Zwanze Day 2015

cantillon russian-river
Today 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, and last year they made Cuvée Florian, essentially Iris Grand Cru blended with cherries. This year, the beer was Wild Brussels Stout


Each year, the beer is tapped at the very same time at locations around the world, regardless of times zone. Once again, this year the Zwanze Day beer was available at 56 beer bars or breweries in seventeen countries. One of those was Russian River Brewing, one of my local breweries, so I again spent the morning there with owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo.

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 explaining this year’s Zwanze beer:

With its Zwanze 2015, in its own way Cantillon wanted to perpetuate this typically Belgian surrealist mindset. In doing so, a few changes were made to the recipe for a traditional stout. Specifically, I fermented some raw wheat to improve mellowness and enhance storage characteristics and did not use roasted barley to avoid further accentuating the dry aspect, which was already present as a result of spontaneous fermentation.

The recipe is that of a stout, the colour is that of a stout, and spontaneous fermentation followed by 28 months of maturing in a cask has given birth to a “surreal” stout.

The dry and tart notes of a spontaneous fermentation beer combine with the roasted, slightly burnt and delicate chocolate flavours sometimes found in certain stouts.

For the 28 months of maturing we used three types of casks: 50% of the casks had already contained lambic, 25% had already been used for Côtes du Rhône wine and 25% had already been used for Cognac. Beers that have matured in old Cognac casks take up the warmth of the alcohol while those from casks having contained red wine adopt winey and fruity characteristics.

This “wild” stout’s fruitiness and “cooked” side reveal rancio flavours that are characteristic of Madeira or Banyuls wines.

Having a little fun with one of Belgium’s best known artists, Rene Magritte, and one of his best known paintings, The treachery of images (a.k.a. Ceci n’est pas une pipe.)

People lined up to try the very limited release Zwanze, stretching about halfway down the block. So not as crazy as for Pliny the Younger, but a respectable number of people, and enough that not everyone in line could be guaranteed a sample by around an hour before opening time.

The doors to the brewpub opened at 11, an hour before the worldwide toast was to take place. Four other beers from Cantillon were available on draft — Gueuze, Iris, Kriek and Rose de Gambrinus — so people had something to enjoy while they waited. And Vinnie greeted people as he walked around while people were seated.

The first pour of this year’s Zwanze beer right at Noon.

Followed by the first trays of Zwanze ready to be served.

Vinnie and Natalie after giving the Zwanze Day toast.

Beer Birthday: Frank Boon

Today is the 61st birthday of Frank Boon, from the Belgian lambic brewery Brouwerij Boon. In 1978, Boon acquired the small “R. De Vits” Lambiek brewery that dated back to 1680, relocating the brewery to downtown Lembeek in 1986. His beers are imported to the U.S. by Latis Imports. Like most lambic fans, I’ve enjoyed his beers for many years, and was fortunate enough to meet Frank a few years ago during Philly Beer Week. Join me in wishing Frank a very happy birthday.

Tom Peters, Frank Boon, Jean Van Roy, Fergie Carey and Armand Debelder
Tom Peters, Frank Boon, Jean Van Roy, Fergie Carey and Armand Debelder at a Lambic Beer Dinner held at Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia a few years ago.

Frank Boon and Me
Frank and me at the Great Lambic Summit at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology on June 9, 2010.

Beer Birthday: Don Feinberg

Today is Don Feinberg’s 60th birthday, the Big 6-O. Don, along with his wife Wendy Littlefield, ran the Belgian export company Vanberg & DeWulf. Their portfolio included such great beer lines as Dupont, Castelain and Dubuisson (Bush). They were also the original founders of Brewery Ommegang. Four years ago they celebrated their 30th anniversary of being involved in the beer industry and bringing great beer to America. Plus, they’re great fun to hang out and drink with. Unfortunately, recently sold Vanberg & DeWulf, and are taking some time off, before deciding on their next project. Join me in wishing Don a very happy birthday.

Don, along with the Dubuisson brewmaster, being poured Lambrucha in Chicago in 2010.

Wendy and Don at a dinner in Belgium last year.

Wendy Littlefield, Don and Greg Engert at a Vanberg & DeWulf tasting in Washington, D.C. (photo by Chuck Cook)

Wendy and Don in 1979.

