore was (and is still) spreaded in a 500-square-kilometers around Brussels, in a valley of the Senne river on the west side of the city, the Payottenland. The spontaneous fermentation then occurred consistently.
That said, this brewing process was probably already known and practiced
centuries ago in Ancient Mesopotamia. A beer that could be thought as the roots of the Lambic was brewed by the Sumerians 5,000 years ago. It was composed of malt, raw wheat, then spontaneously fermented and flavored with aniseed or cinnamon.
Today, the Lambic beer is brewed, more or less, in the same way it was 300 years
ago in Brussels. The first written recipe that we know dates back to 1559.
During the 16th century, the Lambic consumption in Belgium was a staple in social life. Flemish artists such as Brueghel painted villagers drinking big jugs filled with Lambic, also known as the “yellow beer”.
Rémy le Mercier was the tax collector of the Halle city. He published in 1559 in a
note for the city accounts the ingredients to use by the brewers, indicating also the
proportions in wheat and barley. This recipe was not linked to the Lambic yet, and won’t be before the 20th century. Controling the brewing, quantities, types and proportions was crucial for the city and the collector ; brewing had a direct impact on the receipts received by Le Mercier. During hard times (wars, bad harvests), these “quality obligations” were temporarily suspended.
(1) J. de Keersmaecker, The Mystery of Lambic beer, Scientific American, 1996 (74 – 81)
As mentionned before, the link with the Lambic beer was made in 1970 by Marcel Franssens in his book Gueuzelambic, een levende historische getuige. He found out that different characteristics of this beer were similar with the ingredients and proportions defined in the 16th by Rémy le Mercier, such as the high percentage of wheat, the spontaneous fermentation, the absence of hops taste, the use of old barrels and the seasonal brewing. Each of these characteristics will be described below.
— The proportion of wheat and barley
Le Mercier defined the proportions of wheat and barley following this rule : 6/16th wheat (37,5%) and 10/16th malted barley (62,5%).
Today, for the Lambic, the traditional recipe is quite the same. Brewers use a ratio of 40/60 (40% wheat / 60% malted barley).
By the way, the Royal Decree of the 20th of May 1965 imposed to the brewers to use at least 30% of wheat, obligation that was reminded later by the Royal Decree of the 31st of March 1993.
Barley is, for different reasons, the ideal cereal for brewing. Even after the treading out, the barley grain keeps its protective layer, permitting it to be malted without damage.
This layer, called the husk, is also important during the filtering process.
Barley is easy to grow ; it is not requiring regarding the soil and the climate. It can be cultivated in the northern regions – not requiring a lot of heat.
However, wheat, greatly appreciated by the brewers as a conservative, was an
expensive cereal, meant for human feeding. To use this wheat “verdrinckene” (meaning to use it for brewing), the soil must be fertile and well-kept, as mentioned in the accounts of the city Halle in 1396.
Natural and economic conditions were combined in Brabant to produce this type of beer, even expensive. The subsoil of Brabant was mainly composed of silt, with very fine particles of sand, clay and lime. Wheat grows well on this type of soil, but it was also imported from Hesbaye and Hageland since the quantity produced was not sufficient.
— The spontaneous fermentation
Brewers who are not producing Lambics start the fermentation by adding yeasts to the wort, previously raised in laboratory or cultivated in a previous brew. But approximately until the end of the year one thousand, brewers did not know the existence of yeasts and were only trusting nature. It is generally accepted that no yeasts were used and the beers were auto-fermenting. Until 1500, yeast was not mentioned as an ingredient for beers. The first mention of this ingredient was made by Thomas Van der Noot in 1501 in a brewing recipe book, Een notabel boecxken van cockeryen.
Centuries later, brewers noticed that spontaneous fermentation happened and was different regarding the way the wort was cooled. Cooling occurred then in big open tubs, called coolships (koelbak or koelschip in Dutch). They were set up in the brewery, inside the attic. The brew was in contact to the air, so that the wild yeasts could fertilize the wort (liquid with sugars). The fermentation could start, converting the sugar into alcohol and carbonic gas.
In 1760 (Journal de Commerce), the “difference of the air” was finally considered as a determinant factor for beers, and one century later, the international jury of the Universal Exposition of 1878 declared that Lambic was the result of germs transported by the air, falling into the beer while it is cooling. This process occurs only while the wort is in the coolship and during the transfer into fermentation vats before barreling.
