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 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 Benediction, 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.

The Chart of Brewing

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Here’s another fun infographic just published by Pop Lab Chart. They’ve done quite a few beer-themed posters and this new one, The Chart of Brewing, shows the brewing process in a great looking graph paper chart. 12 x 16 prints of the hand-illustrated poster will be available for $20 beginning on September 22, although you can preorder one now. I’m putting it on my holiday wishlist.

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NFL Beer Prices Continue To Make Movie Popcorn Look Like A Bargain

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I took a look at Beer Prices By Football Stadium in 2012, and you’ll probably be as un-shocked as it’s possible to be to learn that they’re even higher today than two years ago. According to a report by Business Insider, the “average cost for a small draft beer at NFL games this season is $7.53,” which last year was only $7.05. Only, ha. That still makes it more ridiculously proceed than the concessions at movie theaters. At least, movie houses have the excuse that they don’t make much on the films themselves, and have to make it up on popcorn and soda pop. NFL tickets, by contrast, are one of the most expensive things a family can buy, and the NFL rakes in billions, despite being classified as a non-profit!

And according to another recent report by Team Marketing Report, the most expensive place to see a game is the 49ers new stadium in Santa Clara. “The estimated price for a family of four to attend a game in the Niners’ new digs … is $641.50, a hefty, expected increase from their last season in San Francisco. That includes an average non-premium ticket price of $117, which is second only to the New England Patriots’ $122.” Hell, the average price for an NFL ticket is $84.43, and the average “Fan Cost Index price is $479.11,” meaning that’s how much it costs for a family of four to go to a stadium and see an NFL football game.

But let’s get back to the beer. The two most expensive stadiums to buy a beer are both in the Bay Area, $10.75 for 20 oz. at a Raiders game and $10.25 for 20 oz. at a Niners game. “The increase comes despite the introduction of a $4.50 beer in St. Louis, where the Rams now have the cheapest beer in the NFL,” but as they point out those lower prices are also for smaller pours, in some cases nearly half. “If we consider the size of the beer, the most expensive beer is in Philadelphia, where the smallest beer costs 71 cents per ounce. The Cincinnati Bengals offer the cheapest beer per ounce, with a 14-ounce beer costing just $5 (36 cents per ounce).”

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Berkeley Bar Proposes Not Serving Alcohol

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Talk about your non-story. A new Kava bar set to open in Berkeley is planning on not serving alcohol and you’d think they had re-invented the light bulb. Between the bar’s own application claiming it “aims to be Berkeley’s first and only alcohol-alternative bar” and Alcohol Justice tweeting the news with their characteristic glee assuming it must be anti-alcohol, there’s not a lot to the actual story. Not to mention the way in which the Bay Area BizTalk author is spinning it so that she claims it to be “innovative,” saying that “while the common thread is serving booze, one business that plans to open in Berkeley could change that.” Puh-leeze!

Okay, first let’s dispense with the innovation or that it’s Berkeley, or anywhere for that matter’s, “first and only alcohol-alternative bar.” Berkeley and the rest of the world has thousands, maybe millions of them. They’re called cafes, coffeehouse, tea bars, ice cream parlors, and on and on. Starbucks alone operates nearly 24,000 alcohol-alternative bars, not including the few that have been test-marketing alcohol sales in the evenings. As for Alcohol Justice’s churlish remark that “If this takes off, expect Bud Light Kava,” they’re displaying their usual cluelessness. Kava is a plant “used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties. Kava is consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia, including Hawaii, Vanuatu, Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia. Kava is sedating and is primarily consumed to relax without disrupting mental clarity. Its active ingredients are called kavalactones. A Cochrane Collaboration systematic review of its evidence concluded it was likely to be more effective than placebo at treating short-term social anxiety.”

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The scientific name for the specific plant used to make the kava drink is known as “Piper methysticum,” which means “intoxicating pepper.” So essentially it’s a different, milder high, but is used in much the same way and for the same purposes as many people use alcohol and mood-altering drugs. You just missed celebrating the Feast of Papa-Lea, the God of Kava Drinking, on September 8. Still, it’s not exactly a health drink. “People taking certain kava-based drugs and dietary products have suffered liver damage or liver failure as a result of hepatotoxicity. Consequently, kava is regulated in a number of countries. In the EU it is strictly prohibited only in Poland.” So the bar may be not serving alcohol, but that’s because they’re focusing on another, somewhat similar product. If it were more popular in the U.S., and regulated like alcohol, you can bet Alcohol Justice would be against it, and singing a different tune.

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I want to be clear that I’m not against Kava. I’ve never had it but would try it in a heartbeat if offered a chance to sample it. But I do want to point out the incessant hypocrisy of prohibitionist groups like Alcohol Justice who are so against alcohol in our society that they’ll celebrate the fact that a bar is taking a different theme to reach a specialized clientele and choosing against serving alcohol in favor of a different mood-altering drink. One they’re against, and the other … well, they don’t really understand or care about so long as it’s not alcohol.

