Another post that should have gone up weeks ago and, yet again, I’m in an awkward position.
You see, I’ve read plenty of blogs and articles about Cantillon, each of them gushing over the weirdness, the smell, the gaps in the roof, the barrels, the cobwebs – oh how they love the cobwebs – and all the rest of it. I’ve read them and thought: right, I get it. It’s a special place. Lambic and Gueuze are undoubtedly Very Important Things. The brewery is a lonely bastion of a dying art form, and we must all kneel down at its spontaneous altar and take wild-fermented sacrement. I understand, okay?
The awkward thing is, having read all of that, and having thought it was well-meaning but over-enthusiastic, I now find myself having been to Cantillon and agreeing with every single word of it. It actually is a genuinely magical place.
It’s likely you’ve read all of that stuff about Cantillon, too. It’s fairly likely you’ve been there yourself. It is, after all, one of the few places that beer geeks might consider a pilgrimage-worthy destination, and rightly so. So what’s the point of me adding to all that’s been written? I might not be able to offer up a different opinion, but I might be able to persuade those of you who haven’t been to Cantillon to seriously consider a visit.
For one thing, during the summer, when the temperature is too high for them to brew, you are basically allowed to wander around the place unsupervised. Pay the nice people at the entrance the paltry sum of €6, and they’ll turn you loose inside after giving you a machine-gun-speed briefing on the brewery and a leaflet. We ended up wandering in on a bit of the guided tour, but my favourite memories are from the solitary exploration of the place. The deafening quiet enhanced every smell, sight and touch; made every surprised glance a discovery, every surprised intake of breath a gasp. I imagined coming across the brewery in some bleak, post-apocalyptic setting, overgrown with plants like in Logan’s Run, and the whole place being exactly the same.
The whole place is a bit like the obligatory ‘museum’ bit of a larger brewery tour (like when I visited Brouwerij De Halve Maan), except it isn’t a museum, it is the brewery. Gauges and pipes are insulated with scrunched-up paper, vessels are laid open for you to poke your nerdy head into, and that smell pervades everything. It’s one thing being told that the atmosphere of the brewery does the brewing, but in Cantillon it’s a tangible force that you can detect everywhere.
Even the beer you’re given at the end is ridiculously good. Yeah, I admit, that first taste of dusty, sour, mystical, raw lambic required some serious thought. What is this? But as it sits there on your tongue, and tells you its story, you just have to keep tasting it. All those cobwebs and damp, sticky patches on the barrels, the dust, the air, the wood, it’s all in there. And as for the Rose de Gambrinous, well, it’s simply sensational. Once again, Belgium gave me a Beer Moment(tm). Lambic and Gueuze ARE magical and weird and wrong yet so, so right. It’s all about the context, and understanding. When I sat there, drinking those beers under the gaze of that dragon, I felt like I understood What It’s All About.
You see? This blog has turned into just another fawning gushfest.
The trouble with Cantillon is: it’s all true.