— A seasonal beer
Even if the consumption of beers has always been higher during summer, the
brewing generally occurred during the cold months. Indeed, as mentioned before, the wort needs to be cooled down in coolships ; brewing in summer would be inefficient and the wort would be exposed to infections.
In Brussels, any brewing activity was forbidden between the Saint George (24th of April) and the Saint Michel (24th of September). Fresh brewed beer was only available for Christmas.
Today, almost all Lambic producers are still using the coolships, but the period is no longer determined by the Saint George and Saint Michel ; brewers can decide themselves until when and since when they can brew.
Air is the enemy of a brewer ; contact to the air is avoided by cooling down the wort in a closed circuit. But for a Lambic brewer, this air is needed both to cool down the wort and to start the spontaneous fermentation.
— The wood barrels
Once the wort is cooled down, it is transferred into barrels (oak or chestnut trees).
The fermentation starts into these barrels few hours or days after the transfer. Breughel painted again the barrels used by the brewers in several paintings ; they are the same as the current barrels used today in the Payottenland.
Each barrel is marked with the signature of the brewer, as we can see on the Breughel painting. It was the property mark, burnt with incandescent iron or engraved with a chisel.
With the arrival of stainless steel vats, easy to clean and to maintain, most of the wooden barrels disappeared from the breweries, except for the Lambic breweries.
The emergence of those modern fermentation vats, pointed out the importance of wood in the spontaneous fermentation process : wood helps to start the fermentation thanks to the yeasts it kept from previous brews, but is also necessary to limit the contact with the oxygen. The fermentation then starts with a minimum of yeasts ; lactic acid, one of the characteristics of Lambic, is produced in quantity.
— No hoppy taste
Brewers used to try improving both taste and conservative quality of their beer by adding, during the boiling, a mix of spices (the gruut). They used this technic until 1300.
But the conservation of that beer was limited, so was the commercialisation. Northern Germany, at this time, was already brewing with hops. The conservative properties of hops permitted to export the beer on long distances. Few time later, Brewers from other countries started to use hop as well. In the city of Halle, hops are mentionned in the accounts of the city in 1400 (a beer is named “hoppen”). However, Lambic has no aromas or flavors of hops ; lambic Brewers used, traditionally, a blend of fresh and three-years-old hops. This old hop has lost its bitterness, ideal ingredient for the lambic ; brewers are not looking for bitterness but need a large quantity of hops as a bacteriostatic agent to improve the conservation of the beer. Concerning the fresh hop used, lambic brewers chose only hop with a weak bitterness.
To conclude, Lambic beers have a long history and are now considered as the most ancient beers ever brewed, using the most ancient fermentation method. The different characterictics mentioned below make the Lambic beer unique, protected by the European Union as a STG (Spécialité Traditionnelle Garantie) since 1997. A Lambic must be produced following the specifications of the Belgian tradition to get this appellation. This tradition remains enduring in the Senne valley.
2. A Brussels beer
— The yeasts from Brussels
It was recognised, until the end of the 19th century, that the necessary wild yeasts to start the fermentation of a lambic were existing only in the Senne valley.
This certitude has been questioned in 1904 when Niels Kjelte Claussen, a Danish, found this same yeast in a british beer. He shared his discovery in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing. Since he found these yeasts in a british beer, he called them “brittanomyces”, but a mistake from the typographer made them known as “brettanomyces” instead.
In 1921, Hubert Kufferath and Marc van Laer discovered ten types of brettanomyces ; nine of them are present in a lambic. The two most numerous are called “brettanomyces bruxellensis” and “brettanomyces lambicus”.
Brettanomyces can be found everywhere then. But the Brussels region was – and is
– the cradle land of the beer fermenting thanks to these yeasts. Lambic was brewed in almost all the cities of Payottenland, in the Senne valley. Today, hundreds of breweries have disappeared. Lambic breweries still existing and producing are located in the southwest of Brussels, and one in Brussels itself. One exception is the brewery Mort Subite, located in Kobbegem.
–The brewing process
The differences between lambics and other beers are not only about grains, spontaneous fermentation, wooden barrels and seasonal brewing. The brewing method
itself is different.
The most ancient detailed description of the Lambic production was written in the
Traité complet de la fabrication des bières et de la distillation des grains, pommes de terre, vins, betteraves, mélasses, etc., in 1851 by G. Lacambre. The author described this brewing process as a “belgian method” (today rather called “turbid mash method”).
