Cantillon’s character has led some drinkers to declare the beer infected
July 30, 2013 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Love sour beer. I had Rodenbach on tap for the first time last week. Delicious. Umami to balance out the sour. Another level from the bottled stuff - which I also love.

That said Cantillon is more than just sour, its is massively brett-y - which while I like it, is seen as a flaw by many many people. Its that barnyard-y band-aid-y smell.

If you live in NYC get thee over to Torst ASAP. Also the Crooked Stave Brewery is making some really cool stuff that is brett-innoculated and raised in wooden fueder.

Good stuff, but if you like the dogfish-heads of the world, perhaps not for you.
posted by JPD at 7:09 AM on July 30, 2013

I toured the Cantillon brewery when I was in Belgium... they just took some money and let us wander wherever we wanted, no guide or anything. It looks like it probably did the day they started brewing. They said when they had to replace the roof they just tiled over the old one so they wouldn't lose the years of buildup on the old tiles. The beer is definitely an acquired taste, though.
posted by Huck500 at 7:14 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some of my favorite beers are sour ales. Not too many American breweries make them yet (indeed, not too many non-Belgian breweries of any kind), but they are showing up on more and more beer lists and it's getting easier to find imports. If you don't like hops or bitterness in your beer, try a sour ale. Many of them are almost like a cider, they're so tart and fruity.
posted by jedicus at 7:17 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Duchesse de Bourgogne has been showing up on tap here in the Boston/Cambridge area; I've had it at three different pubs so far. It's delicious. It reeks of vinegar, so much so that it can put one off, but tastes like strawberries and oak. Definitely not one for the hopheads.
posted by the painkiller at 7:18 AM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Probably the single best beer I've ever had may have been a spontaneous fermented Flemish Red called Trafalmadorian, brewed by a brewpub called Tired Hands in Ardmore, PA. Unfortunately, they ran out after a few weeks and I only got to have it twice; I'll forever think of it as the one that got away.

I had a chance to visit the Cantillon brewery a few weeks ago when I was in Brussels, and tasting the Lou Pepe Kriek was basically a religious experience. Unfortunately, it turns out it's basically impossible to find a place in NYC that sells bottles - though, JPD, Torst sounds like a must-go.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:19 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just discovered sour reds a few months ago (Duchesse is my current favorite beer) at a Belgian mussels and beer place, and now I'm hooked. Maybe if this is a trend I'll be able to find other varieties more easily.
posted by JoanArkham at 7:20 AM on July 30, 2013

The Rodenbach Grand Cru is my favorite beer, I think. Regular Rodenbach I don't like so much, oddly.
posted by kenko at 7:24 AM on July 30, 2013

I ordered something called "Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge" on a whim a couple of weeks ago (it was Bastille Day! It had Jacobins right in the name! I had to get it!) and it was like drinking Warheads in the best way. Sour beer! I love it.
posted by theodolite at 7:26 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've recently discovered sour beers and have been loving them. Rodenbach, Cuvée des Jacobins, Cantillon. So good!

I actually have a trip to Belgium coming up in a couple weeks and since the Cantillon brewery is right in Brussels, the idea of a visit has come up. Their website is a little thin though. Do they have a pub on-site or do you just show up and look around the museum there?
posted by dodecapus at 7:54 AM on July 30, 2013

Disappointed that the article only talked about Cantillion when the Boon brewery was just as big in saving lambics from extinction. Also for the suggestion that sweetening lambics was a new idea, when faro has been around forever.

But if you like lambics, do also try the gueuze variations (originally developed for export to Holland allegedly, hence the name) which is a mixture of young and aged lambics, or kriek, which are lambics with sour cherries added. Or try saisons, which don't have to be sour, but which do have some of that winesque feeling of lambics or Rodenbach.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:55 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

What does "Gueze" mean that it implies export to Holland
posted by JPD at 7:57 AM on July 30, 2013

Dodecapus: 6 euros gets you in to the brewery for a self-guided tour, which includes two tastings (one of an unblended lambic, and one of your choice of Gueze or Kriek). They also have a small pub which has tastings, both of their regular beers (generally for about 3-4 euro a pour), and some rarer stuff by the bottle with varying price (they also sell geuze-washed sausages, which are delicious). That's how I tried the Lou Pepe Kriek, which is their special, limited-release kriek.

Definitely go - it was one of my favorite things in Brussels, hands-down.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:58 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh god, Cantillon. My church, my life. Sour beers are the best and Cantillon is so good at them. If I could only drink one kind of beer for the rest of my life (which would be sad) it would be sours/lambics. I love me some sour, I love me some funky saisons and farmhouse ales, anything with wildness and complexity just makes me so happy.

Dodecapus, there is not a pub on site but the tour comes with tastings at the end, and there's a little place to sit down and chill for a bit. You can buy bottles there as well (and do it - so cheap!). They probably wouldn't mind if you cracked one open. I'd recommend going over to Moeder Lambic from the Cantillon brewery though, they have tons of Cantillon and amazing other stuff as well and it is my favorite bar in the world.
posted by misskaz at 7:58 AM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Huh, I guess Cantillon has changed a bit since I was there over a year ago. Cool that they have a little pub there now. In any case, GO.

