Everything Changes, Everything Stays the Same
Six years ago, Sarah and I, in the time before baby (BB), went on a short trip to Europe where we sampled the beers, saw some history, and somehow ordered vegetarian food in four languages. The highlight of the trip, which still haunts our dreams to this day, was the tiny lambic brewery Cantillon. Cantillon should be a world beer heritage site. The brewery has been making spontaneously fermented, barrel aged, sour beers for over a hundred years. The whole brewery is preserved like a museum, a museum that still makes beer.
Last night, we opened our last bottle of Cantillon’s raspberry infused Rosé de Gambrinus. It’s six years old, but not a lot has changed in that time. The nose is prickly with acid and fizzy carbonation, but fades into notes of drying hay and shriveled old fruit. The raspberry flavor, never particularly sweet, has faded with time into a dry whisper. But the acidity is just as lively as ever. And the barnyard funk still adds a certain dill pickle tang.
The beer hasn’t changed much in six years, but we have. The sourness, once so desirable, leaves us both feeling ill. The first few sips are heavenly, but the acidity seems to build and build exponentially. The last sip is almost unbearable – like licking up the powdery residue from the bottom of a bag of sour gummies. And the label suddenly seems entirely inappropriate.
Is that a naked lady? Wait, is that dude totally groping her? That seems a icky. Apparently so icky, they had to change the label for the U.S. market. It was once simple to dismiss it as European. “Those Belgians aren’t constrained by America’s Puritan streak.” But now, as inclusion in the beer industry is drawing more and more attention, a label that so clearly objectifies women looks totally gross.
I’m not the first one to notice, nor were Boak and Bailey, but they’ve pointed out criticism of the Rosé de Gambrinus label has been brewing for years. Cantillon just doesn’t garner the same scorn as Hop Valley or Flying Dog. One, because the beer is so special, and two, few beer people feel they have authority to call them out. But as the world around them changes, Cantillon’s attitude will have to change, too.