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: Ken Kelley

Today is the 55th birthday of Ken Kelley, brewer at North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg. Ken is the guy you see at the majority of beer festivals that North Coast participates in, as well as even some of the ones that they don’t. He’s a terrific ambassador for the brewery, and for craft beer more generally, as well as a great person to hang out with. Join me in wishing Ken a very happy birthday.

Then-Triple Rock GM Rachaal with Ken at the Firkin Fest in 2008.

Ken and a colleague, both sporting pink hair, at the Breastfest in 2007.

Ken, who was responsible for the Old Rasputin X Imperial Stout, which was aged in old bourbon barrels for at least nine months, showing off a bottle along with Ruby and Tom Dalldorf at the Boonville Beer Festival 2007.

Visiting the brewery a couple of years ago, Ken with North Coast founder Mark Ruedrich.

Beer Birthday: Justin Crossley

Today is the 33rd birthday of Justin Crossley, the man behind the mic at The Brewing Network, one of the industry’s best voices. He’s an avid homebrewer and talker, a deadly combination, especially on radio. He also filmed Porter’s Porter Day a couple of years ago and it will fun to see the result of that project. Of course, he’s also opened the Hop Grenade, the next piece of the growing Brewing Network empire. Join me in wishing Justin a very happy birthday.

Justin and me showing off our injured fingers at the last Marin Breastfest held at Marin Brewing.

Justin all thumbs at Stone Brewing during the CBC Reception in 2008.

With Michael Ferguson, from BJ’s, at Oakland’s Linden Street Brewery during the AHA convention a couple of years ago.

Okay, what’s with the thumbs? About to do a broadcast from GABF in 2007.

Beer Birthday: Don Barkley

Today is the birthday of legendary brewer Don Barkley. Barkley’s first brewing job was as assistant brewer at New Albion Brewing in Sonoma, California, America’s first modern microbrewery back in the late 1970s. He went on to help found Mendocino Brewing, and created most of their iconic brands, like Red Tail Ale and Eye of the Hawk. In 2008, Don became the brewmaster for Napa Smith Brewery in — you guessed it — Napa, and he’s been making great beer there, too, ever since. Join me in wishing Don a very happy birthday.

Don Barkley
Don at the SF Beer Week Opening Gala in 2010.

Don, me and Ed Davis each with a 1979 bottle of New Albion beer, that Ed was kind enough to donate, when we did a vintage tasting of beer that Don helped brew over thirty years ago.

Albion Don at the Toronado during the launch of the first SF Beer Week in 2009.

Don at the Celebrator Best of the West Fest in 2009, pouring the official beer of SF Beer Week, which he created for us using the original recipe for New Albion Pale Ale.

Me and Don at the Breastfest at Fort Mason a couple of years ago (photo by Mario Rubio).

Gordon Biersch Closes Original Palo Alto Brewpub

When Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch opened the first brewpub in downtown Palo Alto in 1988, it was one of the few to focus on lagers, and one of the few to focus on fine dining, or at least a step up from the usual pub fare found at most brewpubs at the time. In 1999, two years after opening a production brewery in San Jose, the brewpubs were sold to a restaurant group which today is known as CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries, headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and includes the Rock Bottom brewpubs as well as Gordon Biersch. Dean Biersch retired and went on to open the HopMonk Taverns in Sonoma County while Dan Gordon continues to run the production brewery in San Jose.

Today, September 16, CraftWorks announced that they had closed the brewpub on Emerson Street in Palo Alto, as of the close of business on Tuesday, September 15, and apparently “apologizing for short notice.” Unfortunately, there’s no additional information, or indeed any mention at all, about the closure on their Facebook page, website or on the parent company’s corporate website, which hasn’t updated their press releases since 2011.

The Gordon Biersch brewpub on Emerson Street in Palo Alto.

NOTE: It turns out this was just half of the story. Read the other half, Dan Gordon To Re-Open Original Gordon Biersch Brewpub.