(Also I loved A La Becasse and Cafe Mort Subite for other sour/lambic/gueze Belgian beers.)
posted by misskaz at 8:00 AM on July 30, 2013

Oh man, I love sour beer. It started when I bought some Bell's Oarsman Ale just cause I liked the illustration on the bottle. It was SO different from what I was expecting, but it was a hot summer day and somehow it was perfect. Now whenever I go to a bar, I ask if they have anything sour.

(I gave my parents some Oarsman Ale to try this weekend, and they couldn't stand it. But they like their beer hopped all to hell and back...)
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:01 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, good call on Moeder Lambic - they have a bunch of Cantillon on tap, and some other spectacular lambics (plus a bunch of non-lambics, but I've never had any of them).

The place at the brewery is less a pub than a tasting room (the only beers they have are Cantillon, they don't have anything that isn't beer, and the sausages are the only food they have). They also, like misskaz said, have a little shop table where you can buy bottles to take away - the tasting room is a bit more expensive, but they often have stuff that they're out of at the shop (like, once again, the Lou Pepe), but they won't let you leave with anything from the tasting room.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:02 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jolly Pumpkin in Michigan does some great things with sours and barrel aging and open fermenting here in the US. I recommend just about anything of theirs.
posted by misskaz at 8:02 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa CA a while back and had my first sour ale. One of theirs. Interesting. One of the most complex beers I've ever had.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:20 AM on July 30, 2013

njohnson23: "Interesting. "

That's about all I've ever been able to say about sours. I've tasted quite a few. Beerfests, "Sour Nights" at the local tavern, "here try this sour we've been aging in merlot barrels." Ugh. Yuck. No thanks. Granted I have had a few that were decent (see Russian River examples as njohnson23 notes), but overall tasting these has been some of the worst, funkiest swill I've ever experienced. And the hangover. Oh god the hangover. Something about brettanomyces causes bad things to happen to my brain.

/your favorite beer sucks
posted by Big_B at 8:28 AM on July 30, 2013

Duchesse de Bourgogne is the first beer I've encountered that made me feel like a philistine. I happened to buy a bottle of it over the weekend, on a whim.

I wanted to like it. I truly felt I should like it. But it's so different from the kinds of Belgian beers I do enjoy, tripels and quadrupels. The soon-to-be-missus and I couldn't finish the bottle.
posted by emelenjr at 8:36 AM on July 30, 2013

What does "Gueze" mean that it implies export to Holland

Back in the early stages of the Eighty Years Wars, before the break with Spain was complete, an alliance of mostly Calvinist noblemen went to protest to the then governor of the Netherlands, Margaret of Parma, against the use of the Inquisition (which nobody expected) in the country. One of her own noblemen then mocked these petitians by saying that "ce ne sont que des gueux", they're only beggars. The name queux was then taken over by the rebellion and bastardised to geuzen and hence gueuze.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:41 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Monk's Cafe, mentioned in the article, has a Flemish Sour as a house beer and it is absolutely delicious. I feel bad when I go there because they have such a great selection but I go right back to the sour.

I'm glad more American brewers are catching on, they have the skill to take on more new styles and experimental stuff instead of just packing in more hops for another IPA.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:44 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

OH I LOVE ALL THE SOUR BEERS party in my mouth yeahhhh
posted by Windigo at 9:06 AM on July 30, 2013

.....last night I enjoyed a glass of 'Tart of Darkness' by the Bruery. Highly recommend it if you run across it.
posted by Windigo at 9:07 AM on July 30, 2013

I adore sour beers. Cantillon's like a party in my mouth (and everyone's invited!) but it being summer, I am all over some Berliner Weisse (I just don't like the Flanders reds as much when it's hot).

I miss having Bell's Oarsman distributed nearby -- it was my go-to the entire season it was available. Not the best sour beer, but absolutely the best value sour beer.

Another wonderful thing about sours: they tend to be lower in alcohol content than a lot of the popular styles, so yay on that.
posted by asperity at 9:09 AM on July 30, 2013

Bellwoods Brewery, one of the new micros in Toronto, just released a "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" sour stout. It's scary-potent, but so very good. Friends will tell you it tastes like Brio. Don't listen to them.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 9:12 AM on July 30, 2013

I like sours, I suppose. But only in the singular, as Big_B notes, the hangover can be brutal, and they tend to wreck my palate leaving me wondering if the pickle I'm munching on is actually as sweet as cotton candy or if I've just burned my taste buds off. That said, I do dearly love Berliner Weisses (Westport's Weiss Weiss, Baby is nothing short of divine, and anything from Stillwater is mana from the Bitter, Damp, Unhappy Gods of Northeastern America) and a good Gose (Leipziger!) will send me into fits of joy, but the Flemish and Belgians leave me cold. Unless it's a lightly funky saison, in which case I'll invoke the Gallic Exception*. I'm not sure if it's the cloying sweetness to the Belgians I've had or the repressed memories of sour candies from the 90's but I can't stand much more than a sip of them.

