Zwanze Day 2014

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Yesterday was Zwanze Day, an annual holiday deliciously made up by Jean Van Roy of Brasserie Cantillon. Cantillon made the first Zwanze beer in 2008, which that year was a rhubarb beer. In subsequent years they’ve made beers with elderflowers, pineau d’aunis (a red wine grape) and a sour witbier, made with the traditional coriander and orange peel. This year’s beer, Cuvée Florian, is essentially Iris Grand Cru blended with cherries, a new version of a beer Van Roy made for his son to celebrate his 18th birthday.

Each year, the beer is tapped at the very same time at locations around the world, regardless of times zone. This year the Zwanze Day beer was available at 56 beer bars or breweries in sixteen countries. One of those was Russian River Brewing, one of my local breweries, so I spent the afternoon there with owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, along with Rich and Tammy Norgrove (owners of Bear Republic Brewing) and a few of their friends.

But before we get to the beer, here’s a little history of Zwanze Day. Belgium has essentially two separate regions, with the northern half known as Flanders. The language spoken there is a dialect of Dutch, known by the same name as the people of Flanders: Flemish. The word “zwanze” is unique to Flemish, has its origins in Yiddish, and essentially means a self-deprecating type of humor that’s typified by sharp-edged, playful jokes, usually good-natured. It’s said that this type of humor has become “a characteristic, defining trait” of the Flemish themselves, and for some a way of life. A “zwanze” is a joke, a “zwanzer” a joker. It was with that same playful spirit that Cantillon approached the concept of making a Zwanze beer. The goal was to create a fun beer; something a little unusual, using non-traditional ingredients.

And here’s Jean Van Roy writing his explanation of this year’s Zwanze beer:

Some of you have already had the opportunity to taste Iris Grand Cru aged 3 years in a 400-litre cask. This product was sold without having been blended with a younger beer and so there was no possibility of secondary fermentation. As a result, Iris Grand Cru is a non-sparkling beer and it is meant to be drunk like cereal wine. Without cold hopping, its fragrances tend more towards the characteristic acidity of a spontaneous fermentation product associated with a slight caramel taste.

In other news, my eldest son, Florian, turned 18 on 3 May. To duly celebrate his transition to adulthood, and as the worthy son of a lambic brewer, Flo received a rather original birthday gift: an entire cask filled with “Cuvée Florian”.

Admittedly, finding the name was easy, but it was another matter to come up with the actual beer we were going to produce on this occasion. When I first tasted the Iris Grand Cru, I immediately thought that adding a touch of fruitiness to the caramel accent could be very complementary. And since my son’s favourite beer is kriek, I based myself on a mix of these two products to create his birthday present.

As my goal was not to create some kind of kriek clone, I reduced the amount of fruit by 40% in this blend with the Iris Grand Cru. After all, the core idea was to contribute fruitiness and mellowness to the base beer, not recreate a beer that tasted like sour cherries. Although cold-hopping with the same quantities used for “traditional” Iris would probably have masked the blend’s very subtle fragrances, I still wanted to add a touch of bitterness to this birthday present and decided to opt for a small dose of superb and very delicate Bramling Cross hops. The linger on the palate is very complex while the fruity fragrances of the hops play a subtle role without throwing off balance the beer’s range of flavours and bouquet.

For this Zwanze 2014 I had originally planned on using the spontaneous fermentation stout brewed at the beginning of 2013, but despite the fact that this beer is already very good I have the feeling that another year of maturing in a cask will give it more delicateness and character. In light of this we needed another beer to replace our “wild” stout so as to be able to organise our Zwanze Day, and as you will undoubtedly have understood by now, the success of “Cuvée Florian” meant that it did not take very long for us to make a decision.

I did ask the kid if he was OK with me making a new version of his birthday present, and since this was not a problem for him, it was only logical to call this Zwanze 2014 “Cuvée Florian”!

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Natalie Cilurzo announcing that the Zwanze Day beer was tapped and explaining how each person would get their pour in an orderly fashion, in an effort to avoid the day devolving into chaos. Happily, everything ran smoothly.

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The first pour of Cuvée Florian for Zwanze Day 2014.