Duvel Invests In Firestone Walker

duvel firestone-walker-long-cask
Earlier today Firestone Walker Brewing — in a carefully worded press release — announced that Duvel Moortgat and Firestone Walker “will combine their two companies in the USA.”

Here’s they said it on their website, at Firestone Walker news:


And this was the press release sent out:

July 16, 2015 – Kansas City, Mo., & Paso Robles, Ca. – In an agreement signed earlier this week, Firestone Walker Brewing Company and Duvel Moortgat will combine their two companies in the USA. The California brewery will continue to operate independently in Paso Robles under its current leadership of David Walker and Adam Firestone.

David Walker and Adam Firestone, joint founders of Firestone Walker said: “The Firestone Walker and Duvel Moortgat families have combined forces to broaden their capacity and scope as brewers. Long admirers of each other’s beers, culture and breweries, the two teams saw the perfect fit for an alliance. The partnership will allow Firestone Walker to develop our capacity across the US in a conservative and thoughtful way by consummating a life long tie with this family-owned international craft brewer, who continue their commitment to participating in the American Craft Revolution.”

“The relationship I have built with David and Adam made Firestone Walker the perfect fit for future growth,” said Michel Moortgat, CEO of Duvel Moortgat. “We share the same values; have a great mutual respect for each other’s achievements and a deeply-held belief in exceptional quality as a platform for long-term success. Bringing Firestone Walker together with Boulevard, Ommegang, Duvel and the other craft breweries in our family creates a stronger platform in the USA for us both and allows us to collaborate on brewing in different locations across the USA”

“The most important thing that we can do for Firestone Walker is to help David and Adam manage the exponential growth that their team and their brewery is experiencing right now by providing financial and production capacity to support them,” said Simon Thorpe, President of Duvel Moortgat USA. “We are not integrating our organizations. Both Boulevard and Ommegang are also enjoying tremendous success and we still have much to do in realizing our dream for both these breweries.”

The transaction between Duvel Moortgat and Firestone Walker is expected to close later this year. It is an agreement between two private, family-owned companies, so no financial or contractual details will be disclosed.

It will be interesting to see how this is the same or different from the deal Duvel did with Boulevard Brewing almost two years ago, from which Boulevard seems to have emerged unscathed and doing well, both in terms of quality and public perception. At this point, it appears it may be similar, with very little changing in terms of day to day operations of the brewery and with all the key people remaining in place.


Beer Birthday: Hildegard Van Ostaden

Today is the 40th birthday of Hildegard Van Ostaden, brewmaster at Urthel, one of only two female brewers working in Belgium. Inspired by a trip to Alaska’s barleywine festival, she also brewed the first American-style Imperial IPA in Belgium. Her beers are all great, and I love the illustrations on the labels that her husband Bas does. Join me in wishing Hildegard a very happy birthday.

Hildegard with Brian Hunt of Moonlight Brewing at the Beer Chef’s Urthel dinner.

Outside the Falling Rock, fellow GABF judges Carl Kins, from the EBCU (on left), and Hildegard (on right) along with her husband Bas (in the middle) during GABF in 2007.

Bas van Ostaden, Bruce Paton and Hildegard after their dinner in 2007.

Brussels Beer Challenge To Be Held In Antwerp

antwerp-a brussels-beer-challenge
2015 will mark the fourth year for the Brussels Beer Challenge. In its inaugural year it was held in Brussels, in the second year it was in Liege, and last year we were in Leuven. This year’s competition will be in Antwerp, described as a “city on the Scheldt, city of Rubens, of diamonds, of fashion, a port city… The sum of all these different aspects is what makes Antwerp into a real city: a vibrant, welcoming metropolis, which is also great fun and heart-warming, with green areas where you can relax and peaceful corners. Antwerp is a veritable cultural capital, which prides itself on its impressive architecture and splendid art. Moreover, Antwerp is a fashionista’s dream destination thanks to the stores of its world-renowned designers. The cafes only serve the best beers and foodies can enjoy the most delicious traditional and multicultural cuisine in the city’s restaurants. Antwerp: a pocket-sized metropolis which is sure to conquer anyone’s heart in no time at all.” And Antwerp also boasts two of the best frites shops anywhere.

From the press release:

During two days a tasting panel of 60 international renowned beer connoisseurs will taste 850 beers from all over the world. The participating beers are divided into categories based on origin, typicity and style and then evaluated. At the end of the two tasting days, the best beers, in each category, were 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. The Brussels Beer Challenge will take place from November 5-8, 2015.

