“We don’t serve our beer cold. We have nothing to hide,” the tour guide explains tersely.
Mike has made a grave error. He has questioned the Belgian tradition of serving beer at room temperature. The guide overlooks his Yankee lack of sophistication and proceeds to explain the art of brewing at Cantillon, a traditional family-run brewery in Brussels.
Cantillon is a Lambic brewery, the only one of its kind in Belgium’s capital. Its products result from natural, or spontaneous, fermentation. When the temperature of the wort drops to 40℉, the natural fermentation begins and wild, airborne bacteria and yeasts work their magic in the cooling tun room. Cantillon refers to it as a “true sanctuary…home to a unique variety of micro-organic fauna.”
The idea of a sanctuary extends to creatures that enter the tun room and fall under its protection. During the summer, hordes of bees visit, drawn by the last stages of fermentation and the arrival of fresh fruit used in the production of fruit-flavored Lambics. The Cantillon family lets Mother Nature run its course and allows the resident spiders to maintain a natural balance. A Lambic brewer never kills a spider nor destroys a cobweb.
Cantillon’s primary beer can be drunk after a few weeks. However, usually it’s stored from one to three years so that it acquires the right characteristics to produce other beers. Gueuze is blended from Lambics of various ages and allowed to undergo a second fermentation. Kriek uses Schaerbeek cherries soaked in Lambic for six months.
Lambic beer is definitely an acquired taste — a bit cidery and bitter — when served at any temperature.
The Lezovi crew began cruising by land through Europe in December 2012.