March 9, 2019.
A typical overcast Belgian day where Winter is still tusseling with the inevitable arrival of Spring. On that day, one year ago, I donned an outfit more fitting for a hike in the mountains than a European metropolis and set out for Brussels to do a sort of urban Beer & Hike. This research would result in my Dionysian Brussels post. Today, one year later, I find myself in Brussels again, but for an entirely different reason.
When I finished up my Brewtiful Bangkok post and was reminiscing about those experiences, I realized I was sharing only the end of a story. A story about a year which saw a copious number of profound experiences. Not the least of which was how Jay Fai took a beer-loving travel blogger and opened his eyes to the universe of food. A universe that up until that point was full of throwaway meals ate for the sake of not being hungry during my travels. However, there were other transformations or revelations that came before that, such as maybe Amsterdam wasn’t such a bad city after all (but that’s a story perhaps for another time). One of those transformations is the subject of this post and it would be suboptimal if I didn’t consider where this story… where all of these transformations… all began. So today I find myself back at ground zero in Brussels, because there may never have been a lunch at Jay Fai if I hadn’t walked into Brasserie Cantillon on March 9, 2019 and sat down at this barrel.
Brasserie Cantillon is a brewery that has been around since 1900. But it is not just any brewery. Cantillon specializes in particular types of beer that are famous in the region around Brussels, geuze and lambic. Lambic is beer not made from cultivated yeast like other types of beer but from naturally occurring bacteria in the atmosphere. Geuze’s are blends of different age lambics which are not fully fermented, then bottled with a little sugar to continue the fermentation and create an effervescence which lambics do not have.
Since the first time I started to enjoy Belgian beer, the lambics and geuzes have been beers that I have avoided and to be honest not found enjoyable. Almost all of them have a sour taste. That is not to say I haven’t appreciated their existence. In fact, they are one example of why I love living in Belgium so much. What other country has so many beer types which are distinctly characteristic of that country? In Belgium, you have the Tripel, Quadrupel, Abbey Beer, Trappist, and Lambic/Geuzes. Of course you can also find many of these along the border regions of Belgium in the Netherlands and France, but there is no denying that Belgium has no rival when it comes to its characteristic beers.
So when I stepped into Brasserie Cantillon on March 9, 2019, it was with the full open-eyed appreciation of the significance of what Cantillon represented… but without the expectation of anything else.
As I sipped a glass of Magic Lambic (a lambic refermented with raspberries) at the Cantillon bar and winced and shivered at the sourness, I had no idea that I was about to meet some companions that would soon be the source of inspiration that would eventually lead me to Jay Fai… polyommatus icarus.
Better known as blue butterflies.
I had only to move from the bar to a seat by the barrel.
Normally the plan was to have a quick beer and make my way to the next stop, the microbrewery Brasserie l’Ermitage which is right around the corner. However, I suddenly found myself looking at a bottle of Fou’ Foune, a geuze refermented with apricot. If there was a moment when I first felt the flutter of blue butterfly wings, it was my first sip of Fou’ Foune. I noticed a certain characteristic of geuze which I have found appealing in other beers. Muskiness. Like the taste of being stored in a cellar for a long time. Occasionally beers, especially Orval and sometimes Westvleteren and Westmalle, have a hint of it. But in a geuze, it can be quite distinctive and pronounced.
The blue butterfly is a symbol of Spirit speaking through transformation and change.https://www.butterflyinsight.com/blue-butterfly-color-meaning-and-myths.html
In some cultures, spotting a blue butterfly is thought to bring sudden good luck.
A blue colored butterfly is often thought to symbolize joy and happiness.
Fou’ Foune is one of a few varieties of Cantillon beer which can only be purchased for takeaway in a quantity of one bottle per year (only credit cards are allowed). One of the things that makes lambic and geuze so intriguing is that you can keep them for up to 20 years and the value of the bottle increases. Therefore, geuzes and lambics generally cost more than other beers. They also are a desirable part of any beer lovers’ cellar collection. That day, I purchased the 2015-16 Bruoscella.
…the Fleming is apt to sit there the whole evening drinking, not immoderately, the thin sour beer called “Faro”, or the “geuze lambeck” so highly esteemed.Belgium Old & New – George Wharton Edwards (1920)
The taste of that Fou’ Foune lingered in my soul for several months like a smile from a beautiful stranger. I returned there in June where my hallowed barrel was unavailable due to remodeling. While that was disappointing, it did not spoil the chance to experiment with other Cantillon enticements, such as the Lou Pepe Kriek.
The final fateful catalysts in this metamorphosis were two bike rides in September 2019 which took place in the region to the west and southwest of Brussels (known as the Pajottenland) where most of the lambic breweries are located. This was where lambic and geuze beers would finally come out from the shadows of those two Cantillon visits in March and June and take hold of my soul forever. Those bike rides will be the inspiration for an upcoming blog post.
I have gone thru many phases in my journey thru the universe of beer since I moved to Belgium in 2011. First were dubbels and dark abbey beers. Then came the Tripel Karmeliet and Orval phase. This was followed by a long craft beer stout phase. In the summer of 2019, I was staunchly entrenched in a traditional Belgian Tripel phase. But in September 2019, the spell of the Belgian Tripel was shattered and I began my current love affair with lambics and geuzes. Right now, no beer brings me as much joy as a complex geuze. That musky, bubbly, tartness is something I find myself craving these days when I want a beer. I don’t know how those blue butterflies managed to do it, but they did.
And if that wasn’t enough, they weaved and danced in my soul all the way to Asia.
I have been back to Cantillon a few times since that visit last June. In fact, I am here today, March 9, 2020 to say hello to my favorite barrel. I have added a few more special varieties of Cantillon to my collection in hopes of one day finding a moment to drink them which is worthy of the joy and happiness I felt when those blue butterflies appeared to me one year ago today.
Cantillon has come to symbolize the beginning of a time where my life went thru a lot transformation and change, not all just about food and beer, but a diverse series of winding paths thru parallel universes which ultimately and dramatically did lead to that moment when Jay Fai’s crab omelet melted in my mouth in Bangkok, Thailand.
Perhaps I will just have to make a pilgrimage here every March 9. That barrel has become a shrine. I may never encounter the polyommatus icarus again, perhaps their purpose in my life has been fulfilled, but the bubbles from one sip of a delicious Cantillon geuze will always remind me of that familiar tickle from their fluttering wings. March 9 will also always mean Spring is just around the corner, and with that the hopes of countless new travel — and life — experiences to look forward to.