I’m looking forward to going over and judging again this fall in Antwerp. Should be another great time.


The 2014 Brussels Beer Challenge judges in Leuven.

Beer Birthday: Carl Kins

ecbu zythos
Today is the 59th birthday of Carl Kins, who lives in Belgium, but judges all over the world. I’ve judged beer competitions with Carl in Japan, his native Belgium and the United States, too. Carl’s an active member of the ECBU, the European Consumers Beer Union, and Zythos. And most importantly, he has a great palate, and is a terrific person to spend time with talking about beer, or anything else. Join me in wishing Carl a very happy birthday.

Carl with Bas and Hildegard Van Ostaden, from Urthel, at the Falling Rock during GABF in 2007.

After judging in Tokyo, at an event at brewpub T.Y. Harbor Brewery, Carl is in the back, 2nd in from the right.

Carl at the Lost Abbey during CBC in San Diego in 2012.

Carl in Tokyo, having a conversation with me and Luc De Raedemaeker.

Beer Birthday: Gambrinus

Today is the traditional birthday of Gambrinus, sometimes called King Gambrinus, considered to be the patron saint of beer, brewing and/or Belgian beer. Not an “official” saint, at least not in the catholic church, but a legendary figure. Regardless, join me in drinking a toast to King Gambrinus today.


Here’s the overview at Wikipedia:

Gambrinus is a legendary king of Flanders, and an unofficial patron saint of beer or beer brewing. Gambrinus is variously depicted as a European king, as an English knight of the Middle Ages, or (less commonly) as a plump old man. Gambrinus’ birthday is purported to be April 11.

The origin of the character is most widely believed to be John the Fearless (1371–1419), who some also believe to be the inventor of hopped malt beer. However, other sources report that one of the cup-bearers in the court of Charlemagne (742–814) was also called Gambrinus. In 1543, the German poet Burkart Waldis wrote of Gambrinus, explaining that Gambrinus learned the art of brewing from Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess of motherhood and fertility.

It is also possible that the original Gambrinus was Duke John I of Brabant (1254-1298), who was called Jan Primus.

Other possible Latin etymologies of the name include cambarus (cellarer) and ganeae birrinus (one who drinks in a tavern). Plzeňský Prazdroj, brewer of the Gambrinus lager, endorses the explanation that the name is a corruption of Jan Primus (John the First), referring to John I, Duke of Brabant. Alternatively, Gambrinus may be a corruption of the name Gambrivius. Although less likely, Gambrinus might also derive from camba, a word from the Celtic language family that refers to a brewer’s pan.


The beer website Froth N Hops has the fullest account of the story of King Gambrinus in one place, though it’s unclear what the source material is. Hopefully, he won’t mind my re-printing it here.

King Gambrinus, known as “the patron saint of beer,” has long been a universal symbol of beer and brewing. Particularly during the late nineteenth century, the image of Gambrinus was used by countless brewers to promote their products and remind consumers of the rich heritage of beer-making. Many breweries were even adorned with life-size statues of the King.

But who was Gambrinus? It is Gambrinus who brought beer to earth, and here is the legend of how this came to pass, and how he came to be King: Gambrinus was a poor apprentice in glass-making, hailing from a little town in the Flandres called Fresne sur l’Escaut. With his wonderful pink cheeks, blonde hair and blonde beard, he was the most beautiful boy in the town and had great romantic success with the town girls.

But Gambrinus had secretly fallen in love with the beautiful daughter of his master, Flandrine. In those times, glass makers were noble from birth, and taught their art only to their sons. Flandrine, as proud as she was pretty, wanted to marry a master glass maker like her father, grandfather, and great grandfather. Gambrinus, as an apprentice, would only prepare the glass for his master, who then skillfully puffed it into decorative sheets.

At last, Gambrinus gathered the courage to reveal his feelings to Flandrine. But Flandrine, offended that such a lowly apprentice sought her affection, refused so strongly that Gambrinus left Fresne, and vowed never to return to glass-working again so that he might forget about Flandrine forever.

So Gambrinus wandered from town to town playing his violin and writing poetry to sing along while he played. Gambrinus, who was very clever and a quick-learner, soon gained a reputation as one of the best violinists in the region. He was constantly called on in towns far and wide to liven up weddings, birthdays, and other parties.

