No beer aficionado visiting Brussels should ever miss a visit to Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij, a small traditional Belgian brewery founded in 1900 and today is still run by the family that founded it.
Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij is the last surviving small brewery that is still operating within the environs of the city of Brussels, as well as one of the very few that brews lambic beers like gueuze and kriek in the traditional way – with spontaneous fermentation by the wild yeast present in the Senne valley.
While one can visit the brewery on their own accord, our recommendation is to go with a beer tour guide. We totally enjoyed the tour with our assigned guide from the Brussels Beer Tours; he who not only explained much of the history of Belgian beers but was also positively overflowing with quirky nuggets of beer-related trivia.
For example, our guide explained that Cantillon was – like many of the other small breweries in Brussels that have closed down since – on the verge of bankruptcy some years back due to the onslaught of more commercial beers that had entered the market. But the enterprising Jean Pierre Van Roy, the son-in-law of the last surviving Cantillon, suggested to turn the brewery into a museum to take advantage of the more beneficient tax laws for non-profit organizations.
That brilliant move would ultimately save the brewery.
Cantillon specializes in lambic beers, a distinctive beer that tastes dry and almost cidery, and often with a strong sour aftertaste. These lambic beers are then often blended to form gueuze, or fermented with sour Morello cherries to make kriek. Their beers have since achieved legendary status for its style, and some of them are highly sought-after by collectors.
Unlike in some museums, at Cantillon you’re going through one that is actually operating. Throughout the tour, you’ll see workers scurrying around rolling barrels, packing bottles and such – it’s dusty and hard work, and you’ll come to appreciate the amount of effort that goes into making that lambic that you’d hold in your hands later.
You’ll see a lot of old equipment at the brewery that was previously – or even currently still – used to make the beers. You’ll be shown its huge copper fermentation tanks, which unlike the classic rounded cylindrical ones you see at other breweries, are wide and shallow here to help the spontaneous fermentation along. A lot of the equipment seems battered and mismatched – mainly because the brewery reuses a lot of old equipment bought from other failed breweries, our guide shared.
Sour beers are somewhat of an acquired taste, so lambics or gueuze can take quite a lot of getting used to. But beer fanatics who love such sour beers would positively swoon over Cantillon’s range.
A bonus? Jean Pierre’s son may have taken over as head brewer at Cantillon, but the now-retired saviour of Cantillon still helps out at the brewery, and can usually be found at the tasting room serving visitors and giving patrons a taste of the famous Cantillon lambic brews.
Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij (Brussels, Belgium)
Address Gamle Carlsberg Vej 11, 1799 København, Denmark (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 10am to 5pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; closed Wednesdays, Sundays and Public Holidays