Tag Archives: Cantillon Iris

Lad(ies) Love LL Cool Lambics

Some of the best classical music composers reuse their best material and not often due to lack of originality. Have you heard how repetitive works like Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ or Allegri’s ‘Miserere’ is?

And so I repeat a claim previously made, not due to any inkling of genius but because that is what this poetaster does best, and that is to recycle. Lambics taste like ladies. Some lambics/ladies taste better than others. Imagine my horror when my father, knowing I was excited to be back in the beery-foodie game said that I could bring back any beery leftovers to share. Shudder. No Dad, you can’t have my ladies and also, lambics are an acquired taste. Dad’s not a big beer drinker at all (he prefers wine) so my concern wasn’t prompted by snobbery but by my own first experience with sour beers.

Brouwerij Boon crate! thanks to Ben at Local Taphouse :)

Both Professor Pilsner and humble Ale Star Tsar Shandy still remember the scrunched-up face of distaste that was lambic virginal Gem. I said to Tris prior to this session that tasting lambics for the first time felt like someone forcibly holding me down and squeezing an entire lemon’s contents into my mouth, wrenched open.

Initially, it was not an experience I was particularly keen on replicating. It should be embarrassing (and they tease me mercilessly about it) but looking back, I’m actually pretty proud of how far my palate has come. Me and lambics are now truly friends. To continue with the overtly sexual conceit (fuck yeah lit nerdery), I can now hide my rude robbed-of-virginity face, though now everyone knows what my (beery…) orgasm face looks like.

Most of the folks at this evening were pretty well informed about sour beers, so this did allow Shandy to get into some more beer-nerd-tech aspects of lambic and its genesis. They are old, and according to our excruciating trivia questions, ‘lambic’ derives from Lembeek, assumed to have given this beer style its name. It also apparently means ‘lime creek’. It would have made my day if it actually meant ‘lemon’ creek given my predilection for the ladies (I can’t believe no one remembers this as slang for lesbian in primary school: showing my age, you say?).

First up, and probably my favourite of the evening was the Cantillon Bruocsella Grand Cru, brewed in Nov 2005 and bottled in Nov 2008 — because I know some of the more…pedantic among us were concerned.

Cantillon Bruocsella Grand Cru

My photographer was off-duty (read: a disorganised whatsit) so I had to resort to the Smartphone of Evil™ for my photos. The light wasn’t great so yes, the using of flash sin was committed this evening, and committed often. However, I had previously enjoyed this beer so have a better photo of it on my Flickr account.

Revisiting this lambic was a remarkably different experience to my first trial of it at the Slowbeer Cantillon showcase: it was smooth, not at all that sour and wine-like, which was actually one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. The beer was kept in a sherry cask hence its less blonde colour and its vinous aromatics. Virtually no carbonation and no head.

For our second beer, we had the privilege of Scott, the main brewer of Bright Brewery introduce his ‘Pinky Framboise’. My beer briefing sheet is absolutely covered in notes about this beer: it’s made with raspberries from a farm local to the brewery and they’d experimented with making a similar one based on wild blackberries! Mmm, wild blackberries…takes me back to visiting my lovely uncle who lived in Hertfordshire and used to let us pick blackberries from his garden to eat. Ah British childhood memories!

Argh, the beer! It wasn’t that tart, with a hint of bitterness that I did not initially attribute to hops, but the hop bitterness become more evident when the beer warmed. The beer was made when raspberries were in season and the one we had on the evening was, by the brewer’s admission, still a little young. Gorgeously fragrant in the best way possible, I think this is a beer to ride cider’s coattails. I really wish it had’ve been the sour beer to break my sour beer virginity.

Scott of Bright Brewery introducing Pinky Framboise

Shandy gracefully stepping out of the limelight...for once

Back to hearing our fave beery Scot talk, the third beer on our list was Brouwerij Boon’s Oude Gueuze.

(image is not mine and comes from UC Davis ChemWiki site)

I added the above image to illustrate how one measures levels of acidity and alkaline/basic substances. Water (roughly) has a pH of 7.