When the people of Fresne heard of the fame Gambrinus had achieved, they could barely believe it. They were so proud of their Gambrinus that they invited him back to Fresne and threw a town-wide celebration in his honor. Gambrinus, flattered by the thought of a celebration in his honor, accepted the towns invitation and returned to Fresne. When he arrived in Fresne and began playing his violin, the delighted townspeople began to sing and dance and cheer.

But soon after Gambrinus had started playing, he noticed Flandrine in the crowd. Overcome by nervousness, Gambrinus began to tremble. He trembled so much and played his violin so horribly that the townspeople began to kick him and shout at him.

The townspeople all blamed Gambrinus for the commotion, since it was his poor playing that upset everyone. Gambrinus soon found himself arrested by the town officials and spent a full month in jail for the trouble he caused in the street and the noisy disturbance he had caused in the night. When Gambrinus was released from jail, he decided the only way he could ever make himself forget about Flandrine was to kill himself. He decided to hang himself, and headed out into the forest to set up a noose and platform. Gambrinus slid the noose over his neck, but just when he was about to step off the platform, he saw before him the devil himself. As is his custom, the devil proposed a deal to Gambrinus: if his power was not strong enough to make Flandrine love Gambrinus, the devil would oblige Gambrinus to forget Flandrine forever. This in exchange for Gambrinus’ soul in 30 years time. Gambrinus accepted the deal, and agreed to the devil’s terms.

As soon as Gambrinus returned to town, he noticed an intense desire to gamble on games. Indeed, the devil meant to turn Gambrinus’ love for Flandrine into a passion for betting. Gambrinus bet on everything he could, not caring whether he won or not. But win he did, and soon Gambrinus found himself the owner of a small fortune. Although gambling had nearly eclipsed any thought of Flandrine, Gambrinus suddenly had an idea. Because he was as rich as a prince, perhaps Flandrine would agree to marry him as a noble. Gambrinus approached Flandrine for the second time and expressed his feelings to her. But Flandrine’s rejection was as swift and as ruthless as the first time: Gambrinus wasn’t a noble; he was born a boy, and would remain a boy for life.

King on a BarrelGambrinus, returned to the forest to see the devil and ask him what went wrong; after all, Gambrinus still had not forgotton Flandrine, nor had Flandrine been made to fall in love with Gambrinus. Suddenly, before Gambrinus’ eyes appeared a large field with long lines of poles on which green plants began to grow. Soon the poles were covered by these green, perfumed plants. “These,” explained the devil, “are hops.” Just as quickly, two buildings burst forth from the ground. “The first building is a hophouse,” said the devil, “and the second one is a brewery. Come, and I will teach you how to make beer, Flandres’ wine. Beer will help you to forget Flandrine.”

Gambrinus learned how to make beer (not without tasting it every now and again) and found it delicious. Gambrinus soon felt like singing and dancing and playing his violin. But he remembered that the last time he had played violin he had been arrested, and his violin destroyed. Gambrinus asked the devil how he might seek revenge against the townspeople of Fresne who kicked him, sent him to jail, and broke his violin. The devil gave Gambrinus a new instrument that no one could resist, and taught Gambrinus how to play it. The devil explained that this instrument was called the chimes. The devil gave Gambrinus some seeds and the chimes and sent Gambrinus back to Fresne.

Once he arrived home, Gambrinus planted the precious seeds given to him by Belzebuth, and practiced making beer and playing chimes. One morning, Gambrinus set up tables, chairs, barrels, and chimes on the main town square and invited all the townspeople to join him to sample his new drink called beer. The townspeople tasted the beer, which was a brown lager. At first the people complained: “It is too bitter,” “It is too stong.” The people soon began laughing at Gambrinus and his stupid drink. Then Gambrinus began to play the irresistable chimes. The people all began dancing and could not stop. All the dancing made the people thirsty, which encouraged them to drink more beer. After an hour or so, the tired and woozy townspeople pleaded with Gambrinus to stop playing chimes. But Gambrinus kept playing for hours and hours. Gambrinus was satisfied that he had gotten his revenge on those who had wronged him.

