One of the highlights of our visit to Belgium was the chance to taste lambic beers in the country of their origin. Lambic is one of the world's rarest beer styles, in large part because it is only produced in and around the capital of Belgium, Brussels. The name lambic probably derives from the name of a town, Lambeek, located southwest of Brussels.
The other reason lambics are so rare is the method of production, which depends on the use of airborne wild yeasts to create a spontaneous fermentation process. Lambics are fermented and aged for up to three years in wooden casks, many of which were used to store wine. This fermentation process and the use of high levels of wheat give lambics a distinctively sour taste and a more wine-like mouth feel.
There is only one traditional lambic brewery remaining in the city, which is the Cantillon brewery located west of the central Grand Place. We highly recommend a visit to Cantillon, which also operates as a living museum of gueuze, a type of lambic that is probably most familiar to beer lovers outside of Belgium. Traditional lambics in Belgium are usually served virtually flat on draft, while gueuze is a blend of old and young lambic in which the sugars from the young beer produce a secondary fermentation and sparkling carbonation in the bottle. For this reason, gueuze and the fruit flavored versions of gueuze are bottled in champagne-type bottles with corks.
Jean Van Roy oversees the bottling line at the Cantillon Brewery
The Cantillon brewery is run by Jean Van Roy, a descendant of the Cantillon family which originally started brewing in Lambeek in the 1700s and moved to the current building in 1900. The building underwent some repairs in the 1990s, including a new roof that was installed over the old roof to make sure that the wild yeasts in the old roof would not be disturbed. Cantillon offers regular tours that are followed by samples of a range of lambics, including traditional gueuze, framboise (flavored with raspberries) and kriek (cherry). Other beers are flavored with apricot and muscat grapes.
Other producers of lambics around Brussels include Belle-Vue, Belgium's biggest lambic brewer now owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. Belle-Vue has a large brewery located on the outskirts of the city in Molenbeek. Traditional lambics can be tasted at many cafes around the city of Brussels, including several located on or around the Grand Place.
Cantillon Brewery and Gueuze Museum
56, rue Gheude