The Oude Gueuze has a pH of 2. That, my friends, makes it a really fucking sour beer and oh boy was it felt! Easily the beer my palate struggled with the most. It was pretty ‘rude’ on the nose and extremely lively on the palate. Ale Stars folks had some great tasting notes for this one: dry concrete, wet cardboard (oxidation), pineapple, sherbet. Beautiful, cream-foam head. Apparently aged in two hundred year old wine barrels (and these dudes have making it since the sixteenth century). Reprazent.

Lastly, a nice bookend to my personal lambic journey — started with a Cantillon I’d had before and ended with another: the Iris. Again, before the sour beer pedants get up in my grill, first things first: Iris’ maturation year is 2007 and any matured in 2007 were bottled in 2009. It’s one of the few unblended lambics that uses fresh hops. Funny that this seemed such shock to the tastebuds (again, at Slowbeer’s Cantillon showcase) but seemed quite, well, natural at this stage. It has a white foamy cottonwool-like head, a very carbonated mouthfeel, with antiseptic and metallic notes – none of those notes being unpleasant. A tad bitter initially not seeming to be hop-driven, but like the Pinky Framboise, once it warms up the bitterness is more evidently hop-related. Still, it’s mouth-puckering but a solid, smooth flavoured sour beer.

Cantillon Iris

Though there are about one hundred different bacteria to be found in lambics, the three main suspects for making lambics the special whatsits that they are are Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and acetic acid bacteria. Erm, don’t read the lacto’s Wiki page too thoroughly…it’s present in some rather yonic places, it would appear. So yes, ‘bad’ bacteria can yield some good things. Unrelated to beer, I learnt just before going to this Ale Stars that sometimes really, really bad bacteria can save lives. In other cases, it can cause mirth within the Australian craft beer community, particularly when an uninvited bacterium gatecrashes. I’m sure Corey Worthington wouldn’t have minded…

Incidentally, even repetitive music when performed consummately is still hair-on-back-of-neck amazing. The same goes with beer, and these beers too. While I’ve had the pleasure of having had both the Cantillons offered at this night before, repeat performances remind you why you fell in love with them in the first place, or give you a chance to have them grow on you. The lambic love groweth and this was reflected by fellow Ale Star members, though given the aceness of Ale Stars in general (no, not myself, I’m a miscreant lapsed member now), it’s not a jot surprising.

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cultivating love for the sour ale

Bellies fortified suitably with something approximating ramen, Tristan and I skipped across the road to Slowbeer for the second session that week of a lambic tasting, focussing on those of Belgian brewery Cantillon.

What I loved most about this tasting is that they’re not for everyone, we’re moving into intermediate craft beer territory, folks! It was also a fantastic way to get to sample ten of Cantillon’s sour brews.

The first time I tried sour beer, it was very much baptism by fire. I guess I’m teething now, palate-development wise? It actually makes me cringe to read back on that previous post and see the words “This is a beer I would never have again, if I could avoid it” because I did get to have it again my reaction was nowhere near that negative.

The beer we started with was the Iris. It’s one of the few Cantillon make that has fresh hops (old dry hops are used in these beers for their preservative function, rather than for flavouring). Also notable is it has no wheat. It was very carbonated, extremely sour and dry and had the aroma of compost. That might sound unsavoury but its actual taste was zesty, vinous and quite like cider but without any of cider’s sweetness. The colour has a hint of copper but is mainly amber. I’d drink it again, should be great for summer and @brenosbrews I believe suggested that it was a great match with mussels and cheese, just like the Belgians do.

Erm, pay no attention to the label on the next bottle – I can assure you that we were drinking a distinctly unrelated…amber liquid! The second subject was indeed the one I vowed I’d never have again – Cantillon’s Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio. It’s a damn good thing that one’s palate changes! It’s very clear, less carbonated in comparison to the first lambic sampled and its sourness mellows as you have more. It has a touch of bitterness and a crisp crystal mouthfeel. I think Chris did well to start us off with a lambic that was essentially a shock to the tastebuds as it made many of us more receptive to the lambics that followed.