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In order to insure that everyone got a pour of the Cuvée Florian in the order that they arrived, Russian River handed out numbered tickets. Numbers 1 and 2 arrived at the brewpub last night, and closed the place, then waited at the door overnight to be first in line when they opened on Zwanze Day. This is customers #1 and #2, Steven Weinschenk and his friend Tony Carvutto, for the Zwanze Day beer, Cuvée Florian.

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My pour. After the keg emptied, about an hour after it was tapped, kegs of Cantillon Gueuze and then Rosé de Gambrinus were tapped, too. It’s always a great experience enjoying freshly tapped Cantillon. But they were also pouring aged Beatification, Russian River’s abbey double, which was tasting awesome. But I’m also really enjoying a couple of their new beers, Dribble Belt, a “hoppy session ale, and the STS Pils.

And finally, here’s a short video of the first pours of this year’s Zwanze Day beer, Cuvée Florian at Russian River. A special thanks to Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo for their hospitality. Another fun Zwanze Day.

Moonlighting At Moonlight: The Hop Harvest 2014

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For a number of years, the winding down of summer brings one of my favorite traditions: hop harvest. Brian Hunt, from nearby Moonlight Brewing — the best brewer you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re from the Bay Area — has a quarter-acre of hops planted on his brewery property, known as “The Abbey de St. Humulus,” which he uses each year to make his Fresh Hop Ale, Homegrown. As we do every year we’re able, the whole family, mother-in-law included, made our way to hop harvest, which Brian does 19th century-style. Which means that entire families get together for the day, and spend hours cutting down the bines, and hand-picking the hops and filling up buckets, which will be dumped into the beer without being kilned the same day, all the while eating, drinking and socializing. In a few weeks, Homegrown will be on draft at select bars around the Bay Area, along with plenty of other fresh hop beers as beerjolais nouveau season gets underway. Below is a little photo essay of our day picking hops.

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A row of hops, ready to be picked.

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My son Porter helping me with the first stages of harvesting, cutting the bines along the bottom.

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The next step will be cutting them at the top, so we can pull them down to pick the hop cones off of the bines.

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Brin Hunt working the long knife, bring down a bine for harvesting.

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A shady spot is made under multiple pop-up canopies with a tarp floor, where the hop bines are laid out for picking, then everybody sits around and carefully pulls off the hop flowers, discarding the leaves, stems, bines and other material so only the hops that flavor the beer are separated into buckets.

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Only the flowers go into the beer.

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My wife Sarah demonstrating how when one bucket is filled, you move on to the next empty one.

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While hops are not simply loaded into your beer glass, like bitter ice cubes, with some hoppy beers, it certainly seems that way.

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There’s nothing quite like being in a hop field at harvest time, the sights and smells are amazing, with the intense aromas of hops hanging thick in the air.

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My daughter Alice digging in an almost-full bucket of freshly picked hops, nearly ready to be added to the beer.

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A very fun day picking hops in the warm California sunshine. While it was great fun, we’re all exhausted and a little sore, with scratches all over our bodies. Thank goodness, tomorrow is Labor Day, and we can relax without doing much labor, apart from enjoying a few beers.

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In a few weeks time, keep an eye out for Moonlight Brewing’s Homegrown Fresh Hop Ale, along with many other fresh hop, or wet hop, beers. They’re only around for a very short time, and once they;re gone, that’s it until next year. These are beers with intense hop aromas and flavors, and the fresher they are, better they taste.

Sonoma State To Offer Beer Course

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So this is great news, and feels even a little bit overdue, though to be fair I may be a little biased, as you’ll soon see. With craft beer persuading people that good beer is every bit as complex and worthy of respect as wine or whiskey, Sonoma State University, in partnership with Lagunitas Brewing, will be offering a certificate course on beer during their spring semester next year. I can say it should be amazing — with my tongue firmly in my cheek — because they’ve hired the best teachers. My little joke there, is the class will be great because Sonoma State has hired me to develop it and be the lead instructor for the course, although I’ll be bringing in a great roster of guest speakers from the beer industry and related fields to teach students everything they want to know about beer, and then some. At least that’s the plan. And right now, we could use your help in figuring out what potential students are most interested in learning about when it comes to beer and brewing.