The main difference with a “classic” beer produced with a top fermentation resides
in the racking, for the Lambics, of that “turbid mash”, a blend of water and ground malt which is cooked apart and then added again to the brew. This belgian method is still used today. The wort is racked with a madammen instead of a basket as before ; a
madammen is a punched disc, stirred into the must to rack it. The turbid mash is collected thanks to this process.
Another difference is the boiling time ; a Lambic brewer can boil up to 4 hours
instead of the 75 minutes generally required. This long boiling process creates a starch precipitation ; melanoides are formed. They are composed of starch and amino acids, and protect against oxydation and an eventually formation of acetic acid.
The aim of that complex process is to obtain a mash where a certain type of micro-organisms only can survive.
The fermentation itself can explain the complexity of a Lambic. Depending on the
time (and temperature), the fermentation starts few days after and can be divided in five phases.
First, the wild yeasts (Kloeckera apiculata) and enteric bacteria go into action. A white
foam escapes from the barrel, passing through a bunghole. This first step lasts about 2 weeks. The fermentation degree is limited to 16% whereas the pH (acidity degree) goes down to 4,4. At the end of this phase, barrels are closed.
The second phase is the primary alcoholic fermentation, that lasts from 3 to 4
months. The sugars are converted into alcohol and gustatory components. The
fermentation degree goes up to 60%, and the pH keeps going down to 4,0. The yeasts in action at this step are the Saccharomyces – the ones from a “classic” beer. They produce all the ethanol that will be present in the final product. The aromatic profile created will give the same flavors as an ale.
The third phase is the lactic fermentation. Between the 3rd and the 8th month, the level of lactic acid goes up to 5 grams per litre, and the pH is still going down (3,2). This lactic fermentation brings the sourness to the beer – essential for a lambic.
In a fourth phase, after 6 or 8 months, the secondary alcoholic fermentation starts.
The fermentation degree rises up to 80% ; during this phase, the brettanomyces
bruxellensis and brettanomyces lambicus start doing their job.
In a last phase, the maturation happens and defines the qualities of the lambic.
3. Lambic beers : the different styles
a) The Gueuze and Old Gueuze : definition and history
Definition : A Gueuze is a blend of a young and an old lambic, then refermented in bottle.
This traditional Gueuze is also called oud geuze. The modern Gueuze does not go through a second fermentation in bottle. (2)
Until 1860, in Brussels, production and importation of other beers than Lambics
were almost nonexistent. Lambics and Faro were the most known and consumed in
Belgium. Faro is a Lambic with candi sugar added to it.
The foreign draft and bottled beers appeared in Belgium after this period, at the end of the 19th century ; Lambic brewers were confronted to a new style of beer, with foam on the top, and a new way to sell beers – the private individuals who could not afford a whole barrel of beer was now able to buy it in a bottle for a cheaper price. To compete with this new market, the bottling of lambic was unavoidable.
The most ancient mention of a bottled lambic dates back to 1844. These bottles were meant for exportation. The bottles used to condition this beer were re-used Champagne bottles that brewers took from restaurants. Around 1875, bottling attempts were lead in Lembeek by the engineer Cayaerts. He studied the Champagne bottles to create a cork, sculpted almost as a squarre and attached with a thin rope. But these first trials were a failure : the bottles exploded because of a refermentation.
Until the end of the 19th century, this bottled lambic remained a beer produced and consumed almost exclusively in Brussels. However, more and more brewers tried to improve this bottled beer by the end of the century ; it was, at this time, called a “lambic gueuse”.
During the International Exhibition of Brussels in 1897, the Lambic obtained a
notoriety in the whole country ; this “lambic gueuse” finally had a beautiful foam (col), was pure and limpid. It could also be kept longer thanks to the new bottle. It had then more advantages than a lambic, still often turbid, with no foam and delivered in woodenbarrels.
Occasional lambic drinkers often thought that the gueuze was too sour and added
sugar to it, broken with a (pilon) (stoemper in Dutch). The “real” gueuze drinkers were
drinking it pure.
After the World War II, consumers’ taste changed : with the rapid expansion of the
Coca-Cola Company, consumers were asking for sweeter products. The big breweries, then, met the new needs and launched the “capsulekenseuze” (gueuze with a cap). It was, most of the time, a lambic blended with an ale, filtered, pasteurized, sweetened and
bottled in 33cl bottles.
