On the way out of Ghent, we drove into Brussels, which I do not recommend (the driving part). I had no idea the Cantillon Brewery would be right in the middle of the city, but after learning that it is over 100 years old and is the last traditional brewery in the city, of course it is close in. Luckily, we had our navigator get us there without too many troubles. We were freaking out trying to drive among the chaotic traffic and one way streets, at the same time tripping out on the diversity on the street. Felt more like Italy...the dilapidated buildings, the ignoring of traffic laws, and the store fronts, displaying goods from all over. Makes sense, since near by Antwerp is a majorly huge port city. Lots of people from the Congo. We got a parking spot right near the brewery and wandered in.
"Traditional", in regards to brewing in Belgium, means that the beers are spontaneously fermented...meaning that the beer is left open in a room, in winter, and wild yeast from the air lands on the beer and ferments it. This creates a style of beer called Lambic--a tart, sour beer that takes some getting used to. From the lambic that is brewed, a few different years are mixed together and re-ferments in the bottle, creating a style of beer called Gueze. Cherries are added to the Lambic, to create a Kreik beer. Cantillon brewery continues to make the best, and most authentic versions of these beers in their old building. We had the pleasure to tour the building and try some samples. These beers are special, and the equipmnt that is still in use, is ancient, wooden, and run by hand. This is a beer mecca, up there with Guiness in Dublin, Heineken in Amsterdam, and Wusz Brews in Portland, Oregon. haha.
It was really cool seeing how these beers are made, and to realize that the beer tastes the way it does, because of the local strain of wild yeast. If the vats were left open even 10 miles down the road, there could be a different yeast strain in the air, and the beer may taste very different. The old wooden casks were filled with Lambic, ageing away, getting ready to mix in a few years. There were spiderwebs everywhere, but they leave them alone, because they kill all the other bugs that may hurt the beer. They only brew in the winter time, to avoid molding and high temperatures, otherwise the building is open for visitors. Two guys were working on the botteling line, but other than that, the place was pretty dead. A really cool, unusual brewery tour.
If you are in Portland, Belmont Station has some Cantillon beers...I suggest a bottle of some Gueze instead of wine at your next dinner party or drinking session.