I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in Zwanze Day 2011 at The Holy Grale in Louisville, Kentucky. Luckily for me, Lori Beck and Tyler Trotter of The Holy Grale and Louisville Beer Store were able to arrange that their place was a part of this celebration. This unique event was the work of Jean Van Roy the proprietor of Cantillon Brewery in Belgium and about 20 eager beer bars across the world.
As with many hand crafted and limited products – demand outweighs availability. Jean Van Roy became frustrated seeing his very limited bottled lambics gobbled up by folks who turned around and sold them on eBay for enormous profit and preventing many beer fans from having any chance of ever enjoying the beer. In response, he teamed with beer bars across the world to give fans of this esoteric, but increasingly appreciated beer style a chance to share a glass.
Cantillon is a world-renowned brewery specializing in an ancient brewing method using spontaneous fermentation. Cantillon is considered to be among the best in producing Lambic, a beer with a distinctly sour character. Lambics are often blended with fruit and aged in wooden barrels to mellow and balance the intense sourness of a straight lambic.
As with all hand made items, no two are exactly the same. Zwanze has been made since 2008 and each batch has been different from the rest. The term Zwanze is a reference to the style of self-deprecating, yet grandiose humor of the natives of Brussels. Mr. Van Roy feels his beers may reflect that same character.
Although he has created lambics using rhubarb, blueberries, cherries, and even flowers – this year’s Zwanze was blended with grapes. I found the beer to be complex and delicious. It was a lovely deep pink color almost like ruby red grapefruit juice. It smelled of spices and rotting hay; the taste was of course sour, but beautifully countered by the smooth wheat and barley sweetness. Green peppercorns and acrid notes were present. Fluffy in it’s carbonation, but rich enough to carry the bold and multifaceted flavors. It finished dry and tart leaving me wanting more.
By releasing his beer in kegs only Mr. Van Roy prevented hoarding and reselling while giving lambic beer lovers a chance to socialize and celebrate across time zones and languages.
The Holy Grale in Louisville was one of ten bars in the United States to host this event on Septempber 17th. Twenty-one bars world wide toasted on Saturday at 3:00 pm EST. After the toast was read, we all raised our glasses and drank in recognition of something so rare, but also something so universal as sharing what we love.