This is one of the two remaining traditional breweries in Brussels. The Van Roy-Cantillon family founded the brewery in 1900 and for the most part are still using the old machinery, some of which look more like medieval instruments of torture!
Climbing up the rickety steps through the different levels of the brewery is like stepping back in time. Wooden rafters are thick with mould and crates of dusty bottles lie in odd corners, all adding to the atmosphere.
Probably the most interesting thing about the Cantillon brewery is that they use the technique of spontaneous fermentation. They don’t add yeast to the mix but leave the beer overnight in brightly-burnished copper trays up in the attic of the brewery. Louvered windows all around the edge allow wild yeast from the air to come into contact with the beer.
Then the beer is stored in barrels for between one and three years for further fermentation, much like wine or cider. The result is lambic beer – a flat brew that is anything but sweet because all the sugar has been converted to alcohol. This wild yeast fermentation process only takes place during the colder months.
Belgium is famous for its geuze beer, which is a blend of three carefully-chosen lambic beers of different ages. The blend is put into bottles where natural carbonation takes place producing a slightly effervescent beer.
In the summer time Cantillon concentrates on making its famous fruit beers – when the raspberries, apricots, grapes and cherries are rip and in season. The fruit goes through a maceration process and then is blended with the beer and left to ferment in the bottle.
The Cantillon Brewery is an out of the way backstreet (56 Rue Gheude in the Anderlecht district) but easily reached via public transport and a little walk. In fact it is walkable from the Gare du Midi. The doors won’t be open but just go on in and you can be sure of a warm greeting.
It is a self-guided tour (after a short explanation) with a booklet giving an overview of the history and processes. Numbers and arrows keep you (mostly) on track as you clamber up and down the stairs.
When you return to the entrance/bar area after the tour there is a free tasting – of a straight lambic and then either a geuze or a fruity geuze.
Don’t miss the Cantillon Brewery next time you are in Brussels!
By Natasha von Geldern
While in Brussels I was a guest of the Thon Hotel Bristol Stephanie, a member of Great Hotels of the World Premium Collection. In my experience quality business hotels like this one often offer good rates and excellent value for travellers, especially during weekends and holiday periods. Double rooms at the Thon Hotel Bristol Stephanie start from £58 and the Avenue Louise location is very convenient. For more information or to book, please visit the website or if you are in the UK call 020 7380 3658.