The Lou Pepe Gueuze is a subtler beast still. Quite a full body, little to no carbonation and a very delicate sourness and acidity about it. Overall, surprisingly subtle. Cantillon use fruit as the sugar to bottle condition with a whopping 300g fruit to every litre of liquid! Despite this, one of my tasting notes indicates that I found it an ‘odd sort of savoury’.

The Grand Cru Bruocsella had a very similar little-to-no carbonation profile. The actual lambic was slightly cloudy, soft and smooth with a hint of astringency. It was a bit like drinking sour water with a ‘farmy’ taste. I admit that doesn’t make it sound appetising but it was surprisingly easy to drink! It’s also aged in oak barrels and is not bottle conditioned with any sort of sugar.

We’re at the halfway point with our Cantillon lambic experience and moving towards the fruitier examples within the lambic spectrum. The first beer to start that off was the Rose de Gambrinus. It had the faintest tinge of pink and red and smelt of white wine with raspberries and roses! It was very carbonated with tight bubbles and sour in a fruity way. We’ve moved away from the ‘farmyard’ profile of the previous lambics.

Interestingly, at this point Chris told informed us that fruit flavouring beer predates hops and that the American market can’t handle the artistically naked lady on the bottle, so it has to be exported there with a clothed one!

The Lou Pepe Framboise was bright red out of the bottle and had more fruit in the taste. It was also less carbonated than the beer above and has a touch of acidity. It was like drinking sour red berries with the occasional bittersweetness. Really, really lovely!

Cantillon Lou Pepe framboise 2007

Things continue to get fruitier with the Kriek 100% Lambic Bio. 200g of Morello cherries to the litre are used in its making. The result is a very red beer! It has a little bit of fizz and carbonation to it and my tasting notes simply state that it is a cherry Danish pastry without the sweetness. It’s very cool to think that one can get that gustatory experience…in a bottle. Reminds me of a stage of Alice’s ‘Drink Me’ potion.

I laughed a little when reading over my tasting notes for the Lou Pepe Kriek, the first line of which is “HOLY FUCK ALMOND FROM THE STONES”. To be more elegant, I think that means I could detect the almond-scented arsenic that naturally appears in minute quantities in the stones of stone fruit.

Getting that out of the way, it tastes of natural sour, bitter cherries. Some fruit beers do have an artificial sort of taste to them, say, like Lindemans Kriek but not the Lou Pepe Kriek. The body of the beer is thicker than many tried that night with some carbonation. The beer itself was a deep, rich ruby red.

Sadly, both Tristan and I are missing photos of the Lou Pepe Kriek, so hop (hur hur) on over to Beer Advocate to check out a photo of the bottle.

The last two Cantillon beers were very reminiscent of wine. This is probably due to the use of grapes. With the Vigneronne, dried muscat grapes were used in its making due to their higher sugar content. Despite this, the end product was a watery, dead-on lemon juice which smelt awful and had no sweetness. It was also fairly ‘clean’ in that there was no farmyard scent characteristic of sour beers. Even though it didn’t smell pleasant, this did not mean it tasted unpleasant: basically, it was acidic and clean. It even looks like freshly squeezed lemon juice with its cloudy, golden ale colouring.

Our last beer in the tasting – the Saint Lamvinus, a dark, cloudy red beer that was lightly carbonated. It was both sour and bitter but mostly reminiscent of a sour wine. The red wine grapes merlot and cabernet Franc were used in fermentation of this.

I enjoyed this lambic tasting so much more than I thought I would and was pretty pleased that my tastebuds were up for the challenge. If you’re really fond of the cloudy, sour ciders then I think you should give lambics a go. I’d love to step things up a bit and buy a few bottles of lambics and experiment matching them with cheese! In fact, I may have committed a gluttonous crime of passion and polished off a sizeable hunk of Buche d’Affinois after the tasting…I devoured the poor thing as if it were a fast food burger.

If you want to learn a bit about these unusual beers, then of course the internet is your friend. Coincidentally, @hereforthehops wrote a terrific article about sour beer for Australian Brews News that I heartily recommend reading. Brett(anomyces) can sometimes be our friend!

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