Beer, Breweries, Barrels and Laughs

I have had a love of beer for as long as I can remember – it’s never ever been work!

The best thing about the entire brewing community globally is that there is always more to explore, discover and learn in the world of great beer.

It’s no secret that I’ve always loved farmhouse ales, sours and aging beer in barrels. It simply bridges many sensory gaps between beer and wine. Forest for the Trees lets me work more with these styles and brings my winemaking studies and experiences of the past into my brewing world today. I think that’s a pretty cool thing!

Over the years, I’ve visited heaps of breweries around the world and made many long-term friends, something I am very proud of. More recently I’ve become a pseudo-Belgian citizen - well, not really, but I do travel there as much as I can. Belgium, for me, is the home land of all things farmhouse: farmyard, sour, barrel, mixed ferment, wild ferment, natural ferment. I have been fortunate to be a regular traveller there and visit many of their iconic breweries. There’s something incredibly special about these breweries, their history and the much-loved beers they continue to brew.

I’ve been so very lucky to meet the people behind these breweries – many of which I now call my friends. I look forward to sharing my Belgium beer adventure stories over the coming months! Should be fun for all of us! Unashamedly here’s one very special moment to start the ball rolling.

Jean van Roy of Cantillon.

I first met Jean about five or six years ago, when he was racing around his central Brussels brewery trying to make everyone feel comfortable and relaxed. Jean is proudly the fourth-generation brewer of this Lambic temple, which sees visitors from all around the world.  One of Belgium’s most famous breweries, Cantillon is in the heart of Brussels, just minutes’ walk from the main train station that delivers many of its beery drinkers. Cantillon started in the early 1900’s and only brews Lambic beers. Jean van Roy has kept very much to the same principles as his great-grandfather who established the brewery. This iconic brewery is as rustic and raw now as it probably was 100 years ago. 

On my most recent visit to see Jean early this year and seeing the mayhem of a Cantillon brew day, he asked me, are you staying a bit. “Of course,” I said. “I’ve nowhere else to be this afternoon.”  He then vanished for half an hour. It was worth it.

Jean had dived down into his Cantillon cellar. His personal Cantillon cellar! He returned with what could only be described as Brewers Gold. I couldn’t believe that he had returned with was a 1984 Grand Cru Cantillon!

This Grand Cru was like any Grand Cru should drink - be it French wine or Belgium beer. It was amazing!

It was a deep golden colour. At first smell the sourness was still intense, as was its taste. Despite its age, the sourness was balanced by a lifted grain weight which carried this beer so well. The palate structure was so tight with no rough edges at all. For a beer that was 35 years old, it was incredible! Something I will never forget. It was absolutely a once in a lifetime experience I feel very lucky to have shared with Jean. 

Thank you beer, thank you Jean, thank you Cantillon! 



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