In what appeared to be a last minute decision, Cantillon brewer Jean van Roy stopped in at Philly institution Monk's Cafe, and with his arrival came a goodly amount of his prized lambic. In a fortuitous turn, Monk's owner, Tom Peters, also dipped into his cellar for a couple of really special beers. Jean Hummler of Brussels' famous Moeder lambic bars was also visiting and helping decant bottles with the staff. Because of the hasty announcement, the crowds were not completely insane (though the place was still pretty stuffed) and most of us got a taste of even the rarest stuff that was pouring. Everything except the Kriek was being decanted from bottles in 4-6 ounce pours, and as per usual, the staff was professional and courteous.
Naturally, I got some stuff I'd had before, like the Classic Gueuze (excellent as always), Vigneronne (even better than I remembered!), Iris (not as spectacular as the last one I had), and Kriek (on tap, and much more jammy and fruity than I remember from the bottle). New to me was the Cantillon Mamouche, a lambic with elderflowers added (it was originally Zwanze 2009, but they liked it so much they made it a recurring specialty), it was naturally quite nice. I liked it better than most of the above, though I didn't take detailed notes.
Jean was hanging out with the crowd, answering questions, posing for photographs, and being generally personable. I don't normally go in for this sort of thing, but I grabbed a picture with the guy too. He was a good sport. I didn't get a chance to talk with him that much, but I was listening in to a few conversations. Stuff I remember had to do with his use of an abnormally long brewday (starting at 7 or 8 in the morning, ending at 5-6) and that he has a lot of respect for what some of the American breweries are doing. He spoke a lot about Allagash and their coolship program, saying that their first batch was ok, but that each successive batch was getting better and better because spontaneous fermentation relies a lot more on the environment than just regular innoculation. He also mentioned Jester King and Hill Farmstead as brewers who knew their stuff, as if we didn't already know. I was going to ask him about how the Cantillon expansion is going, but didn't get a chance because he was called over to the bar to open those special bottles.
First up was Fou Foune, a pretty special beer in any scenario, but then add in the fact that these bottles were from the year 2000 and jaws were dropping all over the room (even Tom Peters didn't realize how old they were until he opened the bottle and saw the date on the cork). Pours of this were slightly smaller since there were only 5 bottles available, but a pretty large proportion of folks got a glass (and those that didn't generally got to take a sip of someone else, as everyone was being generous). It was supremely funky, wonderful nose, lots of earth and almost cheese rind character, a little fruit. Taste wasn't quite as funky, but had a very Gueuze-like feel to it, but with hints of oak and tart fruit (not identifiable as peach, for sure). Nothing at all like the nimble, light, and airy fresh Fou Foune, but pretty spectacular in its own right. It's nice to take down a teenager, and it feels well worth the experiment of aging a lambic for absurd amounts of time like this.
Finally, another true rarity, Cantillon LH12, an unblended lambic aged in a Cognac barrel. Yes, singular, they only made one barrel of this stuff, meaning that there were fewer than 400 bottles in existence back in 2010 when they bottled this. Who knows how many are left right now?! As an unblended lambic, this pours almost still. Given my extreme sensitivity to carbonation issues, I was a little worried, but it turned out to be pretty fantastic. As van Roy noted when he introduced it, "This beer is very, very fine, you have to compare it more to a wine than a beer." And he's dead on, this felt very vinous, a little funk and oak, but that vinous fruit carries the day. Supposedly Cantillon 50°N-4°E incorporates something similar (cognac barrel aged lambic) into its blend, though that's another rarity I've never glimpsed.
This was a pretty fabulous night of drinking and proves that you would do well to monitor Monk's Cafe's events page (actually, Framboise For a Cure is coming up in a week or so, I may need to head back there!) Tick another two off the infamous White Whale list. A few more and I'll be completely insufferable.