The name “gueuze” then was used for two different styles : the “acid gueuze”
(fondgeuze), produced with the traditional method by blending young and old lambics
refermented in bottle, and the “capsulekengeuze”, from the same family but sweet.
Today, this ambiguity between traditional and sweet Gueuze has been solved by the
attribution of a European quality label, SRG (Spécialité Régionale Garantie) ; the Gueuze
with a cap, “capsulekengeuze”, is denominated as a “gueuze”, whereas the traditional gueuze is now “old gueuze” – “old” being a honorary distinction, a garanty of a traditional (and old) method.
— Brewing process
The brewing process of a gueuze is quite similar to the champenoise method. To
make Champagne, a young wine is blended to a reserve wine (older). They are then
fermented in bottle by adding yeasts and sugar. On the subject of the gueuze, there is also a blend but no adding of yeasts ; indeed, they are already existing in the young lambic and are powerful enough to launch the refermentation. The young lambic also contains fermentable sugars, converted in alcohol and carbonic gas (CO2).
The quantity, in the blend, of a young lambic is crucial. If the quantity is too small
(few fermentable sugars), this then results in a flat gueuze, sparkling but without any
foam. Should the opposite occur, there is an excess of CO2. The bottles are subject to a very high pressure ; the consequence is the beer was difficult to serve, with an excessive foam. Sometimes the cork was expelled, or the bottle even exploded.
This is more than important then to measure on a first hand the residual sugars
present in the lambics meant for blending. The young one, not totally fermented yet, are more concentrated in residual sugars than, for example, a three-years-old lambic that has gone through the whole fermentation process. A classic blend is 60% of a one-year-old lambic, 30% two-years-old and 10% thrre-years-old.
The taste of a gueuze is, of course, another decisive factor, determining the quality
of the beer. The “blender” (coupeur in french) – the person in charge of blending the lambics – must find the optimal composition. The measures are not the only important elements ; nose and palate are too.
After about 6 months, the refermentation in bottle occurs, without any yeasts added since the young lambic already has micro-orgasnisms and yeasts. A constant temperature is required.
(2) Elisabeth Pierre, «Bières : leçons de dégustation», Ed. La Martinière, 2015 (p.73)
b) Kriek and old Kriek
Definition : A Kriek is a lambic matured several weeks on a bed of cherries (kriek in
Flemish). At the beginning, cherries were from the city Schaerbeek, not far from Brussels.
The traditional brewing of a Kriek requires several months ; it is now possible to produce Kriek with concentrated syrups or artificial extracts. (3)
Adding fruits to a lambic is a quite modern process. In the Mémoires de Jef Lambic,
where is described the ambiance in the bistros and brasseries of Brussels between 1850 and 1914, Kriek are never mentioned, but historians agree that they were already existing.
The first mention of it was found in a sharecropper manuscript, Josse de Pauw de
Schepdaal in 1878. In his book, he describes his own recipe to produce a Kriek :
“Take a good lambic, at least a two-years-old, nice in taste, 20 kilos of good and ripe cherries per 100 litres of Lambic. Press the cherries and add them with their stones. Leave it to stand, infuse until december and leave it to rest on again for 20 to 30 days, then bottle them, cork them and lay it down. »
This new beer met a success before the World War I, then the war and the economic crises that followed slow down the expansion. During the World War II, the quality of kriek was changed because of limitations imposed to the brewers. To reduce the quantity of cherries, they used colorations and made the kriek sweet by adding saccharin. After the War then, two types of Kriek were born : the traditional kriek, quite sour, and the new one, sweetened by the brewers themselves.
The traditional kriek was made from Morello cherries from Schaerbeek, a cherry
variety a little bit tart but more and more rare because of urbanization ; harvests of this variety were not profitable. The fruits are small, and the harvest can not use
mechanisation. Since the middle of the 1970’s, the cherries from Hesbaye are used.
In 1978, the Lindemans brewery – still one of the leaders on the fruit beer market –
was the first one to launch a new type of kriek. They used cherries pulp instead of the fruit itself, without making it fermenting. The result is a sweet beer, sweeter than if the cherries were fermented 6 months. Juice and sugar could also be added to the mixture. As for the Gueuze, the Kriek had two opposite styles but one denomination ; once more, the European label determined two different appellations to protect the traditional Kriek. “Old Kriek” is now a Kriek made from fermented cherries without sugar added. The “Kriek” takes into account all the other methods.