Personally, I hope the MeloMelo Kava Bar does open. It sounds interesting, and worth trying, but please let’s dispense with the notion that it’s going to start a wave of non-alcoholic places that will squash alcohol’s prominence as the beverage of choice at bars across the nation. And especially that they’ll be characterized as “alcohol-alternative bars.” According to the Bay Area BizTalk article, “Tea, yerba mate and kombucha will also be on the menu at MeloMelo, but the bar will not serve food or ‘coffee bean-related’ products.” And let’s not forget that MeloMelo is saving themselves thousands by not buying an expensive liquor license. So these are marketing decisions to differentiate themselves from coffeehouses, and their not serving alcohol is not exactly something that’s likely to “catch on” given that there are already thousands of places where alcohol is not served already. Hell, every time someone actually tries to sell alcohol in a place where it’s traditionally not sold — like Starbucks or Burger King — the hue and cry from the wingnut prohibitionists is deafening.

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But let’s review the real issue here, and the ridiculousness of the concept of being an alcohol-alternative establishment. I think I see a way out. When you’re at a bar, or restaurant or whatever and don’t want to order something alcoholic off of the menu; don’t. Now, was that so hard? There are all sorts of people in the world, and at any given time in any number of moods. Sometimes you want or need a drink, sometimes you don’t. I’m not a big fan of seafood, in fact hate most if it and could most likely live happily my remaining days if I never saw a fish on my plate again. But I’m not boycotting restaurants with seafood choices on the menu. I just don’t order any of them. But the prohibitionists would rather limit everybody’s choice and simply not have alcohol available for legal adults to enjoy because a minority of them might not be able to handle themselves, in effect punishing those of us who can. So how about we have alcohol-alternative people and give the rest of us the ability to choose for ourselves how we we want to live our lives?

Lagunitas Couch Trippin’ Winner Announced

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A few weeks ago Lagunitas Brewing, my local down the street, announced a contest to win a a party in your home, Couch Trippin’ party to your home. The Couch Trippin’ Contest ended on the last day of August, and they’ve just announced the winner in a new Lagunitas video showing some of the best entries and ending with the winner’s submission.

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Congratulations to Mel Gryllz (@Gryllzlee) for emerging victorious with this wonderful shot:

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Wine, Beer Or Spirits?

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Here’s a cool interactive map created by Ghost in the Data. Using data from the World Health Organization, the map shows “How much — and which — alcohol is drunk in the world during a week?” As the instructions explain: “Move over countries to learn it, or use the buttons to show the top wine, beer and spirits drinkers or each country’s favorite drink.” The first three maps show each alcohol type with darkest countries drinking more and lighter one drinking less that of that particular type. Check it out at Wine, Beer or Spirits?

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Spirits
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This map, called “Favorite,” shows each country by which of the alcohol types is the most popular there, and its intensity shows how popular it is relative to the other types.

Favorites by Type
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If you move your mouse over each nation, you can see the breakdown for the alcohol types. I seem to recall that the WHO data also has an “other” category for native drinks that aren’t one of the big three so I’m not sure how they addressed that, whether including them as the one they most closely resembled or if they simply ignored them.

The profile for the United States
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Hops, One Of Our Nature Neighbors

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Here’s an interesting look at hops from a 1914 publication. The book is Nature Neighbors, a lavishly illustrated multi-volume set of nature books published by the American Audubon Association in Chicago, which was limited to only 2,500 printed copies. It was edited by Nathaniel Moore Banta, with “articles by Gerard Alan Abbott, Dr. Albert Schneider, William Kerr Higley, Thomas Crowder Chamberlin, John Merle Coulter, David Starr Jordan, and Other Eminent Naturalists.”

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In Volume 4, covering minerals and plants, under Chapter III: Medicinal Plants, by Dr. Albert Schneider, beginning at page 133, they include a description and illustration of hops.

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“The Hop has been called the Northern vine. It is found in a wild state throughout Europe, excepting the extreme North, and extends east to the Caucasus and through Central Asia. It is a handsome plant and not infrequently used as an arbor plant. The lower or basal leaves are very large, gradually decreasing in size toward the apex.

Hops is also cultivated in Brazil and other South American countries, Australia, and India.

The principal use of hops is in the manufacture of beer, to which it imparts the peculiarly bitter taste, and its repute as a tonic. For this purpose enormous quantities are consumed in Germany and England. The exhausted hops
from the breweries form an excellent fertilizer for light soils. The leaves have been used as fodder for cows. Leaves, stems, and roots possess astringent properties and have been used in tanning. In Sweden the fiber of the stem is used in manufacturing a very durable white cloth, not unlike the cloth made from hemp and flax.

Hops is used medicinally. It at first causes a very slight excitation of brain and heart, followed by a rather pronounced disposition to sleep. Pillows stuffed with hops form a very popular domestic remedy for wakefulness.

