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Monday, January 16, 2012

Cantillon's Jean Van Roy, Mystic Brewer

I'm finally getting to my recordings of Belgian breweries. Last night, I transcribed portions of my visit to Cantillon--the first brewery I visited in Belgium. The next day I toured Brouwerij Boon and got a totally different presentation (more on that later, probably). Frank Boon is the consummate scientist--to the extent possible, he has tried to understand the processes involved in making lambic beer. Just north, Jean Van Roy has a totally different approach.
"I know my beer. I feel my product. The beer is alive. I really have contact with the beer. I feel, I smell what the beer will accept or not"
When I found him at the brewery, he was elbow-deep in a little kettle straining out loose hops. He has the ascetic, hard-working quality of a monk, and his affect is monklike as well. He doesn't mind you wandering freely around the brewery, but he has work to do. He speaks precisely as he works. We were talking about the nature of lambic, and he described the experience of tasting barrels of his Bruocsella [pronounced BROOK sella], the three-year-old lambic.
"I had really great beer, and when we taste such a lambic we are so proud--for me, but also for the product itself. No one, no brewers on the earth can have the same rapport, the same feeling with his beer. In French we have a sentence. We say, tout est dans tout.* If I translate it: 'Everything is in everything.' In this brewery, everything is playing a role in the final product. Everything."
Incidentally, I forgot he told me the following, which may count as some kind of scoop. It also fits in nicely with his thoughts on lambic.
“The next [inaudible word] will be a top-fermentation beer. So we will work here with filtered yeast. But, in such an environment, you will always get a wild inoculation as well. The goal will be to produce a tripel but make it like two or three hundred years ago. They worked with filtered yeast, but they didn’t have real control.” [I then asked whether he’d age the beer or release it young. He must have smiled enigmatically because I started laughing and I said, “Right, listen to your beer, huh?” And he started laughing, too. Then he continued.] “First production. And then for the rest … ah. The goal I hope, between six months and one year. No more. I hope the beer could be ready for September, October 2012. We brew it in December.”
Okay, back to work--

*I don't speak French, and that was my best effort, using Google Translate, to render what he said.


  1. Jean is always a pleasure to talk to. Very interesting about that "triple." And I believe "tout est dans tout" is correct.

  2. Nice post. Cantillon is such a magical place, anything less than a magician in control would seem wrong.