Other fruits can be used rather than cherries : raspberry, strawberry, grape…
Since the end of the 20th century, the success of these fruity and sweet beers encouraged the brewers to test out with more fruits. In 1986 – declared “Year of the Beer” – the De Troch brewery launched their banana beer, and Lindemans commercialized a beer flavored with peach (La Pêcheresse) and blackcurrant. Most of the time, juices were used instead of the fruit itself.
These new fruit beers brought a revival to the brewing industry. New targets of
consumers could be aimed and convinced, particularly young people.
(3) Elisabeth Pierre, «Bières : leçons de dégustation», Ed. La Martinière, 2015 (p.73)
4. Lambic brewers from the Payottenland
We now know that in the 19th century, two occupations were – and are still – existing
in the lambic world : brewers and blenders. A brewer’s job consists in brewing lambic and make it fermenting ; the finishing of the beer for consumption is taken in charge by the blenders. With the arrival of the gueuze, they are mostly called “gueuze blenders”.
The decreasing success of the lambic in cafes at the beginning of the 20th century was actually balanced by the sales of this lambic to the beer blenders, producing gueuze and kriek.
The amount of breweries in Belgium reached its peak in 1907 with 3387 establishments. But after the World War II, a large number of lambic breweries disappear ; the familial companies could not find a successor, and had to stop the production. When the number of gueuze blenders started to decrease at the end of the 20th century, they were only 3 left in 1993. The lambic brewers, then, had to act as blenders and transform their lambic into gueuze, kriek or any other type of fruity beer, and then to bottle them.
At the end, there is only one lambic brewery left in Brussels : Cantillon.
In the Payottenland, 7 lambic breweries are still in activity ; 4 of them are still
familial (Cantillon – but in Brussels -, De Troch, Girardin et Lindemans). The other ones belong to a big company (Mort Subite to Heineken for example).
II. Cantillon : a family story
1. The roots
The founder of the Cantillon brewers lineage was Auguste, a grain merchant, in the city of Lambeek. His son, Paul, did not want to take over the grain trade and became then a brewer. Building a new brewery was too expensive ; Auguste decided to take back a brewery already existing. Paul learnt the brewer job thanks to the retired brewer still working.
He first tried to get the brewery Van Roy in Tervueren but failed. He tried three
different breweries before getting a positive answer : Vandezande – Van Roy, in Lambeek.
Auguste’s son, Paul, was born in 1875. When he decided not to follow his father in the grain trade but to become a brewer, he was probably inspired by his last wife, Marie Troch, Pierre Troch’s daughter (owner of Saint Roch).
The brewery Cantillon was born, directed by Paul Cantillon – but who needed his
father to brew.
In 1899, the father Auguste gives his sons the brewery (Cantillon brothers) but it is
already too late ; Paul was too frustrated to produce a lesser quality lambic than Pierre
Troch and decided to move from Lambeek to create his own company in Brussels region.
In 1900, Paul Cantillon and Marie Troch were “gueuze blenders”, thinking that they
were too young to get their own brewery. They moved in the street Gheude in Anderlecht ; their beer shop was set in a building from 1874 (n°58) ; 5 years later, they buy the building in front of the first one (n°58) to a wood merchant.
Paul and Marie buy their must in Lambeek, to their parents, then make it fermenting and ageing in their own barrels to convert it into “faro”, “lambic”, “gueuze” and “kriek” in bottles.
Four sons were born : Marcel, Robert, Georgette and Fernande.
In 1937, Paul Cantillon buys the Royal Brewery of Neblon in Wallonia ; he wants it
to become a real brewery – not only meant for gueuze blending. The dismantling of it, and the relocation in Brussels – in a area fit out behind the existing building – took more than a year. The first lambic from this brewery dates back to 1938.
The social capital was 400,000 belgian francs, distributed in 400 shares : Paul and
Marie had each 160, Robert 50 and Marcel 30.
In 1938, the Belgian government declared a first partial mobilization, reduced after the Munich conference but revived on the 26th of August 1939 because of the international tension ; 550,000 reservists are called, including Cantillon brothers.
Robert got a special leave to go and brew before the war begins, but the grains
supply is too low (13,800 kg), and will be as long as the war lasts. The new brewery was
almost out of work, and one of the two trucks used by Cantillon had been requisitioned.
