Last month, I had to arrange a big Belgian beer tasting event for a group of VIPs visiting Brussels, so I got in touch with the good people at Chez Moeder Lambic and asked them what they could do for me. They pulled in the Cantillon Brewery and the Brewery de la Senne, and together this town's three craft-beer powerhouses put on an amazing show for us.
Yvan de Baets, the master brewer at De la Senne and co-author of Around Brussels in 80 Beers, first took us on an enthusiastic tour of Cantillon, radiating deep love and respect for his former place of employment specifically and for traditionally produced beers generally. If a few minutes in Yvan's presence don't inspire you to try Belgium's finest products, nothing will. The man is as much a prophet as a brewer, conveying in equal measure both his passion for and his knowledge of quality beer.
The tasting itself took place in a large function room at Cantillon, where all beers were expertly paired with artisanal cheeses and charcuterie. Some I've had before; others not.
First up was the lovely IV Saision from the brewery in Jandrain-Jandrenouille. Then we enjoyed two familiar blonde ales: De la Senne's hoposaurus Taras Boulba and De Ranke's Guldenberg.
Then came a strong blonde ale that was new to me: Cervesia. Produced by Dupont, makers of the wonderful Saison Dupont and Moinette Blonde, Cervesia has some interesting spiciness. Maybe cloves? Nutmeg? It's a bit syrupy to me, and it seems low in hop.
Next we returned to the offerings of De la Senne to try a dark delight, Equinox. I'd describe this winter beer as "stoutish", but that'd be too easy. It's a soft pillow, with caramel, coffee and burnt notes blending joyously. As Yvan is mostly anti-spices, this beer has none added, but somehow, dark spice notes emerge. Like everything from De la Senne, Equinox is gorgeous.
Finally, we ended with two from Cantillon itself, the old friends, Cantillon Lambic and Cantillon Kriek, the latter fresh from the barrel and surprisingly well-suited to the dark chocolate served with it.
In all, I have to send a huge thanks to those who put on this wonderful tour and tasting evening. Some in our group had never been to a craft beer tasting before, and I was a little nervous about how they would respond to it. But in the home-style location of Cantillon and under the inspired guidance of Yvan de Baets, the Moeder Lambic team not only organised the best tasting event I've ever been to but also made beer novices feel welcome and inspired. I think we had quite a few converts to craft beer that evening.