Two of the most anticipated events at Cantillon are its open public brewing session and Quintessence. At Quintessence, Cantillon’s year round beers and limited releases are paired with food. For its April 24 2010 Quintessence the brewer paired its beers with artisan cheeses from Jacquy Cange. The beer / cheese pairings are sampled at tasting counters throughout the brewery. As such, Quintessence also doubles as a self-guided walk through the brewery.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Quintessence is that it presents the visitor with the unique opportunity to sample and compare all the Cantillon releases in one extended session, something that would be prohibitively expensive and not practical considering the number of different beers Cantillon produces. The event also offers an opportunity to compare different vintages of Geuze, young lambic, faro and limited releases. At Quintessence 2010, Cantillon served no fewer than 14 different lambics. With the exception of Cantillon’s apricot lambic, Fou’ Foune, and Lou Pepe Geuze, all year-round beers were present. The cheese pairings were tasteful and well chosen — the information sheet even included the fat content of the cheeses!
I am familiar with all of Cantillon’s year-round beers and some of their limited Cuvées. There is no Cantillon that I have not enjoyed but this day enabled me to do a personal comparison and ranking. On top of my list were its 3 year old unblended lambic, Grand Cru Bruocsella, the 2002 vintage Geuze (what a difference from the 2009 version!), Lou Pepe Kriek, Saint-Lamvinus (lambic with red grapes), and Iris. All the fruit lambics were relatively young and had great aroma and taste, which may reflect Cantillon’s recommendation that these lambics should not be aged. Cantillon also served a lambic that was cold hopped with Hallertau hops called Cuvée St-Gilloise. This beer had a much more pronounced bitterness but I preferred the more subtle Iris. Much to my surprise, my favorite beer of the day was not one of their regular beers but Zwanze 2009 (click here for a review of Zwanze 2008), a lambic flavored with elderberry flowers (vlierbloemen). I always enjoy green/herbal characteristics in wine and beer, so smelling and tasting this in a Cantillon beer was awesome.
I have nothing but praise for the staff of Cantillon. Information sheets about all the beers and cheeses were available in Dutch, English, and French and the people at the stations were patient and informative — nothing seemed rushed. A great event by a great brewery that deeply cares about traditional lambic.