Beer Birthday: Evan Rail

Today is the 43rd birthday of Evan Rail, expat American writer living, and writing about beer, in Prague, Czech Republic. Evan was born and raised in Fresno, but discovered his love for beer while attending U.C. Davis as a French and German literature major. While there, he spent his time at the nearby Sudwerk Privatbrauerei brewpub, and counted among his friends several students in the Master Brewers program. That’s also where he began homebrewing in 1993. He also studied in New York and Paris, before making the Czech Republic his home in 2000. His move to Prague was meant to be for a single year, but he’s still there fifteen years later. Given that he met his wife there, and they’ve started a family, it’s likely he won’t be moving home any time soon. In addition to writing the Good Beer Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic, Rail’s also penned Why Beer Matters, In Praise of Hangovers and Triplebock, all Kindle singles. While we haven’t yet shared a beer in person, I did interview him via Skype for a newspaper column and look forward to a trip to Prague at some point in the future. Join me in wishing Evan a very happy birthday.

A Facebook cover photo of Evan (which is where I purloined it from, along with the next one, too).

A screenshot from a video of Evan talking about Czech beer.

Beer Birthday: Lars Larson

Today is the 49th birthday of Lars Larson, brewmaster of Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley, California. Larsen studied brewing in Germany and was the prefect person to recreate Trumer Pils in the United States, one of the best pilsners made in California, or indeed anywhere, foreign or domestic. I got to know Lars much better several years ago, when we were both invited to judge a beer competition in Santiago, Chile, and he’s a very thoughtful brewer, and great fun to hang out with. Join me in wishing Lars a very happy birthday.

Lars Larson (Trumer), Homer Smith (Oak Barrel) & Shaun O'Sullivan (21st Amendment)
Lars, with Homer Smith of the Oak Barrel & Shaun O’Sullivan from 21st Amendment, at the Celebrator’s 22nd anniversary party in 2010.

Lars in Chile with two of the brewers from Cerveceria Berlina in Argentina.

Lars Larson (Trumer) & Brenden Dobel (Thirsty Bear)
Lars, again at the Celebrator’s 22nd anniversary party in 2010, with Brenden Dobel, from Thirsty Bear.

Lars’ former brewing school classmate Asbjorn Gerlach, Matt Brynildson and Lars at Kross Cerveza Independiente in Chile, which Gerlach co-founded.

Beer Birthday: Steve McDaniels

oakland-brewing independent
Today is the 47th birthday of Steve McDaniels, a former brewer with 21st Amendment. These days McDaniels is hard at work building what will become the Oakland Brewing Co. on 22nd Avenue in Oakland, and brewing their beer at other locations until it’s finished, at least he was the last time I talked to him. Admittedly, it’s been a little while so hopefully it’s still in the works. He’s also working on the soon-to-be-opened, but already-kinda-opened Independent Brewing. Join me in wishing Steve a very happy birthday.

Steve McDaniels, Bruce Paton and Arne Johnson
Steve with OBC partner Bruce Paton and Arne Johnson, brewmaster at Marin Brewing.

Steve with Drake’s brewer Josh Miner.

Steve and his lovely wife Justine.

Claudia Davis, Steve, Justine Nguyen, Gabrielle Chan, Adrienne McMullen, Shaun O’Sullivan and Roger Davis.

Beer Birthday: Dan Gordon

Today is the 55th birthday of Dan Gordon, co-founder of Gordon Biersch Brewing, which began in San Jose, California. Dan studied brewing in Germany and his brewpub chain was one of the first to really focus on lagers, and especially German-style beers. He’s also a terrific jazz trombonist! Join me in wishing Dan a very happy birthday.

At the Celebrator tasting us his newest beer, an unfiltered Dunkelweizen.

During a recent visit to the brewery.

Dan at yet another private Dunelweizen tasting.

I love this early promotional shot they use on Gordon Biersch’s website.

Dan Talking to my SSU class this spring.

Beer Birthday: Geno Acevedo

Today is the 54th birthday of Geno Acevedo, head brewer and co-owner of El Toro Brewing in Morgan Hill, California. Geno makes one of my favorite Oatmeal Stouts, along with many other fine beers. Join me in wishing Geno a very happy birthday.

Geno Acevedo, with his wife Cindy, at the Boonville Beer Festival a couple of years ago.

Geno at the beginning of GABF’s Saturday evening session in 2007.

Geno and Cindy Acevedo at GABF in 2006.