We’re developing the curriculum now, and the program is being fueled by Lagunitas Brewing, which is where the majority of classes will be held. On Wednesday evenings, beginning next spring, students will spend three hours in the loft at Lagunitas learning about beer and how it’s made, the business of making and selling beer, along with a better appreciation for it.

Officially, the course will be taught through a partnership between the School of Science & Technology and SSU’s continuing education program, the School of Extended & International Education, along with Lagunitas Brewing, and students will receive a transcripted Certificate of Completion in one semester.

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So what do we need your help with? Simple, we’re trying to figure out what potential students are most interested in learning about when it comes to beer. Do you want to know more about how its made, how to taste it analytically and appreciate it better? Or are you interested in possibly joining the beer industry and so are interested in learning more about the business and what opportunities there might be where you could find your dream job? To figure that out, we’ve created a short survey — just rate 22 possible topics, answer two multiple choice questions, then add any other suggestions you might have, that’s all.

So if you’re not in the industry, simply a beer lover, what subjects would most interest you if you took a class about beer? If you are in the industry, what do you think are the most important things to cover?

Please fill out the survey by Sunday, September 7 to help us identify the key topics that you are most interested in. As a token of our gratitude, Lagunitas Brewing Company has graciously offered to give a special deck of playing cards to survey participants that can be picked up at the brewery in Petaluma. You will be notified by email when your cards are ready for pick-up at Lagunitas. Or you could just take the survey for the fun of it and to help out.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY

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These are what the cards look like that you can pick up at Lagunitas brewery as a thank you for taking the survey.

Couch Trippin’ Contest

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Lagunitas Brewing, my local down the street, is having a fun contest to win a a party in your home. That is, they’ll bring the Lagunitas Couch Trippin’ party to your home. What could be simpler?

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So it is pretty simple, just do the following:

  1. Snap a photo of your couch & Lagunitas
  2. Tag it #couchtrippin on IInstagram and/or Twitter

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So what can you win? Here’s how Lagunitas explains it: “We’re gonna bring the Lagunitas CouchTrippin’ party to your house … A killer band, tasty munchies, and we’ll even bring our own couch… All for you and up to 30 of your friends (sorry, we can’t have the whole town showin’ up). Follow the super simple instructions above. Or see full legal fine freakin’ print.”

Here’s mine, on our new giant sofa. It’s supposed to be a sofa bed, but we just keep it open all the time and use it as a “snuggle sofa” that fits our family of four perfectly, making it great for watching movies, playing video games, or of course, snuggling.

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Let’s see yours. You have until the end of the month, specifically “August 31, 2014 at 11:59:59 PM PST” to post or upload your own Couch Trippin’ photo. But make sure you read the rules first to make sure you don’t disqualify yourself. For example, I’m not actually “drinking or consuming an alcohol product,” because that’s one of the restrictions. I’m just holding the beer, giving it a sniff.

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We’re looking for a house to bring our CouchTrippin’ party to — so show us a pic of your couch with Lagunitas and tag #couchtrippin on Instagram or Twitter.

At GBBF

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I love the Great British Beer Festival, and it’s a crying shame I don’t get over the pond often enough to attend it. Happily, Mark Dredge, who in addition to Pencil & Spoon, has been doing some work for Pilsner Urquell, had a camera crew follow him around the hall at the Great British Beer Festival. He’s created a short video giving a flavor of what it’s like to be there. So if, like me, you missed it this year, here’s at least a glimpse at what being there be like. Enjoy.

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Hops & History 2

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Last year, the San Francisco Brewers Guild put together a fun event at the Old Mint with Flipside and the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society called Hops & History, in which I was the moderator of a panel discussion about opening and running a brewery in the city of San Francisco, and also helped with a breweriana display of brewery artifacts from San Francisco and California. I thought it was a great event, and it looks like I wasn’t the only one. Apparently, it was “one of the most popular events hosted by FlipSide for the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society last year.” That’s according to an Op-Ed on the Digital Journal, Hops History event displays that San Francisco is a beer town.

As a result of last year’s success, they’ve decided to another beer event at the Mint this year. The Hops & History 2 event takes place next Thursday, July 24, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at The Old Mint, located at 88 Fifth Street at Mission in San Francisco. Tickets to the event are $30.

