This week I reached way down the back corner of my beer fridge and pulled out something a bit special. A Cantillon Geuze, made from a blend of of wild fermeted, organic Lambic beers. It had been waiting patiently for so long, almost three years, that I had almost forgotten lovingly transporting it back among socks and undies from a visit to Brussels in Easter 2014.
Visting the Cantillon bewery is quite an experience. It's located in a slightly dodgy part of Brussels on the CBD fringe, the sort of place that could just as easily be occupied by an auto mechanic. Instead it's one of the most famous breweries in Belgium.
Lambic beers are fermented with just naturally occurring wild yeasts, specific to that damp, drab and polluted corner of the European capital. Fermentation at the Cantillon brewery takes place in shallow vessels in the building's attic, beneath heavy wooden beams. Great care is taken not to disturb the delicate environmental balance that sustains these unique wild yeasts. Even spider webs are left uncleared, in case they play some small role in maintaining this beery ecosystem. Or maybe they just don't like cleaning.
This unrelenting comittment to traditional methods yields some incredibly unique and sought after beers, but in only modest volumes. You're not going to find a Cantillon at the local Liqorland any time soon.
Just opening a Cantillon is an experience. How often do you need a corkscrew to crack a stubby? It comes in a tall slender bottle of thick green glass, with a cracking label of a kid taking a leak while holding a beer.
Cantillon Geuze pours easily with ony moderate head, quite unlike the monstrous meringues that top many Belgian beers. The slow fermenting wild yeats produce only light carbonation, despite up to several years of conditioning for some of the Lambics that are blended to form Geuze.
The colour is a slightly opaque burnt orange, but it's not until you get a sniff of the powerful aroma that you understand that this is no ordinary beer. This shit is pungent. It's like a fermented fruit salad with a side of vegemite and blue cheese left festering in the sun. Sharp orange and apples with big sweet earthy esthers. It smells dangerous.
Despite a grain bill of 2/3 malted barley to 1/3 wheat, upon first tasting Cantillon Geuze you'd swear you were drinking a cider. A very good, complex cider with no cloying sweetness, as the extended conditoning completely eliminates any residual sugars. Surprisingly crisp, refreshing and quaffable for such an unusual and textured beer, it's just as well the alcohol content is a modest (by Belgian standards) 5.0% ABV.
My Cantillon Geuze seemd completely unaffected by its journey around the planet followed by three years in the back recesses of a beer fridge. It was still completely fresh and untainted (if you can call "untainted" a beer that smells like a homeless man eating garlic in a sauna). The label claims that in the right cellaring conditions it can be kept until 2030, impressive given the relative lack of preserving alcohol.
You'll probably struggle to get hold a Cantillon Geuze unless you happen to be dropping through Brussels. But if you get the chance, grab a couple of bottles and expand your beer horizons.