After the World War II, the Belgian brewing industry was deeply in crisis. In 1949, the production and consuption barely reached 60% of the one from 1938-1939.
Moreover, the vintage 1947 was one of the worst ever seen by the brewers but also gueuze blenders from Brussels and the Payottenland ; because of the extremly hot températures during the summer, about 3 millions of bottles exploded. Cantillon had been affected as well.
Despite the crisis, Cantillon kept going on and, in 1949, carried out 200% of its pre-war period production. The revival started in 1950 to reack its peak in 1955 with a record of 33,600 hectoliters. Marcel, Robert and seven employees were making it. This is a huge record for a craft brewery, also taking in account the limited production of the vats (60 hectoliters). At this time, the founder Paul was not brewing anymore and died in 1952 ; Marie, their mother, passed away in 1958.
In the 1960’s, the trend was reversed and, every year, sales went down up to 10% ;the main reasons were the increasing of the cost price and the competitors, always more numerous.
Consumers’ tastes changed as well ; they were looking for a sweeten beer – supplied by the industrial gueuze – and they lost interest in Cantillon. Despite of that, Cantillon never changed their way to produced and never converted their beers into “sweet and fruity” beers. This is important to mention. Cantillon faced as best as possible the industrial uprising.
The only Marcel’s daughter, Claude (born in 1943), married Jean-Pierre Van Roy.
Jean-Pierre had a diploma in science and worked few years for Philips ; he was then a teacher for 2 years but could not find any position. He decided to join his father-in-law in the brewery on the 15th of February 1970.
During a year and a half, Jean-Pierre learns a lot about the brewer job, but Marcel left the brewery once a week from Monday to Thursday to rest in his secondary residence in Houyet.
To be at the helm of the brewery, Jean-Pierre brewed 35 times during the brewing season in 1969-1970 and 32 times in 1970-1971. But that was not enough and Jean-Pierre had to make the decision to produce less, with less employees and to produce as much as possible by himself.
In 1975, he gave up the current practices, tought by his father-in-law, to produce his gueuze. He stopped using saccharine (an artificial sweetener) to soften the gueuze.
Those practices were completely given up in 1978 when he created the Gueuze Museum of Brussels. Sales were increasing and this reinforces Jean-Pierre to produce only in a traditional, natural and pure way. In this idea, he stopped providing in beers Priba (today Carrefour). Indeed, those retailing groups were stocking beers vertically in the department, causing a drying out of the corks. The CO2 could escape and the beer became flat.
The production was, in the 1990’s, stabilized around 1 000 hectoliters (the maximum being 1300 hectoliters). Indeed, they could not produce more because of the lack of space (1-square-meter is needed to produce 1 hectoliter per year, for Lambics only); the cellars rent under the grand-father’s house (Paul) are lost, and the available space became reduced with the creation of the Museum – occupying more than 175-square-meters.
Due to their will to produce only “old” gueuze and “old” kriek (even if Cantillon does not use that denomination), the production is also limited since a large space is needed to stock the old lambics. If they were producing in a industrial or commercial way, they could produce three times more, working with young lambics.
Jean-Pierre Van Roy and Claude have three children : Jean (born in 1967), Julie
(born in 1971) and Magali (born in 1970).
Jean assisted his father in the brewery from 1989. His parents were fighting to maintain the brewery ; Jean did not really think and helped them as much as he could.
He learnt being a brewer by working with his father, since he never studied to become a brewing engineer.
In 1992, when the brewery became financially stable, Jean and his father Jean-Pierre started investing for the brewery; caps were used to fix onto the cork – the lost of CO2 when the bottle is stocked vertically does not occur any more. After the cooling down in the coolship, the wort goes today into a closed fermenting vat (limiting the contact to the air, so the acidity of the beer)… Some improvings have been made but the traditional way to brew is still respected – they are even still brewing in the ancient vats, red coppers from the 19th century when it was founded.
This is actually impossible to change anything more than the fermentation control and the type of barrels if you want to defend the traditional method. Jean and his father trusted their ancestors : if they did it in this way, then that is because it is the best way to make it – which type of cherries to use for a kriek, …
In different steps, the brewing process followed by Cantillon will be explained, then the changes made by Jean Van Roy will be described as he described them during an interview given on the 3rd of September in Graulhet.
