The History, Present and Future of Brewing in Belgium – #EBBC15

Beer is an important part of life in Belgium. While its popularity may have fallen in recent years, they still brew 18 million hectolitres per year, about 1% of production in the world. While that may not sound like a huge amount, Belgium isn’t a huge country, with only 11 million inhabitants, and this is about ten times its ‘demographic weight’ – a lot more beer per person than you might expect when comparing them to other countries. They may export 11 million hectolitres, more than 60% of their production, but that still leaves 64 litres of beer each per year, an impressive amount – 2 pints of beer a week for every person in the country, even more than we drink in the UK.
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De Plukker – #EBBC15

Belgium is a country thick with beer tradition and history. While that leads to an impression of rows of noble old breweries and ivy-covered abbeys, the situation on the ground is quite different. After the main weekend of the European Beer Bloggers Conference, I went on a tour around West Flanders with the folks from Visit Flanders. We toured five breweries, each very different and showing a different side of modern Belgian brewing. First up De Plukker – The Picker.

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Cantillon Gueuze

I seem to have a habit of being introduced to beers by other people and this one is no different – Cantillon Gueuze.

Cantillon Gueuze

I had a large bottle of this brought back for me by former flatmates (and now landlords…) Dave’n’Let, who listed the brewery tour and Gueuze museum as one of the highlights of their relatively highlight free weekend break to Brussels. Despite not being the biggest of beer drinkers pretty much every one of the good things about their holiday involved beer in some way, which has moved Brussels slightly further up my ‘European Cities To Visit’ list.

Cantillon is a spontaneously fermented beer, as proper Lambics are, meaning that instead of using a nice yeast culture it just sits around in vats waiting to be infected by the wild yeasts of the area. The gueuze is made up of a blend of beers of various ages, combined and then left for a secondary fermentation in the bottle, giving quite a different taste.

Flavourwise it is sour. Very sour. The trademark of gueuzes is this citrusy sourness and this is an excellent example. It’s almost entirely unlike what you generally think of as a beer flavour, with a strong lemony citrus and no sweetness at all, but there is a hint of the white beer floweriness behind it all, reminding you that it really is a beer. It’s not as dry as some gueuzes I’ve had and while not sweet it does have lots of fruit, with lemon, sour orange and grapes all in the mix. It’s still my favourite gueuze and while there are less extreme examples that might be better to start on, it’s a good one for those wanting to see what gueuze is about.

Cantillon Gueuze
From Brussels, Belgium. 5%
Limited availability as the brewery is quite small – this one came from Utobeer in Borough Market