* If anyone can improve a food from its native form, it's the French.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 9:24 AM on July 30, 2013

Michael Jackson (the venerable beer one) tours a Belgian lambic brewery in this episode of the Beer Hunter. I'm always amused by how horrified sanitation obsessed home brewers are at the state of the brewery.
posted by brilliantmistake at 9:24 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

OT Was fascinated to find out from the subtitles on that Beer Hunter clip that the Dutch/Flemish for yeast is gist. How wonderful that gist and yeast have the same etymology, with underlying ideas of the motivating, enlivening force of a thing's nature. But then, like a fool, I checked. They don't, nowhere near.Yeast/gist comes from from an Indo-European root shared by Greek zein 'to boil'; gist from the Latin jacere, 'to lie'. /OT

Now I need to drink some lambic beer.
posted by Devonian at 9:48 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

For those in Chicago, I'd recommend hitting up The Green Lady near the Paulina Brown Line stop for some sour beer. Duchess is the owner's favourite beer and it's always on tap. They usually have a couple of other sour beers on tap at any given time as well, plus what's available in bottles.
posted by mzanatta at 9:54 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

A good sour is notoriously difficult to brew. The taste of the beer is so intertwined with the biology of its production, which is much more complicated than a taste that mostly depends on recipe ingredients. Temperature, oxygen, and minute amounts of compounds that wouldn't otherwise affect the result except for their significant effect on on the yeast and bacteria become much more important. In addition, sours usually stem from a combination of multiple yeast and bacteria that are interacting and competing, unlike most traditional beers which generally rely on a single strain of yeast to do the heavy lifting.

This is compounded by the fact that many sours take at least 6 months to produce, and at least a year to really come into form, so experiment turn-around time is painfully slow. You don't have enough time in your life to run a bunch of series experiments, so for a lot of homebrewers, sours are buckets full of prayers to the homebrew gods while they sit for months and work their magic. In addition, any equipment that touches sour should be assumed to be perma-sour because of the risk of cross-contamination, so it's a significant investment of equipment time to produce any sour at all.

I suspect they improve pretty much indefinately with age, though, on any reasonable span of time less than a decade. And a lot of defects like "horse-blanket" that would mar another beer end up tasting great in the context of a sour. I think the fact that people can enjoy sours says more about the power of suggestion on flavor, and that somehow when people are expecting to taste something kind of weird and that's what they get, they enjoy things that might otherwise taste objectively bad. We just finished making a homebrew batch of sour and although it's still a little rough, I have no doubt that a bit of time and modified expectations will make it right.

I think sours are as close as brewing can get to the finesse and potential of fine winemaking, so it's really great to see it taking off.
posted by ilikemefi at 11:35 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

That said, I do dearly love Berliner Weisses

Oh, those really are hard beers to like, the difference between a good one and one that's just off being so small.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:37 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been a sour beer nerd for a few years now and find "conventional beers" just don't do it for me anymore. There is a whole brave new world of sours to explore, with new breweries jumping into the deep end every day. I've never met a Cantillion I didn't LOVE, Cascade brews a bevy of delicious sours, the Cuvee du Jacobins is my go-to beverage, The Bruery always has something outstanding, Lost Abbey has some incredible sours, and, of course Russian River is like Valhalla for sour fans. If you haven't tried a sour, now is the time...all the cool kids are doing it.
posted by Geekyblonde at 1:37 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, those really are hard beers to like, the difference between a good one and one that's just off being so small.

But the good ones are just so damn good that I'll still try any one that's presented to me!
posted by asperity at 1:53 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

i've been trying brewery viviant's beers from grand rapids and they tend to go in the sour direction - with escoffier bretta ale pretty much going right over the top

it's an acquired taste that i haven't quite acquired, although big red coq is good for a change of pace - they just came out with a pilsner that's got belgian yeast in it - that was kind of strange

the bretta ale - well, i know it's well crafted and complex, but i struggled with it a bit
posted by pyramid termite at 2:05 PM on July 30, 2013

Oh, those really are hard beers to like, the difference between a good one and one that's just off being so small.

And that universe, that tiny, micro-millimeter universe between ecstasy and disappointment is one I will happily tread for a lifetime.

(I just moved my latest brew, a honey basil saison, into the kegerator after reading this thread, and I'm so anxious for the day after tomorrow, I'm bouncing a bit...)
posted by 1f2frfbf at 4:23 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is relevant to my interests. My sister's boyfriend works at Jolly Pumpkin; he often gives out bottles of the stuff as gifts. (One recipient, used to American Pilsner-style beers, called it "the worst beer he ever tasted" -- not to my sister's BF's face, though). In addition, I used to have an office a few blocks away from the Cantillon brewery in Brussels. I was always a big fan of sour beers, especially Faro and Rodenbach.*

*(While I do like Rodenbach "straight", someone in Belgium taught me to order it with a bit of grenadine -- delightful!)
posted by dhens at 6:40 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Almanac Beer -- a newish brewery in the Bay Area (CA) -- does wonderful things with sour beers and local ingredients. They only distribute in CA and WA. I live in VA and make it a point to stock up whenever I'm in CA.
posted by pmbuko at 7:35 PM on July 30, 2013

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