Origin: Anderlecht, Brussel
Date: 18 September 2000
Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. Iris has since become a relatively regular part of Cantillon’s range: it’s very highly regarded, and you’d be highly unlikely to find a 750 ml bottle for a fiver today.
The yellow iris is of course one of the symbols of Brussels, with a stylised version used as the city council logo. I also didn’t pick up on the fact that half the hops are fresh, added by a process known as cold hopping, rather than 100% aged hops as in a traditional lambic.
From Jean-Pierre van Roy’s renowned traditional lambic brewery in Anderlecht comes this unusual experimental beer, which although it’s spontaneously fermented is made from an all-barley malt mash rather than the mixture of barley malt and unmalted wheat more usual in lambic country. It’s an unblended ‘single malt’ beer that has been matured at the brewery (claims the label) for two years in oak casks, then, judging by the ‘vintage’ date, has had around two years more in the bottle.
It was presumably kräusened or primed for bottle conditioning since it comes out of its champagne bottle with all the gush of a gueuze — I’d handled the bottle with care since I bought it at the Great British Beer Festival this year, but I still lost some down the sink when the cork popped — and at approaching a fiver a bottle, this was a shame. It subsequently poured lively and with a nice, relatively sustained head.
Otherwise, it defied a number of lambic expectations, being considerably darker than the average gueuze, a cloudy orange-brown, and having a restrained aroma of more conventional malt and hop character. The taste is extremely fruity, with oranges, apricots and rich malt, along with a prominent woodiness attesting to those years in oak; there are chocolate and mineral notes too.
It is also considerably less sour than a conventional artisanal lambic — and markedly less so than van Roy’s own notoriously uncompromising variety, which means there is more room for the hops to play the sour-bitter rôle in balancing the taste, and here they come through clearly, once again confounding lambic expectations with a clear but not overstated bittering herbal tang that lingers into the finish.
Overall, Iris (named after the flower, which is depicted on the label) is another triumph of Cantillon’s craft, offering an intriguing combination of the characteristics of both lambic and more conventional pale-ale style beers: to a lambic convert like me, it’s hard not to be a bit disappointed, but it might be the perfect beer for those ale drinkers who usually find the mouth-puckering charms of the Zenne Valley’s finest rather more resistible.