The Grand Cru Bruocsella smells and tastes just like a Cantillon beer ought to. The house flavor of Brasserie Cantillon’s lambic is completely unique to the place it’s created. The brewery itself is present in all their lambics, literally. The wild yeasts that ferment every beer only grows wildly in Brussels, in that neighborhood, in that building, in the oak barrels they use and reuse. The flavor of Cantillon is the flavor of tradition, one hundred years of brewing in a single place.
While gueuze is a blend of lambics aged one to three years, Grand Cru Bruscsella is a straight bottled, three year old lambic. It pours completely still like wine. The bottle compares Grand Cru to a cereal based wine, which isn’t far off. Bruocsella has a distinct fruitiness — nectarines, tart green apples — and a semi-sweet, grainy backbone. The yeast adds a layer of dust and hay. There is a hint of vinegar — think kombucha not balsamic dressing. The body is fairly thin, but the flavors fill it up to perfection. The truly unique aspect of all Cantillon lambic is the perfect balance of the flavors — nothing overpowers, nothing distracts.
Cantillon is a unique brewery. You must visit to truly understand and appreciate the beer. Every bottle we open transports us back to our trip to Brussels, but we only have one bottle left from our trip. It’s bittersweet, but we will have to find our way back for another visit.
Literate, Curious, Complex, Brave
I bought three bottles of Michael in November. But I’m afraid I got a bad bottle. I was intimidated by the Hair of the Dog complaints — and the praise. I paid fifteen dollars apiece and I could be hoarding either liquid gold, or a complete dud – flat, disgustingly chunky, or just cardboard in beer form. Maybe with some time it will get more bubbles? Maybe with time it will just dissolve into garbage?
And so I’m torn as I crack the seal. But my fears have already been allayed. Michael is weird — all Flemish ales are weird — but it’s carbonated. It is already delightfully complex. It’s a bit tangy, yeasty, and tart — cherry pie. It’s got a malty backbone, which is getting stronger with time and warmth. Michael is also pretty vinous — like red wine, like Cascade’s Sang Noir. At the bottom of the bottle something more English is coming out — less tang more malt. This is only six percent alcohol? Dang.
I think Michael Jackson would be proud.
Pushing the Envelope
Sarah and I sampled Blueberry last spring at the Cascade Barrel House. Fresh from the brewery it was frustratingly complex. The bottled product is much different, much bolder. The initial wild yeast funk is pleasant and pairs well with the blueberries. There is a light acidity to the beer. But Sarah noted that Blueberry finishes like a postage stamp — in both taste and texture. It’s dry but sticky.
At twenty dollars a bottle, even Cascade’s regular lineup can get spendy, and I’m not convinced it’s really worth the expense for their wild, experimental ales. Yet, I keep going back for more.
Deschutes’ Delicious Secret
Deschutes’ Cassis Abbey Ale might be Sarah’s favorite American wild ale. Too bad it seems to be a one off, pub only release. The beer was aged in oak for 15 months with black currants. It pours a murky brownish red with tons of floating detritus. It looks properly wild. The flavor is dominated by the fruit and acid. Nice notes of lactic acid with only a hint of brettanomyces funk. I believe the base beer was a dubbel, and malty sweetness does make an appearance. But the ten percent alcohol snuck up on both of us.
Our growler didn’t make it through the weekend, but as the days passed the beer got less appealing, So keep in mind that growlers shouldn’t be stored indefinitely.
Myrtle is a tart, tart beer. Brewed with lactobacillus and lemony hops, Myrtle will pucker even a seasoned beer drinker’s lips — lemon grass, lemon zest, lemon seeds, lemon pulp, lemonade. Sarah was a little let down. The finish belies Myrtle’s roots as a pale ale. It tastes beery.
Sarah likes beer when it doesn’t taste beery. Don’t ask me to explain, I just get excited when she says something isn’t terrible.
Wild, Wild Beer
“American wild ale” is a terrible classification. It’s easy to understand the sour Belgian beers. They are similar, but each has a unique brewing method and flavor. Lambic is spontaneously fermented. Flanders Oud Bruin is aged in oak. Geueze is a blend of old and new lambics. American wild ale can be made any number of ways, and few of them are really “wild”.
Wild implies some level of nature taking it’s course, like a lambic that is left for the native critters to enjoy. But many — if not most — American style beers are inoculated with domesticated strains of once wild yeast. Brettanomyces can be added for primary fermentation. A beer can be fermented with only brettanomyces, or with a blend of “brett” and bacteria. An American wild ale can be aged in wood or stainless steel. “Brett” can be added for bottling. A beer can be left open to the elements or completely sterilized.
I guess this is all a way of saying, I love a good sour beer, no matter who makes it, but apparently the method is important. Fantasia is a barrel aged sour beer. It spends a year in oak barrels where a mixture of wild and less wild yeasts do their business. Peaches are added and give the beer it’s fruity, juicy flavor. It’s delicious —especially on tap at the brewery. But it’s missing something key.
The yeast that give a lambic from Cantillon its grassy, musty, tangy flavor can’t develop over night, or apparently over a single year. That weird amazing flavor comes from years of maturation and expert blending. Fantasia — and many other equally delicious American wild ales — is a little lacking. It’s not quite sour enough, not quite funky enough. It’s just not finished. I have another bottle in my closet and hopefully with time it will develop a little more, but at the moment it’s just a little too green — just like “wild” American brewing.
Late update! Today was the Fantasia release over at Upright. It was sort of fun. There were lines, but I made it through. Right in time apparently. They sold out shortly after I got my two bottles. Fantasia is a lambic-ish sour ale aged with peaches.
In the tap room I tried both the 2013 and the 2012 versions of Fantasia. The fresh keg was fruitier, and the year old version was balanced and funky. Then I had a taste of borboun aged Rahsaan it was super malty and borboun-y. Really nice.
In Greek mythology, an eidolon is an apparition, a shadow of a dead loved one. The Commons Brewery’s special release Eidolon is also light and ephemeral. A sour, brettanomyces based beer, Eidolon is tart and fruity and more reminiscent of chardonnay than lambic — lemon and apple on the nose and tongue. The finish is earthy and bitter, yeasty, but Sarah hated the finish, “It’s like licking flour.” It’s sort of surprising given that Eidolon was brewed with tons of interesting add ins — lemon peel, jasmine green tea, jasmine flowers. It was even aged in red wine barrels. Eidolon should be delicious, but the special little bits don’t come together.
I’ve convinced Sarah to try some more beer lately — saison, abbey ales, and the like, she’s into Belgian stuff. But she still loves the fruit lambics, so I let her take the notes this time around. Framboise Boon is good, not as complicated as other lambics — read Cantillon. But really good. Nice natural fruit flavors, balanced sweet and tart. A hint of hay from the brett. Delicious.
The Dissident is Deschutes Brewery’s cherry aged, wine barreled, Flander’s brown ale. It’s sour but not too sour. It’s not funky, just a bit tart. There is some heat from the alcohol, a vinous texture, some oak. The Dissident is a bit sweet and sour with a bitter finish like cherry pits and lemon peels, smoke and coffee. Oh and a hint of bittersweet chocolate. The finish is as dry as my elbows. I hope with a year of age it will develop some more sour, but I am not complaining that we opened one bottle early. And check out my new teku glass, classy.