Here’s more information about the event, from the San Francisco Brewers Guild website:

Its time to order another round. This 2nd annual event will feature Bay Area craft beer tasting, historical talks, a panel discussion, home brewing demos, local food vendors, and an expanded exhibit of rarely seen historical West Coast brewing memorabilia. Held in the historic 1874 San Francisco Mint, Hops and History Round 2 continues last year’s sold-out celebration of the unique history of brewing in the Bay Area while looking forward to the future of craft brewing in the City by the Bay and beyond.

Don’t get left out in the cold! Get your tickets early to join us to taste the past and enjoy the present of Bay Area craft brewing.

Event Info

Tastings from all breweries included

  • Presentations on brewing history
  • Home brewing demos by San Francisco Brewcraft
  • Exhibit of historic “breweriana” from the private Collection of Ken Harootunian
  • Bavarian pretzels from Bavarian Brez’n, and other local food for purchase
  • Docent led tours of the historic 1874 Old Mint
  • Souvenir sampling mug included
  • Music by DJ Timestretch

Program Info

  • Dave Burkhart and Jim Stitt: Handmade Labels for Handmade Beers
  • John Freeman: Shock Waves of the San Francisco Beer-Quake
  • Taryn Edwards: Lager, Ale, Porter, and Steam: “Healthful fermented liquors” at the Mechanics’ Institute’s Industrial Expostions 1857–1899
  • Panel discussion with SF Brewers Guild brewers from Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, Triple Voodoo Brewery and Tap Room, and Cellarmaker Brewing Co.: moderated by Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin

Apparently tickets are selling briskly, so order your tickets quickly if you’re hoping to join us for another great evening of brewing history. There’s also more info at Flipside’s Facebook page. See you there.

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Good Hop Grand Opening This Saturday

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I’m thrilled to announce that Melissa Myers’ new beer bar in Oakland, The Good Hop, will have its grand opening this Saturday, July 12, with the doors opening at the mercifully not-to-early time of 3:00 PM. The Good Hop is located at 2421 Telegraph Avenue in West Oakland, near the intersection of 24th Street, just around the corner from the New Parkway Theater. I won’t even try to be impartial here, Melissa Myers is a longtime friend of mine, and I’m excited for her to finally realize a dream of opening her own place. She’s been a brewer for many years, from Denver to Philadelphia and in the Bay Area brewed at Magnolia, Pyramid and the old Ross Brewery (which is now Iron Springs) but now turns her attention to choosing and serving great beer. Eventually, The Good Hop may serve Melissa’s own beer (fingers crossed), but for now they’ll be featuring a nicely curated tap list of 16 taps, with 2 dedicated sour beer lines, plus 450+ bottled beers. At the grand opening, they plan to have a number of rare and hard-to-find beers available, as well as some special surprises.

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Here’s more information, from the press release:

The Good Hop Bottle Shop and Tasting Room (TGH) is pleased to announce it is opening its doors to the public on July 12, 2014. The 1,900-square-foot shop, at 2421 Telegraph Avenue Suite 102, is a specialty beer bottle shop and tasting room offering 450+ bottled and canned beers that can be purchased for take-away or can be opened and consumed on site in the spacious and comfortable bar. Their ever-rotating 16 taps will serve up California and West Coast craft beers with 2 designated sour beer lines at all times.

TGH will have an enormous beer selection in bottles, cans, and on tap that would please any aficionado; though, Melissa Myers, The Good Hop’s owner and proprietor, wants to draw in the less familiar to beer client as well. “I love beer and I love making people fall in love with beer. Part of my mission in opening this shop is to serve the customer who walks in and says ‘Well, I don’t know that much about beer, so I’m not sure what I should order…’ That’s where it gets fun for us. I love asking them questions and, based on their answers, figuring what they’ll fall in love with!”

TGH will host a number of events for both beginners and experts alike. The shop will host beer style tastings, vertical brewery tastings, meet-the-brewer nights, cheese-and-beer pairing events, chocolate-and-beer pairing events, and a number of other activities that feature beer as the centerpiece. The TGH website, www.thegoodhop.com, will have a calendar of events posted. Its twitter feed will have daily listings of what 16 beers are on tap for the day. TGH’s Facebook page contains additional information.

