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Pucker Up Buttercup! SourFest 2014 at Churchill’s Pub & Grille

I like sour beers. Scratch that. I love sour beers!

However that wasn’t always the case. I remember my first time trying a Flanders Red Ale and my tastebuds freaking out! “What the hell is this?” I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that out loud. In fact I’m pretty sure I said something far worse. My palate wasn’t yet ready for the complexity and mouth puckering awesomeness that waited in a tulip glass, with it’s funky nose of brettanomyces, lactobacillus and all the other yeast beasts that could funk up any beer and take it to another level. Nope, at the time all I could think of was, “This tastes like sour patch kids”.

It was a slap in the face to my taste buds. This is one of those moments were getting a slap in the face was a good thing. It woke me up to a whole new world of beer styles that I had been relatively ignorant of for a number of years. That had to change. My quest to continue to evolve my palate and to expand my beer horizons had found something new to absorb, and I relished the opportunity to learn and to taste my way to finding some of the finest beers in the world. It was time well spent.

Fast forward to now.

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to attend Churchill’s Pub & Grille 5th Annual Peter Reeves Memorial Sourfest. The event is an opportunity to not only have some of the finest sour beers from San Diego and around the world, it’s also an opportunity to make a donation to cancer research which is always a worthwhile cause and one that I’m more than happy to drink to.

The bottle and draft list featured over 60 world class concoctions including an impressive array of delights from Almanac, Cascade, Lost Abbey, Russian River and international superstar Cantillon. Impressive is a word that would almost qualify as an understatement when used to describe this list of beers.

My wife and I made the trip to San Marcos with a quick stop on the way in Escondido to grab our North County drinking partners, then we braved the heat and stood in line for twenty or so minutes before making our way inside and grabbing a comfy seat and we quickly got to work on the menu.

What you don't see is us melting in the sun.

What you don’t see is us melting in the sun.

All said we managed to drink right around 25 sours, which was a lot more than expected but once my wife offered to drive us all home, it was something we couldn’t resist. We only experienced a few misses, as the sours weren’t quite tailored to what we like, but they were by no means bad beers. We experienced far more great and amazing beers than we had any right to expect, and rather than list off all the ones I liked I’ll share with you my top 3 of the day, in no particular order;

Lost Abbey Spontaneous Cheer – Spontaneously Fermented Blonde Ale with White Peaches, 6.0% ABV and oh my God is it good! No surprise that the same people who make Duck Duck Gooze also make a bunch of really great sours, but this one was a standout for me.

Societe Highbinder – Sour Ale Aged in Wine Barrels with Raspberries Added, 6.2% ABV and sweet fancy moses is this beer amazing! Everyone knows how I sing the praises of the guys over at Societe and beers like this are the reason why I will continue to do so. I can’t wait to try their next one.

Cantillon Cuvee Saint Gilloise – Lambic Aged for Two Years Dry Hopped with Hallertau Hops, this was a close call because Cantillon’s Lou Pepe Gueuze 2010 was pretty damn kick ass too, but this one just had a certain something that beat it out. Incredible flavors and aged to perfection.

Almanac Dark Pumpkin Sour, Cantillon Lou Pepe Gueuze2010, Societe Highbinder, Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze!

Almanac Dark Pumpkin Sour, Cantillon Lou Pepe Gueuze2010, Societe Highbinder, Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze!

Overall it was another fantastic visit to arguably the best pub in North County San Diego, and I didn’t even get to mention all the amazing eats we had while working our way down the menu. If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit Churchill’s, I highly recommend doing so, they have a continually amazing draft beer and bottle list that can make even the most discerning beer drinking happy and a great menu of meals to compliment them all.

So maybe sours aren’t your thing or maybe you’ve not had the opportunity to try very many just yet. I urge you to give them a chance, they are drinks that fit nicely into the beer genre but you should prepare your palate for a completely different adventure with every sip you take.

Cheers,

Tom

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Belgium Beer Tour pt.1 – Cantillon Brewery

Cantillon

Cantillon

Waking up early on a Saturday morning in Paris, France the wife and I grab our bags and make our way to the Paris Gare du Nord train station. Gare du Nord is the station for all trains heading north. If geography is not your favorite subject you might not realize to the Northeast of Paris is the small, yet beer rich country of Belgium and we had made arrangements to take a small break from our time in Paris so we could indulge our palates on all the tasty libations that this wonderful country had to offer.

We ride the high speed Thalys train to Brussels, which is only a 90 minute train ride. After arriving at the Midi station, which is the center of the city, we take a quick two stop ride on the metro and drop our bags at our small but very cute bed and breakfast in the middle of the tourist area. From there it’s a relatively short twenty minute walk through some of the more…colorful…parts of Brussels. Not that we ever felt unsafe at any point but it always pays to be aware of your surroundings.

