Cantillon | Lambic d’Aunis
One of the hardest decisions for the dedicated craft enthusiast has to be how long to cellar a prized bottle. How do you ensure that you see your beautiful bottles reach their final form? The balance of power between #drinkfresh and amassing a cellar so massive it would make the Sun King blush is a wobbly tight rope, indeed. Too often you find yourself paralyzed to open those most revered bottles, worrying that with a particular Cantillon or Side Project or Hill Farmstead we’ll never cross paths again. Or worse, you fear the chiding from fellow Ahabs for not inviting them along to take down the white whale.
One of the victims whose innards were violently spilled into a glass during a recent quarantine library purge was a bottle of Cantillon Lambic d’Aunis. If you’re looking to do a Pete-Rose-head-first-dive into sours blended with red wine grapes, Cantillon is the best place to begin your journey. Be ready to watch opposing houses of wine and beer, alike in dignity, come together for a delicious assault on your palate.
This 2018 bottle, a bouncing baby with respect to the 10 year “best by” date encouraged on most Cantillon labels, is a collaboration with organic French winery Les Vines Contés. The Lambic features the Pineau d’Aunis grape, which we all know was a favorite of King Henry III. The grape has seen a decline in popularity as we’ve put the Middle Ages in our rearview mirrors, but luckily Cantillon’s Jean Van Roy has had a taste for the Chenin Noir since the 2011 Zwanze vintage.
What light through yonder window breaks? ‘Tis the east, and Cantillon is the sun
One look at a glass of this and immediately you sprint to your closet to find your “Rosé all day” t-shirt. The sprightly carb is evident, and holding the beer up to the light gives you a brief glimpse of what Elton John must see all day through his tinted lenses. There are some tannin chunks floating in the glass, despite a careful pour, a stalwart refusal from the beer to fully clean up its act as it stays true to its organic wine lineage.
The nose is distinctly Cantillon, and if you are familiar with their beers you know exactly what that means. You’re engulfed in the dankness of a damp, moldy basement, except instead of being repulsed your drinking muscle memory kicks in and elation begins to build. The depth of the nose indicates you’re in for a treat, a beer that will allow you to ponder life’s great mysteries while warmly wrapped in the smell of a wet blanket. People who are not sour fans have not found the last few lines to be enticing at all, but it’s a sensual experience you grow to love.
The beer melds flavors rustic and tart, oaked grapes with a nice bubbly personality, and the wine/beer profile flaunts a Bowiesque style androgyny. The raw funk is comparable to natural orange wines, but much lighter and more fruit-forward. If you’re not familiar with orange wines, get up with the trends, bro. Muddled blueberries sprout up from the interplay of the tannin and fruit, and no single element of the beer is overpowering. All the kids play nice, singing out a Kumbaya of taste that continues to please with each passing sip.
If the beer was to have a disappointing element, it would be the finish. Unlike flatulence in an elevator, this beer does not linger at all, disappearing rapidly after each sip. Instead of chillaxing with the grand interplay of flavors, you have to chase down the next swig to keep that party in Flavortown rocking. This is all fine and good, until you come face to face with the crushing reality that you’ve quickly run out of sips. This bottle will test your inner Usher, particularly your ability to take it Nice & Slow.
All being said, this is a beer worthy of gold stars and stickers, and in the top-tier of its style. Trying to knock this beer is like trying to point out faults comparing different Simone Biles floor routines. After the bottle breaths its last barnyardy breath, you’ll find yourself as poor Romeo once did, trying desperately to soak up any last remaining drops of Cantillon’s potion.
A domestic alternative when you can’t flee fair Verona
If you’re looking for an easier path to glory that doesn’t require crossing the Atlantic, Jester King puts out some fantastic offerings, and the Holy Mountain Sacrament beers are a great example of something stateside touting these grape expressions, although with a little more heft than the lighter Cantillons. The Bruery also regularly releases beers in this style with a little more distribution for a style that is a bit niche. These beers are a great gateway into sour beers for people who have a predilection to the fruit of the vine.