Hop bags dipped in hot water form a very soothing external application in painful inflammatory conditions, especially of the abdominal organs. It has undoubted value as a bitter tonic in dyspepsia and in undue cerebral excitation.”

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Description of plate : A, staminate (male) inflorescence; B, pistillate (female) inflorescence; C, fruiting branch; 1, staminate flower; 2, perigone; 3, stamen; 4, open anther; 5, pollen; 6, pistillate catkin; 7, 8, 9, pistillate flowers; 10, scales; 11, 12, 13, scales and flowers; 14, 15, fruit; 16, 17, 19, seed; 20, resin gland (lupuhn).

You can see the book in its entirety at the Internet Archive, where you can also download a pdf, ePub or Kindle formatted file there. Or read it online via Open Library, where you want to look for page 308.

Bagby Beer Almost Open

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A little over a week ago I was in San Diego to take part on a panel at the Beer Bloggers Conference. After my participation was over, I was keen to see the progress Jeff and Dande Bagby were making on their new brewery, Bagby Beer Co., so I drove out to Oceanside to see the new space for myself. As I drove down the main thoroughfare in Oceanside — Coast Highway — parallel to the coast, the new brewery is on your left, making it oceanside, too. The first thing you notice is that it’s massive. I knew the space had previously been used as a car dealership, but that still didn’t prepare me for the size of it. It’s on the corner of Minnesota, a block away from Wisconsin, and takes up a sizable portion of the long block. The exterior is mostly finished, and it looks amazing.

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The view from across the street.

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Signage along the front of the building, visible from any angle.

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At the corner of the Coastal Highway and Minnesota Avenue.

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Inside, the brewery is finished, up and running, with six Bagby beers in the fermenters. It’s been 18 months since any Bagby-made beers have been available, and to my way of thinking, that’s far too long.

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The brewhouse.

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The entire restaurant side of the place will seat around 350, and there are wonderful nooks and crannies everywhere, including an upstairs open-air balcony and on the ground floor there’s this quiet sitting area for four with umbrellas tucked into a corner space.

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Downstairs, there’s another outdoor seating space, and these are not including what’s inside.

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Inside, several bars are nearing completion.

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Dandelian and Jeff Bagby in the upstairs loft dining area, with a separate small bar. The plaid back of the bench seating was inspired by Jeff’s winning plaid pants that he used to wear for GABF award ceremonies, as I detailed several years ago in Jeff “Lucky Pants” Bagby Wins Big.

So when will Bagby Beer Co. be open, with Bagby beer once flowing in the San Diego area? It should be any day now. Hell, for all I know, they might be open right now. Or maybe not. But it will be soon, and it will probably be done quietly. So if you find yourself in the area, drive by and see if the lights are on. You might get lucky, and get to be one of the first to drink some Bagby beer in a year and a half. At some point in the early fall, they’ll have a big grand opening, and that will be preceded by some pomp and ceremony. But until then, they’ll take the brewpub out for a test drive, working out the kinks, getting the food just right and pouring what I can only imagine will be some incredibly tasty beer. Frankly, I can’t wait until my next trip there.

Happy Labor Day: Beer Creates Jobs

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Happy Labor Day everybody. I thought this was a good day to highlight a press release from the Beer Institute about “how one job inside a brewery supports another 45 jobs outside. From farmers to factory workers, and truck drivers to tavern owners, beer puts people to work.” It’s not just that breweries employ a lot of people — they do — but many more job are created beyond the brewery that might not exist were it not for the beer. As their research shows, for every job inside a brewery, there are 45 related jobs outside the brewery.

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From the press release:

“Today we toast to the industry’s 2 million men and women who make it possible for Americans to enjoy their favorite beer,” said Jim McGreevy, Beer Institute President and CEO. “America’s preference for beer is a huge boon to the national economy and the American worker.”

According to an economic study jointly commissioned by the Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers Association in 2012, U.S. brewers and beer importers are the foundation for an industry that employs more than 2 million Americans, directly and indirectly. Beer also contributed $246.6 billion to America’s economy and generated $49 billion in local, state and federal taxes.

A Beer Institute analysis showed that each job in a brewery supports other jobs in the agriculture, business and personal services, construction, finance insurance and real estate, manufacturing, retail, transportation and communication, travel and entertainment and wholesale sectors.

They also broke down the number of jobs flowing from beer for each state. Not surprisingly, California was number one, with 241,640 contributing over $34 billion into the economy. After California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois have the most beer-related jobs, but even in the smallest states, thousands of people are gainfully employed thanks to beer. The total number of jobs nationwide is just over 2 million with a total economic impact of almost $247 billion. To see it broken down even farther, including by state and Congressional district, check out Beer Serves America.

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Happy Labor Day, the only this missing from this picture? Where are the brewers?

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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.