The tasting area.

The tasting area.

Located in the middle of a nondescript street in a rather unassuming building is the  Brouwerij Cantillon, Rue Gheude 56 Straat Bruxelles 1070 Brussel, www.cantillion.be. Cantillon is a very unique brewery, opened in 1900 by Paul Cantillon, this brewery is still owned and operated by the family that started it. They are very proud of that and it’s this pride, I believe, that has lead to the maintaining of such high standards for their products. I suppose what you might be thinking, if you aren’t familiar with the Cantillon name, is that it’s simply a brewery that makes beer. You would be correct, but that doesn’t tell you the whole story. Cantillon is home to one of the oldest and most rare styles of beer that you’ll find, the lambic.

So what the hell is a lambic? I’m glad you asked. A lambic style beer starts like most other beers with the same traditional ingredients, water, wheat, barley and hops, but where lambics change the game is in the fermentation process. Using the original methods employed by brewers for thousands of years, the beer is exposed in large vats to what is known as wild yeast, which in this case is a broad range of wild airborne fermenting agents that are specific to the room in the brewery where it takes place. Scientists have found over 100 different strains of yeast in lambic beer and legend maintains that the specific microorganisms required for production of lambics are only to be found in this particular region of Belgium. This specific environments has not been altered in the one hundred plus years that the brewery has existed, one example of this is that while touring the facility you may notice cobwebs and possibly even spiders. All of these elements and others help create the environment necessary for Cantillon to create the beers that they do.

The goods

The goods

If the open fermentation stage is not enough to separate what they do at Cantillon from others breweries, I’m guessing this part will. After initial fermentation it’s time to age the beer, for years, so that it can be turned into what is called “Guezue”. A master brewer will take 1,2, and 3 year old lambics and blend them together to create the Guezue and at a certain point, to be determined by the brewer, they will add fruit. A lot of fruit. For example, 500 litres of 2-year old Lambic will have 150kg (which is 330 lbs)of fruit added to its barrel. The fruit will soak for a minimum of three months as the beers takes in the fruits color, taste and sugars. Then when the time comes to bottle it, about 1/3 of the bottle gets a hit of 1-year old lambic to aide in the secondary fermentation process which then creates a Kriek style beer. To clarify, Guezue is the blended lambic, while adding the fruits is what makes it a Kriek.

To say it’s a complex operation is a bit of an understatement, but there is true artistry behind what they do at Cantillon. While not a large scale brewery by any means, they are dedicated to quality control and preserving the traditional methods of creating the styles that come from lambic brewing, like the Geuze and Kriek varieties. It’s these old school methods that distinguish them from other, more large scale lambic brewers who take short cuts to speed up production of lambics such as adding artificial sugars. Cantillon looks down on this practice and it’s one of the reasons why the brewery is also considered a museum. So if you end up in Belgium and your spouse is hassling you about all the beer you are drinking just tell her/him that your next stop is a cultural museum.

I'll take the whole crate please.

I’ll take the whole crate please.

Barrels full of goodness

Barrels full of goodness

Ageing a few bottles

Ageing a few bottles

 

Here is a list of some of the beers available and what fruits are added to them.

Gueuze – 1,2,3-year old lambics artfully blended together.

Kriek – 2-year old lamic in which Schaerbeek (sour) cherries are soaked.

Rose de Gambrinus – Kreik but with raspberries

Vigneronne – Lambic with Muscat grapes.

Saint-Lamvinus – Black merlot grapes.

Fou’foune – Bergeron apricots.

Grand Cru Bruocsella – A 3 year old lambic that does not undergo secondary fermentation, considered a missing link between beer and wine.

So damn tasty!

So damn tasty!

I have visited a lot of breweries over the years but Cantillon has to be one of the most unique and for that it is definitely worth your time when you happen to be in Brussels. I highly recommend taking the tour while there. It’s self guided, unless you happen to make prior arrangements to go as part of a group, but they provide you with a lot of information and send you on your way without making a guide a necessity. It’s not often you have the opportunity to visit a brewery that’s been around for over 100 years.

That said, if you happen to have a good bottle shop around you, you might be able to sample some without having to dust off your passport. Hopefully, I’ve done a decent job explaining the process of lambics, but if you have questions I’m happy to try and answer them, or better yet, just try the beers for yourself. I found them to be light and refreshing with excellent flavors. The beers do not exceed 5%ABV so it on the lighter side for most of us hopheads, but they are a class act at Cantillon and their recent ranking on ratebeer.com as one of the 100 best breweries in the world is well deserved.

 

Cheers,

Tom

a great logo!

a great logo!