One of the joys of my first wine store job, aside from learning about wines and delevoping my palate, was being given control of our small (but mighty) beer ‘department’. It was a small little corner of the store, but I had a nice walk-in cooler stocked by the previous beer guy (a big beer geek) with all kinds of stuff that I’ve never seen since. Stuff like 750mL Dogfish Head 60 and 90 Minute, Hair of the Dog beers that I haven’t seen in VA for years and a thourough collection of Belgian beers, including most of the Cantillon lineup.
I took to the Cantillon stuff almost immediately. I have an issue with many Lambic beers that comes up with many sparkling wines as well: I love the feel and the flavors but the first sip often starts a white hot fire in my esophagus. Over the years I’ve managed to build up a list of Champagnes and sparklers that don’t do this to me, but the Lambic ‘safe list’ is still dreadfully short. Not that it stops me from drinking them. What made Cantillon stand out to me was how smooth the beers were. For all the sour that they had, they didn’t set off the reaction that I expected. Little did I know at the time, the Cantillon that was in that cooler was going to be the last I’d see for a good 3 years…
Fast-forward to my taking the Beer Guy job at Rick’s. As I discovered the joys of my new access to rare and low-production beers, I kept asking about Cantillon. Where was it? Why could’nt we get any? Well, I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere so I gave up save for the occasional request that went nowhere. Then, one magical week, Cantillon Kriek happened to be in stock. Seemingly out of nowhere. The only person happier than me was my Stone rep at the time, who’s a crazy Cantillon freak (hey Scott!). For the rest of my stay at Rick’s I happily stocked the Kriek, keeping an eye out for the day when I’d be able to get more of the line back in. Sadly, that day never came.
Better late than never, though. Recently I popped into the old shop and what did I see? The wonder that is Cantillon’s Rose de Gambrinus. I swiped one and during a quiet evening at home, cracked it open. The aromas were what you’d expect from a Framboise except more elegant, complex, subtle. This didn’t have the intense sharpness on the nose that a lot of Lambic styles carry.
According to Cantillon’s website, artist Raymond Coumans (who painted the beer’s label) noted that “It has the colour of onion skin” while in the copper buckets used to empty the barrels. In the glass it’s not as deep a hue as that, falling somewhere between the skin of a shallot and that of a raspberry. It was also Coumans’ idea to call the beer a Rose, to convey the sense of elegance that set’s this beer apart from other Framboise Lambics in the world.
The palate is slightly tart upfront, growing rounder in the mid-palate. The fruit and sugars come through at this point, but this is no sweet Lambic. The finish is long with the fruity and sour aspects of the beer fading in unison. It is the structure of the beer, if nothing else, that earns this the tag of Rose. It is very wine-like. Structure; balance; smoothness on the palate; an elegant, ponderous statement of a finish—it really does out-wine many wines out there. Really; try getting all of that from a glass of Yellowtail. I’ll save you the time (and the unpleasantness): you won’t.
On top of all that, I could’ve sat outside all night drinking bottle after bottle never once stopping to lament the reflux that it was causing—because it wasn’t. I literally could not ask for anything more than this beer was giving me. I know there are some out there for whom Lambic is not their thing. They’ve tried it and they just cannot find their way into it. No worries; we all have preferences and won’t be huge fans of everything. But if you’re one of those people who sees anything with fruit and thinks ‘Zima’, or that Belgian beers are ‘weird’ or that everything in this world made with fruit also comes with a ton of high-fructose corn syrup in it—take a chance. There is literally a whole world of beer out there, and to miss out on something as sublime as Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus due to timidity is a sin.
Next: Bell’s goes to Belgium, takes produce with them to DeProef. The results? Not as outlandish as you might think…