Back in the year of 2007 I was a young university student drinking junky adjunct lagers and European beers like Pilsner Urquell. I happened upon Bottlescrew Bills a beer bar in my home town that was one of the only Canadian bars to gain the praise of Beer Hunter Michael Jackson. I ordered a Westmalle Dubbel not knowing how much one beer would change my entire life and take beer from a way to hang out to a passion and eventual career. Westmalle Dubbel is brewed by one of six Trappist breweries in Belgium where monks of the Strictest Cistercian Observance brew beers for charitable proceeds and consumption within the monastery. The brewing of beers by monks originally began to give monks sustenance during the fasting month of lent. This beer consumed by the monks is termed paterbier or monks beer. In 1856 the Westmalle monastery brewed a strong, dark ale that they termed double or dubbel. Today the dubbel is one of the Belgian Abbey styles and is generally characterised by a dark, fruity body and alcohol content up to 8%. I like to re assess this beer every year or two to see how my perception of beer has changed since going head first into the craft beer culture.
Less talk and more about the beer. Westmalle Dubbel pours a dark, murky burgundian brown with a massive beige head that fills the chalice. The aroma is rich and laced with dark fruity esters. Notes of prunes, raisins, cherries and light spice notes waft off the glass. The malt profile is composed mostly of rich toffee, light cocoa notes and a bit of a nutty flavour. Rich and smooth with a silky mouthfeel and strong carbonation that dances on the palate. Rich and well rounded profile adds a sense of class to the proceedings and allows the beer to make a lasting impression. Every time I have this beer I am taken back to that dimly lit bar taking my first sip of this rich malty treasure and thinking damn is this a great beer.
Oude Quetsche Tilquin à l’Ancienne known simply as Quetsche or Quetsche Tilquin is a rare plum lambic brewed by Gueuzerie Tilquin in Rebecq-Rognon, Belgium is one of the most uncommon lambic beers. Not only is it produced in low quantity but as a plum lambic it has a unique place in the Belgian beer spectrum. Old Quetsche Tilquin is made from the fermentation of a minimum of 250gr of plums by liter of lambic to an ABV of 6.4%. In addition Quetsche is unfiltered, unpasteurized and refermented in the bottle like all lambics should be. Quetsche is one of the rarest beers to be available to beer lovers in Alberta with only 10 cases being imported this past week. I picked my bottle up at Kensington Wine Market where there was a limit of 1 bottle per customer rule.
Quetsch has a light golden amber body with a hazy appearance. The head is off white and puffs up while and pouring into my glass although it later settles down a bit. The nose is very musty and barnyard-esque with notes of hay and sawdust. A mild fruit aroma on the nose accompanies a mild tart and sour funk. Taking the first sip I note a mild floral flavor with a tart plum and citrus taste. The flavour profile has considerable less must and dust notes that the aroma with a sweeter flavour than most lambic beers. So far I note that Quetsche is incredibly well balanced and although not the sourest or funkiest of lambics a great brew. The plums are not exactly the star of the show here but give enough sweet fruit notes to not blow the balance out of proportion. The only drawback to this beer is that I can’t get any more.
In a century old warehouse a few blocks from the bustling Zuid Station (South Station) in Brussels, Belgium lives a true gem of lambic brewing. The small family owned and operated lambic brewery in the Anderlecht area has been in operation since 1900. At current date the Cantillon is in the capable hands of a fourth generation descendent of founder Paul Cantillon. Known best for its Champagne of Brussels – the Gueuze style lambic Cantillon also brews several other lambic styles including kriek or cherry lambic. During a recent visit to Belgium I was privileged enough to tour the brewery and try out 4 styles of lambic beer for a cost far, far cheaper than bottles cost at home. The brewery was incredibly unique and eyeopening with highlights being the walls upon walls stuffed with barrels and bottles of liquid gold. In addition since lambic involves wild yeast and open vats during fermentation, spiders are revered and protected in the brewing area as a defense against insects and other such things. Cantillon Kriek is a 5% beer produced by blending lambic beer with lambic beer brewed with cherries grown in Belgium.
Unlike many other Belgian beers that are corked, Cantillon beers use a bottle cap instead of a wire cage to hold the cork in place. Opening a bottle of Cantillon not only takes more time and patience but also more reverence for the liquid inside as you are opening a $25 bottle. Popping th ecork out and pouring Cantillon Kriek you notice the cherries instantly with a bright pinkish red body colour and a huge foamy pink head that fizzes itself out quickly. The head caps off at a thin tightly held layer of pink bubbles. The nose seems overbalanced by tart cherries and a big acetic sourness commonplace in Cantillon lambic beers. A bit of a sweetness comes through as I take a few more sniffs although the sourness complicates with a mild sour funkyness entering the mix. The first sip is sweet and tart with juicy cherry nectar bud subsides to a hairy funk and sourness. The balance is lacking despite the heavy cherry presence because of that traditional strong Cantillon sourness. The finish is sour and acidic with a puckering tartness. Overall the cherries are a bit lost in the mix but this is a great lambic with a ton of awesome funky sour flavours and aroma.
In early June as I travelled through Belgium I made a stop in Brussels the mostly French speaking city in Belgium. The second day I was there I made my way to the legendary Belgian lambic brewer Cantillon located only a few short blocks from Zuidstation. The self guided tour was an eye-opener into the traditional way of brewing gueuze and lambic style beers. After the tour a sample of unblended young gueuze as well as another beer were given. Arriving back home in Calgary I decided it might be ripe time to open some of the bottles of Cantillon aging in my cellar. Cuvée Saint-Gilloise is a Gueuze style created by using only a single vintage of two year old lambic that is dry hopped with aged hops for three weeks with Styrian Golding hops. Unlike most other gueuze available, Cuvée Saint-Gilloise is not a blend of two or more vintaged lambics. This bottle of Cuvée Saint-Gilloise was bottled in 2010 and personally aged for 2 years prior to today.
Cuvée Saint-Gilloise pours a bright glowing orange colour with a very short lived pure white head and a general haziness in the body. The appearance is beautiful overall with the orange colour coming fromthe significant dry hopping. The aroma has a mild peppery and spicy hop aroma with a bone dry almost Champagne like aroma with tons of hop nuances. A light barnyard funk pervades the aroma with noted tart lemon fruitiness and acetic sourness. Although I have had many different gueuze the aroma always surprises me with its acidic backbone and tart, dry notes. The first sip I take has an intense citrus fruit to the point of puckering tartness until a mild oaky creaminess settles the citric flavour down a bit. The finish is crackingly dry with a mild bitterness from aged Golding hops with nice solid sourness. Funky fruits and barnyard yeasty esters are rather subtle as the acetic acid, dry hops and citrus fruits are much more abashing on the palate. Overall a nicely soured, complex Gueuze with a creaminess that balances out the dry, acidic flavour profile.