Myers is excited about the neighborhood: “We chose this spot because it’s right in the heart of what’s happening in Oakland right now,” says Myers. “We love the KONO [Koreatown-Northgate] neighborhood and we’re thrilled to be part of Art Murmur, First Fridays, and the vibrancy of this area. So much is happening here right now, and we’re really excited to be in the middle of it.”

The regular hours of the Good Hop will be from 3-10 PM Wednesday through Monday of each week, closed only on Tuesdays. Bar snacks are currently available while the local menu is being finalized, and then they’ll be serving heartier fare along with the snacks. They’ll be working with “Off the Grid and other pop-up food vendors to offer a variety of beer-friendly food. Food trucks are also being lined up to serve up beer-friendly bites.”

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Beer Birthday: Bert Grant

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Today would have been Bert Grant’s 86th birthday, and he is definitely missed. Bert opened the country’s first brewpub in 1982 in Yakima, Washington and was a fixture in the industry until his death in late July of 2001. Join me tonight in lifting a pint to Bert’s memory.

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Bert Grant and me at OBF in the mid-1990s.

Congratulations To Garrett Oliver On James Beard Award Win

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It’s a beautiful sight to see the coveted James Beard Award hanging around the neck of one of our own. On Monday evening, the 2014 James Beard Award for “Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional” went to Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery.

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Garrett posted the above photo on his Facebook page, and asked his followers to forgive him the sin of “posting about something you’ve won.” Under the circumstances, I don’t think his disclaimer was necessary. This is the type of big time award that should be crowed about. Without question, it’s a terrific achievement for Garrett, but it’s also an important accomplishment on beer’s road to respectability and legitimacy as the fine beverage we all know it to be. In his typical erudite fashion, Garrett reflects on the award, and what it means for beer.

Last night I was named “Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional” by the James Beard Foundation. These awards are often called “the Oscars of the food world” and given the star-studded black tie ceremony at Lincoln Center, the description seems apt. I don’t need to tell you that beer has always taken a back seat in these circles, though by rights beer should have arrived here a very long time ago. My esteemed fellow nominees, especially Sam Calagione and my friend David Wondrich, have preached our bona fides from the rooftops for many years. So this shiny chunk of bling is for my Brooklyn Brewery brewing team and for all the 3,000 American breweries making some of the most amazing beverages the world has ever seen. Stand facing the mash tun, get stuck in, and make some magic today. “This thing of ours” is the very best thing in the world.

Well said, and congratulations on a well-deserved award. Chris Lowder snapped the shot below of much merriment after the award ceremony, with a clearly happy Garrett Oliver.

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Brussels Beer Challenge To Be Held In Leuven

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2014 will mark the third year for the Brussels Beer Challenge. In its inaugural year it was held in Brussels, in the second year it was in Liege. This year’s competition will be in Leuven, described as a “beautiful historic city with a rich cultural life, countless moments, excellent hotel and conference facilities, and blessed with a noble and ancient brewing tradition.”

From the press release:

During two days a tasting panel of 60 international renowned beer connoisseurs will taste 750 beers from all over the world. The participating beers are divided into categories based on origin, type and style and then evaluated. At the end of the two tasting days, the best beers, in each category, will be awarded a gold, silver or bronze award. This professional beer competition is a unique opportunity for all beer producers to compete with the best international and Belgian brewers.

Why organize this beer competition in Belgium?

Belgium is without a doubt the most unique beer country. Our country has a great expertise and an international reputation. It is only fitting that Belgium has his own professional beer contest. The mixed presence of both national and international specialists ensures that the awarded beers at the Brussels Beer Challenge can count on a huge media interest and international recognition. Dirk Vansina, alderman of tourism: “In the last weekend of October, when the professional beer tasters are judging the beers, the visitor can also enjoy beer in town. Tourism of Leuven is working on an interesting program in which she confirms her title of beer capital. The program will be confirmed later.”

I’m looking forward to going over and judging this fall in Leuven. Should be a great time.

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Here is a chart showing the gold medals awarded at last year’s Brussels Beer Challenge:
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And here is a chart showing the medals awarded to Belgian breweries at last year’s Brussels Beer Challenge:
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