Sang Bleu: a new star in the Brasserie Cantillon lineup

Brasserie Cantillon, Brussels’ beloved lambic brewery, has been crafting a plethora of interesting and superb lambic beers for many years. Cantillon and its brewer, Jean Van Roy, continue to do numerous experiments with fruited lambics, as well as lambics infused with grapes and berries, and other things.

Some of the experimental lambics are repeated on occasion, and others are so well received that they become regular beers in Cantillon’s lineup of brews. Sang Bleu has now become one such lambic.

What we now know as Sang Bleu was originally an experimental lambic called Camerise. Jean Van Roy told me recently: “I tasted a beer made with camerises during a visit to Quebec, and enjoyed it. When someone offered me fruits in 2019, I decided to start an experiment with a small batch, a bit more than 300 liters.”

Van Roy continued: “It was a success, and we started a bigger production in 2020, under the name of Camerise, with fruits coming from Poland. We changed the name with the 2022 harvest. The name Sang Bleu is coming from the beer color (dark red, like blood, which is ‘sang’ in French) and the fruit name (Blue Honeysuckle, or Chevrefeuille Bleu in French.”)

Van Roy added: “Sang bleu (Blue blood) was also a nickname used to describe the European nobility in the past.”

Van Roy remarked: “We started to use the Sang Bleu label for the last bottles of the 16 February 2022 bottling. The January 2024 bottles are the third batch (made from the harvest of ’23) under the name Sang Bleu. We decided to add it into the regular Cantillon range, simply because the beer is great! The comments from our consumers are very positive, but the decision was taken by the Cantillon team.”

Van Roy says: “I like it very well. It reminds me a bit like Lou Pepe Kriek. The beer is fruity and intense, like Lou Pepe Kriek.”

Sang Bleu contains 6.5% abv, and has 25 ibu.

Van Roy describes the beer as such on the Cantillon website: “Sang Bleu is a lambic blend made with blue honeysuckle, or haskap berries. For the past two years, we’ve been making a fruited blend with Camerise berries in small quantities. These berries are slightly sweet with a beautiful acidity. We didn’t have to look very far for a its new name… a blue fruit that makes a blood-red beer: Sang Bleu. Our friend Ammo has outdone himself once again, creating a superb new label to go with its new name.”

“Ammo” is an illustrator and artist who has been creating Cantillon’s new labels, and those of other breweries, wineries, and for musical bands, for a number of years now. His real name is Amaury Dastarac, and he hails from France. “We love Ammo’s work,” Van Roy says.

As to that first experimental batch, Van Roy had this to say: “One hundred kilograms of berries were delivered to the brewery around the beginning of May 2019, and were then pumped into a barrel with 400-liters of two year old lambic. It was macerated for approximately two months. The lambic used for this blend was brewed in November 2016.” The first batch was bottled in July 2019.

It was made each year as Camerise between 2019 and 2021.

Haskap berrries, also known as blue honeysuckle.

Camerises is the French word for Haskap berries. Haskap berries, which are scientifically known as Lonicera caerulea, are more commonly referred to as Northern Blue Honeysuckle, Edible Honeysuckle, and Honeyberries. It is also known as Sweetberry honeysuckle and Fly honeysuckle. The wide geographic areas the shrub grows in likely explains the numerous different names it has been given. There are numerous different varieties of the berry.

Brasserie Cantillon Sang Bleu, bottled 8 January 2024. This is the back label for bottles exported to the U.S.A. Brasserie Cantillon’s beers are imported into the U.S.A. by Lime Ventures of Concord, California.

Blue Honeysuckle/Haskap berries are native to more northerly parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. It is a very hearty berry, one that thrives in cold weather. It is also said to be rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C.

I asked Belgian Beer fan Alan David Ross of Belfast, Northern Ireland, for his take on Sang Bleu. Ross has been well known on various beer websites such as Beeradvocate and Ratebeer since 2004, and is a huge fan of Sang Bleu. In fact, it’s one of his favorite Cantillon beers.

Ross was a co-founder of the Old Money Tickers group on Facebook, and also blended his own blackberry lambic with the superb Brouwerij Girardin in 2010.

Ross remarked: “When I started drinking Lambic in 2004, the main fruited lambics you could find were mostly kriek and framboise. The two most common exceptions were Vigneronne and Saint Lamvinus, which were made seasonally by Cantillon. Outside of these two grape lambics, there were some rarities like Blåbær, which is made with Danish bilberries.”

Ross continued: “Fast forward twenty years, and the amount of lambic experimentation going on in Belgium has gone through the roof. The use of grapes in lambic would be the top trend at present, but as a fan of berry lambic infused beers, I was excited to see that an experimental bottle was released in 2019, called Camerise. Each year, I have tried to source a few bottles for the cellar.”

Ross added: “The blue Haskap berries give the beer a deep red color, with a blueish purple hue. It is lighter than Blåbær, but darker than Cantillon Kriek. The taste is very complex and rich. The easiest way to describe it is as a combination of already well known fruits. There’s raspberry, blueberry, cherry, with red grape skin, along with their tannins, and what can only be described as a mulled spice character that doesn’t dominate, but it’s always there in the background. It instantly went in as one of my favorite Cantillon beers. I think it is up there with Zwanze 2009 (Elderflower) and Blåbær. I don’t know how Sang Bleu will hold up for extended aging, say 10 to 15 years, but I did taste the 2019 vintage (batch one) in January 2024, and it was the best bottle I have had to date. The long term signs are excellent!”

I agree with Ross’s assessment, having tasted Camerise and Sang Bleu many times. I highly recommend seeking it out! With it being a regular release now, the production has been scaled up, and it should be easier to find stateside, and in other countries outside of Belgium. “We produced more than 10,000 bottles this year, plus kegs,” Van Roy remarked. That is great news!

Bottles made it to the USA in 2023, and also in March 2024. Lime Ventures of Concord, California, has been the USA importer of the Brasserie Cantillon beers, and many others, for a few years.

For a detailed look at two brewing days at Brasserie Cantillon, see this previous article here.

To read about an interview with Cantillon brewer Jean Van Roy, see this previous article here.

For information about tourism in Brussels, see the Brussels Tourist Office website. For info about other breweries in Brussels, see here. For information about beer-focused bars and restaurants in Brussels, see here.

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