Each type of beer they produce will be listed and described, based on their website and the explanations of Jean himself.
The aim is to show that Cantillon has absolutely nothing to do with any other “Lambic” brewers such as Lindemans or Mort Subite ; Cantillon keeps defending the traditional Lambic, the historic method to produce it, but does not want to be associated with these “modern” Lambics, sweetened and with a different quality. The modern Gueuze is not even refermented in bottles. As mentioned below in the chapter I., the European Union tried to protect the tradition by giving a different name to a Gueuze produced in a traditional way – an “Old Gueuze”, or an “Old kriek” for a traditional kriek, etc.
When I asked Jean Van Roy why he does not mention on the labels “Old/Oude”, to emphasize the fact they were respecting the traditional method, he replied that he does not understand why he should adapt and modify the label when he is the one doing the old process, whereas the “modern” lambics should get a “modern” denomination since they are the newest. Jean thinks he is not the one who has to change ; the newest should adapt to the tradition.
There is no AOC, AOP or IGP to protect the appellations”Lambic”, “Gueuze”, “Kriek” etc. A traditional brewing process can not be garanteed by any specifications ; that is why Lindemans can call their beers “Lambic” – thanks to the spontaneous fermentation -“Kriek” or whatever. Any brewery from Belgium can mention Lambic / Gueuze on the label ; most of the Gueuze are not refermented in bottle.
This serious debate between “old” and “modern” lambics rages over what is the
most authentic – even if the answer seems obvious.
The most popular style, which has penetrated the beer market,is the sweet lambic beers, which often depart from the traditional method by adding fruit juice or syrup to the brew, resulting in a sweet, sometimes cloying beer.
“In making these sweet beers, some brewers are said to use prepared yeasts rather than practicing spontaneous fermentation — the benchmark of a lambic beer. Other questions arise, over which breweries pasteurize and filter their beers, also no-no’s, and which actually blend only a small percentage of lambic into conventionally produced beer, rather than only using lambic beer. The vagueness of the Belgian beer regulations allows brewers to take these shortcuts, says Tim Webb, author of « Good Beer Guide to Belgium » (Gardners Books, 2005). »(4)
The journalist points out the incoherences in the Belgian legislation for beers. There
is definetly a place for those sweet flavored beers, which can be good, appealing and well-balanced. The main question is about the denomination of these beers : should they be called “lambics”, or “kriek”, etc.?
There is no such question for a traditional lambic brewer : the ”modern” lambics
besmirch the tradition. They should not be compared. We can say that a fruit and sweet lambic beer is enjoyable as it is, but will not reach the complexity and the savoir-faire of a traditional Lambic.
(4) «Lambics: beers gone wild», Eric Asimov, The New York Times, May 3,2006
Jean Van Roy has been asked several times to be part of different associations to
protect the Lambic tradition and to write a type of official specifications, to keep protecting the tradition and make of the lambic a sentinel to protect (Slowfood
International). Jean always refused to take the responsibility, saying he did not invent the lambic and does not even represent it – he is just producing it.
2. Cantillon brewery, the brewing process (5)
- raw wheat 35%
- malted barley 65%
- dried hops (three years old) : 5 g per liter of beer
- brewing (from 45°c up to 72°c)
- collecting the wort by filtering
- boiling and hopping in the boilers
- cooling down in the cooling tun, in contact with the open air
- natural infection of the wort by wild ferments (bacteria and yeasts)
- pumping the wort at a temperature of 18°c into oakwood or chestnutwood
- spontaneous fermentation, visible in the beginning, slow afterwards
- transformation of all the sugars within three years
What changed when Jean Van Roy arrived to the brewery
=> 3 mains changes
1) The size and the shape of the bunghole : instead of being square, bungs are smaller
and round, limiting the contact to the air and the growth of acidifying bacterias. It is
also easier to seal the barrel.
2) Barrels are closed after 15 days (before, they were closed only in April, after the
brewing season). Before being closed, barrels are ouillés – filled, topped to be
completely full (the ouillage was not made before), only once, when the fermentation is over.
3)Use of new barrels, bought from winemakers for example. When a wine barrel is used for the first time, the Lambic extracts more from the wood. Tannins were
already extracted by the wine ; the Lambic gets soften, with a particular taste from
the barrel. The Cognac barrels, in particular, showed “excellent results” The acacia wood was also interesting.