Zwanze Day 2018
Ah, Zwanze. One of my most-anticipated annual beer events occurred last weekend. As is (now) tradition, I made my fourth (fifth?) consecutive trek to Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach to celebrate all things lambic… And some things barbecue, I guess. For the fourth year in a row, please allow me to explain:
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 it for yourself 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. If stores are lucky enough to receive bottles of Cantillon, they mark up the bottles they do receive considerably. This past weekend Mikkeller DTLA had bottles of Cantillon for sale to go, which ranged from $42 (for a 375ml bottle) to $69. For most consumers, anything but the flagship Gueuze and Kriek are quite hard to acquire.
In addition to Cantillon’s flagship be,ers they have a few special brews that are reserved or released only for special occasions. The most popular of these 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. A few years ago they used the base for Iris Grand Cru (a variation of Iris sans dry hopping and aged for three years) with cherries added. In 2015 Zwanze featured a Wild Brussels Stout, which was spontaneously fermented. This year’s Zwanze treatment – dubbed Manneken Pise – was a blend of lambic aged in Amarone, Sangiovese, and Chianti barrels aged for a little over two years. The result was a wine-like, fruity beer with notes of mango and citrus, and a fine, lingering mouthfeel.
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 72 locations worldwide received Zwanze. 28 of those were in the United States. 4 of those were in California. The closest to Los Angeles was Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach.
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 pulled pork, chicken, brisket, pretzel buns, slaw, collard greens, and more. 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 Gueuze, Kriek, Grand Cru Bruocsella, Rosé de Gambrinus, and Nath.
Compared to, say, a Pliny The Younger release, Zwanze Day at Beachwood is a cakewalk. I say this every year, but I’ve never been to a more relaxed, fun, and efficiently-run beer release. The staff is never overwhelmed or confused, they are shockingly speedy with orders, and cool as hell. The surrounding tables are always filled with like-minded beer geeks who are happy to be there. While seating is limited, there are enough for all who attend, and even if you have to split a four-top with others…odds are you’re going to have a lot to talk about. As long as Beachwood keeps hosting Zwanze events I will attend. I’ve never left my session feeling I had anything less than a great time.
Our day began with a glass of Classic Gueuze. Although my attendance centered on the availability of the Cantillon beers, Beachwood did an incredible job of curating their draught list for the day. We made sure to have side beers to enjoy between rounds of Cantillon. I started with Anna, a saison brewed by Hill Farmstead. We also opted for a glass of de Garde Citra Hose to start the day (and to pair with a plate of BBQ).
Okay, so maybe service wasn’t perfect during this Zwanze Day. Our server took our tickets for Kriek and brought us glasses of Rosé de Gambrinus by accident. Without hesitation though, when we gave her our tickets for Rosé she remembered to bring us Kriek so that we didn’t get two tastes of the same beer and miss out on another. I think our side beers during this time were Beachwood Blendery’s Funk Yeah – which recently won a gold medal at GABF – and Brother Soigné, another saison from Hill Farmstead in collaboration with Luc Bim Lafontaine of Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!. I think that was it for our side beers, but I could be wrong. I know we tried to order a bottle of 2009 Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze but were told it was too close to the end of the event to do so. Oh well.
As for this year’s Zwanze? I was a fan! Way better than the wild Brussels stout from a few years ago, and on par with the Framboise (with blueberry and vanilla) from a couple years ago. It was quite vinous, with well-balanced fruit notes, light tartness and woodiness, with a dry finish.
By the end of the day, us and our tablemates had traded countless tasting notes as we worked our way through the various Cantillon offerings. We chatted about beer styles, local SoCal breweries we follow, brewery “clubs” and “memberships,” and beer-related travels. Our table was basically a group of nerds, nerding out, but that’s what I’ve come to expect from this event and I am/was always happy to engage with my fellow Zwanze-goers. We left satisfied, buzzed, and already looking forward to Zwanze Day 2019.
Of course, no day trip to the Seal Beach/Long Beach area is complete without at least one more stop for food and drink before venturing back to Los Angeles. This time we decided to try out a recommendation from my boss. Pig Pen Delicacy – at Steelcraft (a shipping container park, like that one in Vegas?) – is known for their wild menu. They’re known for their porky menu items like pulled pork sandwiches with eggs on ’em, maple bacon cheeseburgers, candied bacon, buffalo tots, and mac ‘n’ cheese tots. We opted for a fairly opulent combo of the Mac Daddy Burger (candied bacon, American cheese, BBQ sauce on a beef patty served between fried mac ‘n’ cheese buns), with regular tots. Smog City has a Steelcraft location so we washed it down with glasses of Cuddlebug and Red White & Blue (a new-ish cranberry, white peppercorn and blueberry sour).
Then, of course, I took a nap. Because I am a god damned old man. Also, I’ve been sluggish all week because of how much I ate and drank this past weekend. Surely I will take better care of my body this weekend.
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