But after time the townspeople began to appreciate the beer. They begged Gambrinus to make more and called beer the best drink they ever had. Word of Gambrinus’ drink spread far and wide and crossed over all frontiers. People from other towns soon begged Gambrinus to bring beer to their towns. Everywhere Gambrinus went, he brewed beer and played the chimes. So impressed were the nobles of the region that the Dukes, Counts, and Lords offered Gambrinus the title “King of Flandres.” Gambrinus accepted the position of king, but said he preferred the title “King of the Beer.” From thence on, Gambrinus was known as “The Brewer King.”

When Flandrine realized that Gambrinus would never come to her again, she came to talk to him. Gambrinus, however, more than a little inebriated, couldn’t recognize Flandrine, and just offered her something to drink; indeed, Gambrinus had forgotten about Flandrine.

Gambrinus lived happily with his subjects for many years, until finally the devil returned. “Thiry years have passed since we made our deal,” said the devil. “Now you must follow me.” But when the devil turned around, Gambrinus began playing the chimes, and the devil began to dance. The devil begged Gambrinus to stop playing, but Gambrinus continued, and the devil could not stop dancing. Finally, the devil agreed to break his deal with Gambrinus, releasing Gambrinus from his end of the deal.

King Gambrinus lived happily for another half century playing chimes and making beer. When Gambrinus finally died, his body disappeared, and in its place appeared a barrel of beer. This is why Gambrinus has no tombstone, and why no one knows of the resting place of The Brewer King.


Beer Birthday: Pierre Celis

A true brewing legend, who was treated like a rock star in Belgium where they care about their national beers, Pierre Celis would have been 90 today. Celis single-handedly revived the style witbier in the 1960s when he was a brewer at Hoegaarden. He later moved to Texas to start a microbrewery with his daughter Christine, which was sold to Miller in 1995. More recently, he was making three cave-aged beers under the label Grottenbier at St. Bernardus in Belgium. Unfortunately, Pierre passed away almost four years ago in April. Pierre was a terrific person and his absence is still deeply felt. The last I heard, his daughter Christine was working on a great-sounding project that will honor her father’s memory and also produce some terrific beers, too. Join me in drinking a toast to the memory of Pierre Celis.

With Pierre at the Craft Brewers Conference in New Orleans a number of years ago.

At GABF in 2006.

Leffe IPA?

Here’s an odd bit of news. The Belgian brand Leffe, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, has traditionally made abbey beers (though that’s certainly been changing since being acquired by ABI) and the current lineup from Leffe includes a “Blond, Brown, Ruby, Tripel, Radieuse or Vieille Cuvée,” and a few others, as listed on their website.

But according to an item on Totally Beer, a source in the French-speaking part of Belgium, La Libre, is reporting that ABI is planning on launching a new IPA under the Leffe brand, to be known as “Leffe IPA.” At least one Belgian beer source doesn’t think it’s a good idea, calling it a big mistake. It certainly seems like an odd fit to launch a hoppy beer under a label known for brewing abbey-style beers, not hop forward ones, no matter how popular IPAs might be.

I made this up, but it doesn’t look right, does it?

UPDATE: It appears that ABI will not be calling the beer Leffe IPA after all. Much like the famous scene in “Pulp Fiction” about McDonald’s “Quarter-Pounder with cheese” being called the “Royale with cheese” in France, the Leffe IPA will also apparently be called the Leffe Royale. And take a look at the graphic below, taken from Beertime (though it appears it originally was printed in a catalog of some type), there will actually be three different Royales.


The graphic announcement says that the beer will have “subtle aromas” and “3 different varieties of hops” (despite listing four) but I think that’s just the first beer in the series. Curiously, it also appears to say that the Cascade hops are exclusive to Leffe, which unless I’m reading that wrong is an odd statement given that Cascade hops are the most popular hop variety used by smaller brewers. Of course, they could just be saying the beer is using Cascade hops exclusively, simply meaning it’s a single hop beer.

And this is a pretty interesting claim: “New brewing process: dry hopping.” I’m sure Britain’s brewers are howling with laughter at that one. Descriptors mentioned for the beers include “red fruits, peach, apricot, spices,” a “pronounced bitterness” and “very fruity.” So I guess the first beer is using the four listed varieties (Whitbread Golding, Cascade, Challenger and Tomahawk the second is brewed with the “Mapuche” hop variety from Argentina, and the last one Cascades. It’s possible that only the Cascade IPA is the IPA of the three, and that the others aren’t meant to be, just all more hop forward beers under the umbrella of the “Royale” series. H/T to The Beer Nut for sending me the link.