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Jean Van Roy, Cantillon

A peek at the work behind one of the world's most beloved beers.

The following is part of a three-part series on the hard-working folks behind Belgium’s most magical beers. Read the entire series here.

Cantillon's Jean Van Roy // photo  by Matt Furman

Cantillon’s Jean Van Roy // photo by Matt Furman

“A lambic brewery is a living space, and it is in winter that you can really feel it. A brewing day starts around 7 in the morning. When the first mash is filtered, it is traditional at Cantillon to take a break and drink a pint of hot, sweet wort and have a croissant or croque chocolat. The entire team is there to raise their glass to the success of this new brew.

“Then begins the long filtration of the wort; it takes three to four hours. With aged hops, the liquid boils four hours and is then pumped to the coolship late in the day. The moment the boiling wort reaches that shiny copper pan is—for me, having lived it hundreds of times—a truly magical moment. Steam invades the whole brewery, the coolship snaps under the effect of the expansion, and the sounds and smells transform the building for a little over an hour. By late afternoon, when the work is done and calm has returned to the brewery, I go see the wort that has begun to cool and have always a thought for my brewing ancestors. The work ends around six o’clock. In this ‘old-fashioned’ work, 11 hours are needed to produce a brew.

Cantillon's packaging line // photo by Matt Furman

Cantillon’s packaging line // photo by Matt Furman

“The doors of the brewery are always open and we welcome more than 45,000 visitors a year, among them, many beer lovers. If the Cantillon brewery is still in business today, it owes it to the Brussels Gueuze Museum which, by opening the doors of the brewery to the public in 1978, has allowed us to get to know lambic and the brewery on a more cultural level. Today, it is sometimes difficult to manage the production and the increasing number of tourists but if the brewery is open, it is certainly thanks to the visitors. That is why we always try to accommodate them in the best possible conditions.

“We must certainly not forget that just 20 years ago, many saw traditional lambic beer as archaic, too acidic, and its production was too slow and unprofitable. The success we have today should not make us forget this very difficult time. I always try to have a little time to share for fans who come to visit us. I think this is the least we can do.”


Joe Stange is the author of Around Brussels in 80 Beers and co-author of Good Beer Guide Belgium. Follow him on Twitter @Thirsty_Pilgrim.

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