Once in a Lifetime: Zwanze Day 2011

On Sunday, September 18, 2011, beer geeks like myself packed into bars and filed into serpentine lines to wet their whistles with the coveted and one-time-only Cantillon Zwanze. As we waited, eager mouths chattered about brewing and blending techniques, Cantillon’s magic way with the lambic style, and their own homebrewing attempts with wild ales and sours. If only I could have made a sound byte from the line itself….

Now when I say bars friends, I mean only 21 bars on the entire planet! Yes, that’s right. At precisely the same time around the globe, 12 pm PST for me (do the math yourself for other time periods), Cantillon Zwanze 2011 was tapped and flowed like the precious water from the Fountain of Youth.  As the moment came and went, beer friends merrily raised their glasses and shouted a “Cheers” to their brethren around the world. A mere 10 bars in the United States shared in this event, for us in California, it was Stone Brewing Co. and Russian River Brewing.

(Why the exclusivity? After an unfortunate bout with jacked up prices on Ebay (read more by CLICKING HERE), Cantillon decided to cease selling bottles of Zwanze altogether.)

Below is the full list of the 21 bars, which in my humble opinion, should be put on each of your personal bucket lists. They are certainly on mine. If they were deemed worthy to carry Cantillon Zwanze, it’s probably a bar/brewery you are going to want to visit in your lifetime.

At Stone, we were lucky enough to taste both the Zwanze 2010, in bottles, and the fresh from the keg 2011:

Cantillon Zwanze 2011:

Pours a lovely reddish-orange-pink color. Gentle, but beautifully present notes of hay, stable, and wild field grasses. A complex fruit tartness with a pleasant dry finish. Discussion abounds as to the fruit used in the blending…it’s obviously not the typical framboise (raspberry) or kriek (cherry). The aroma and flavor appear more brambly and subdued, much like the difference between a blackberry and its red lookalike. But this was certainly no blackberry lambic. Later, after guesses of elderberry and several others I have honestly never laid ears upon, it is discovered Cantillon used the relatively unknown grape, Pineau d’Aunis.

Cantillon Zwanze 2010:

The Cantillon Zwanze 2010 beer sculpture

A more traditional lambic in appearance and flavor profile. Pours a hazy golden color. Close  your eyes, breathe in the aromas, and you could swear you were standing outside a barn in the countryside of Belgium. Forward notes of straw, barnyard, wood plank, and earth joined by wafting aromas of wild field grasses, pepper, and spice. Despite the use of the Pineau d’Aunis grape in both vintages, which does provide some musty grape-skin bitterness, this Zwanze has a very different profile than it’s younger version.

My only complaint with the Zwanze 2011 tasting (beyond the insane line), was the 4 ounce pour. While I understand the desire to allow as many people as possible to taste this lovely beer, 4 ounces is hardly any amount to enjoy or savor. You find yourself taking miniscule sips and attempting to discern a flavor profile without wasting even a drop of the liquid. This is not my favorite way of drinking beer, and I doubt few others. I was simultaneously happy and jealous of those who tweeted and texted from other locations that they were on their second or third Zwanze. That means you Claes.

Fellow beer fanatic and friend, Larry Smith, enjoys the Zwanze 2011.

That being said, I was honored and delighted that I was one of only a numbered few around the world to taste this deliciously exclusive beer. Cheers to each one of my beer comrades who joined me in this event and of course, cheers to all of you beer lovers out there.

  • America – USA :
    • Monk’s Café in Philly
    • Spuyten Duyvil in New York
    • Lord Hobo in Boston
    • Novare Res in Maine
    • Churchkey in Washington DC
    • West Lakeview Liquors in Chicago
    • The Avenue Pub in New Orleans
    • Holy Grale in Kentucky
    • Russian River in Northern CA
    • Stone in Southern CA
  • America – Canada :
    • Canada – Montréal : Dieu du Ciel
  • Europe :
    • Belgium – Brussels : Moeder Lambic Fontainas – Moeder Lambic Saint-Gilles
    • France – Paris : La Cave à Bulles
    • France – Fougères sur Bièvre : La Gardette – Les Vins Contés
    • Italy – Rome : Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà
    • Italy – Bergamo : The Dome
    • Italy – Nicorvo : Sherwood Pub
    • Finland – Helsinki : Pikkulitu
    • Denmark – Copenhagen : Olbutikken
    • Sweden – Stockholm : Akkurat
  • Asia :
    • Japan – Itami: Konishi Brewing Restaurant

As always, keep drinking Craft Beer!


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