Cantillon is among the most traditional of lambic breweries but that has not deterred this family-owned brewery from offering a wide range of different beers. One of the most unique and innovative year round beers is Iris. Iris stands out from the other Cantillon beers because it only uses malted barley instead of the traditional combination of malted barley and unmalted wheat. The use of 50% fresh hops is another major difference from traditional lambic. The result is a real spontaneously fermented beer that is not a lambic (a true rarity).
Cantillon’s Cuvee des Champions is a special cuvée that is dry hopped in the cask for three weeks using Styrian Goldings hops. It is a blend of different lambics, but, unlike traditional Geuze, only two year old lambics are used, producing the characteristic soft pallet of the Cantillon Lou Pepe series.
As can be seen in the photo on the right, the elimination of wheat from Iris produces a darker color than traditional lambics. This difference was also reflected in the taste; Iris had a “heavier” ale-like caramel flavor. Although fresh hops were utilized in both beers, the smell and taste of hops was a lot more pronounced in Iris, which appears to reflect the fact that in Cuvee des Champions the use of fresh hops was confined to dry hopping. As a matter of fact, the use of fresh hops was hard to detect in Cuvee des Champions (perhaps this difference would have been clearer if this beer was compared to a traditional Geuze). Iris also had a stronger “barnyard” brettanomyces smell, a heavier mouthfeel, more tartness, more astringency, and a longer finish than Cuvee des Champions, which was noticeably milder with less carbonation and more prominent citrus notes. Both beers are well executed, leaving the choice between the two styles a matter of personal preference. Cantillon’s Iris is a fine example of what spontaneous fermentation can achieve in other beer styles.