Today is the 43rd birthday of Luc De Raedemaeker, who’s the Tasting Director for the Brussels Beer Challenge, and also the owner of BIERinhuis. I first met Luc in D.V. when Stephen Beaumont introduced us during CBC, and then we judged together in Japan last year. We’ve since run into one another several time, both in the states and in Belgium, and he’s always fun to share a beer or three with. Join me in wishing Luc a very happy birthday.
The West Flanders town of Bruges, in Belgium, is one of the most picturesque cities I’ve ever visited. Sadly, I’ve only been there twice, and one of those times was at night. The town center is a World Heritage Site, and it’s medieval architecture makes you think you’ve stepped back in time. In a way, it’s similar to our Colonial Williamsburg, where residents must agree to keep the colonial facade intact, so must people who live in downtown Bruges keep its exterior medieval.
There’s only one brewery in the ancient downtown, De Halve Maan, which can trace its root as far back as 1564, and has been owned by the Maes family since the 19th century. BUt according to an article in the UK newspaper, The Telegraph, neighbors haven’t been thrilled by the rumbling of beer trucks in and out of the cobblestoned streets, and officials worried it could be damaging local infrastructure. The Maes family wants to keep their historic brewery in the city, so they came up with a unique solution to please everybody, including the city government, which approved the project. The plan is to “‘build a two-mile underground pipeline will link the De Halve Maan brewery … to an industrial park where the beer will be bottled and shipped to drinkers worldwide,’ company director Xavier Vanneste said.”
Construction is set to begin in 2015, and will be Belgium’s first beer pipeline, paid for by the brewery. The pipeline is expected to keep around 500 trucks off Bruges’ street every year, which currently is estimated to be about 85% of current truck traffic in the historic downtown area. The Telegraph article also claims that “to avoid harming the city’s gothic facades and medieval belfry, pipeline construction will use some of the latest technologies perfected for the transport of oil and gas.”
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”!
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.
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.
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.
Today is the 60th 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 couple of years ago during Philly Beer Week. Join me in wishing Frank a very happy birthday.
Today is Don Feinberg’s 59th birthday. Don, along with his wife Wendy Littlefield, runs the Belgian export company Vanberg & DeWulf. Their portfolio includes such great beer lines as Dupont, Castelain and Dubuisson (Bush). They were also the original founders of Brewery Ommegang. Three 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, this will be their last year running Vanberg & DeWulf, as they’ve sold it and will be taking some time off, before deciding on their next project. Join me in wishing Don a very happy birthday.
Wendy Littlefield, Don and Greg Engert at a Vanberg & DeWulf tasting in Washington, D.C. (photo by Chuck Cook)
For our 91st Session, our host is Breandán Kearney, who is the beery half of Belgian Smaak, along with budding chocolatier Elisa. For his topic, he’s chosen My First Belgian, meaning to participate in the September Session, he wants to know about yours.
Our blog is called ‘Belgian Smaak’. We love (and investigate, write about and drink) fantastic beers from other countries around the world, but the reason we started the blog was that we were blown away by the variety of flavours that Belgium offers in its beer and wanted to enjoy our own adventure in taste.
Although David Turley of Musing Over a Pint did host a great session on Belgian-style triples (A Tripel for Two) back in February 2009, we noticed with no small element of surprise that there has not yet been a Session dedicated to discussing beers from this country generally and so we feel that we are the hosts to bring Belgian beer to the tip of your tongues both literarily and libatiously.
This topic was inspired by my own experience in moving to Belgium last year. Having only Guinness and Macro-Pils as a reference (until recently the only choice available in Ireland), my attitude towards beer was completely re-aligned when I first encountered Belgian beer culture.
There’s no rules for participating in this Session. If you’ve never tried a beer brewed in Belgian, now your chance. Or write about your favorite Belgian type of beer. The sky’s the limit. Their “aim here is to explore, discuss and hopefully celebrate the ways (if any) in which this fascinating beer culture has personally impacted on each of you, the passionate beer blogging community.” But see his thoughtful, detailed announcement for the myriad ways you can participate in next month’s Session.
So put on your Belgian cap and write your blog post — no Flemish necessary — on Friday 5 September 2014, and link to Belgian Smaak’s announcement in your post. Also, he’s asking that you leave a comment below his announcement with a link to your post on that same day to facilitate doing the roundup.
Today is the 39th 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.
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.
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 89 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 three years ago in April. Pierre was a terrific person and his absence is still deeply felt. As I understand it, his daughter Christine is 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.
The Association of Belgium Brewers recently launched a campaign to celebrate Belgian beer … in Belgium. The marketing push, called “Fiers de nos bières” or “Proud of our Beers,” is trying to persuade the people of Belgium what beer lovers all over the world already know: that Belgian brewers make great beer that they should be proud of.
There’s also a website, proudofbelgianbeers.com, and a Facebook page (in Dutch). I’m something of an amateur vexillologist, so by far my favorite part of the campaign is the new Belgian flag that the ad agency DDB Brussels created. Such a simple idea, slightly modifying the existing flag to add some angles and a put a creamy head on the middle of the flag. Genius. You can even buy your own Belgian beer flag for €20.