Zwanze Day 2015
Has it been two weeks already? Where does the time go?
Answer: I think scientists believe it points in the direction of entropy, but the last physics class I took was in 2001 so I might be mistaken. Also I used to smoke a lot of pot before physics because I could get away with it on the grounds that the teacher and I had a mutual respect/hatred for one another so we mostly just ignored that I was ever present.
Do you know what Zwanze Day is? Or as the kids say in modern parlance, “Do you even Zwanze, bro?”
The story begins, of course, in Belgium. Specifically at Brasserie Cantillon. Founded in the year 1900, Cantillon is a traditional lambic brewery in Brussels widely considered one of the finest beer producers in the world. I’d tell you all about their history, but you can read about the history here if you want. In the meantime I’ll cut to the chase. Cantillon beers are quite hard to come by in the states. For years it was easiest to just order them direct from Belgium, but now it’s quite hard to sneak large boxes of alcohol shipped intercontinentally through airport customs depots. Most stores mark up the bottles they do receive considerably, and for most consumers, anything but the flagship Gueuze and Kriek are quite hard to find.
In addition to Cantillon’s flagship beers they have a few special brews that are reserved or released only for special occasions, the most popular of which is Zwanze Day. The Zwanze series of beers and events began in 2008 with a bottling of a special lambic with rhubarb added. Since then, Cantillon brewer Jean Van Roy has used Zwanze and the celebration days associated with them to bring lambic enthusiasts together around the world. Cantillon’s website notes that the word zwanze in the Brussels dialect refers to a semi-sarcastic style of humor. That sense of humor is often reflected in the experimental nature of the beers, which are not always the most traditional of lambics. In the Flemish dialect, the verb zwanzen means to joke or to kid, and this has been reflected in some of the stories associated with the Zwanze beers over time. For example, in 2011 a lambic was brewed with Pineau D’aunis grapes. Last year they used the base for Iris Grand Cru (a variation of Iris sans dry hopping and aged for three years) with cherries added. This year’s Zwanze was quite experimental: a Wild Brussels Stout, which was spontaneously fermented.
The release of Zwanze – which is usually only available in extremely limited quantities – has taken on a tradition since 2011 where Cantillon coordinates with a small number of breweries around the world to tap the beer on the same day, for only that day. This year 56 locations worldwide received Zwanze. 26 of those were in the United States. 4 of those were in California. The closest to Los Angeles was Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach. You’d better believe I was there to sample what was apparently only half a keg allocated to Beachwood.
Most of the locations in the States use Zwanze as a chance to host special events, offer rare bottles or kegs in addition to Zwanze, and generally treat the day as a celebration of good beer. Russian River up north maybe-sorta-probably chose the following day to coincide with the release of the latest batch of one of their most sought-after beers, Beatification. At Side Project in Missouri the menu offered rare bottles from their cellar such as Drie Fonteinen Framboos, Perennial Barrel-Aged Abraxas, and harder-to-find Cantillon bottles.
Beachwood’s event – which was ticketed and broken down into brunch and lunch sessions – offered several perks for those who were lucky enough to nab seats before they sold out. For starters, there was an included lunch buffet with Carbonnade, frites, sole meuniére, mussels prepared three ways, and bitterballen served with house-made mustards. Each ticketed guest would be a guaranteed 8oz. pour of this year’s Zwanze (and a Cantillon taster to take home) as well as 5oz. pours of Kriek, Iris Grand Cru, Bruocsella Grand Cru, Rosé de Gambrinus, and Saint Lamvinus. The joyous energy of lucky beer lovers permeated through the room.
Compared to, say, a Pliny The Younger release, Zwanze Day was a downright cakewalk. I’ve never been to a more relaxed, fun, and efficient beer release. The staff never seemed overwhelmed or confused, they were shockingly speedy with orders and cool as hell. The surrounding tables were filled with likeminded nerds who were all happy to be there. And, having never been to Seal Beach before, the opportunity to walk off my buzz afterwards in a really neat little neighborhood couldn’t have been more quaint.
As for this year’s iteration of Zwanze? As I wrote at the time, it poured a very unique brownish ruby-ish color with a wonderfully complex nose of berries, grapes, funk, chocolate and oak. A little roast too. The taste was tart but with all those elements from the aroma playing together too. The beer had a light/medium body with a slightly bitter finish. I guess it was supposed to be aged on cognac barrels, but I didn’t get any such flavor. Nor did it taste like any stout I’ve ever had before. The best beer I had on Zwanze Day was Saint Lamvinus, the production of which Cantillon describes by saying “The grapes, of the merlot and cabernet-franc varieties, are soaked in Bordeaux barrels containing two to three years old lambic. The beer is not blended before the bottling. The foam is caused by the addition of a liquor which starts the fermentation.” It was outstanding. I’ve never seen a bottle in the wild before but on the open marketplace the usually sell for $100-$150 per bottle.
Maybe if I win my fantasy baseball championship tomorrow…
Of course I broke my Cantillon taster glass when I was washing it as soon as I got home. Classic Evan!
Isabelle Antena – La Cinema [MP3]
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