Zwanze Day 2018 at The Pilcrow, Manchester

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Zwanze Day at The Pilcrow Poster

Sticking with the Belgian theme for just one more blog post, I am going to write about Cantillon Zwanze Day which took place at my local Manchester pub, The Pilcrow, on Saturday 29 September. The Zwanze series from Cantillon Brewery (Brussels, Belgium) began in 2008 with the release of a special lambic beer with added rhubarb. Ever since then, Cantillon brewer Jean Van Roy has used the series, and the celebration days organised around it, to bring lovers of lambic beers together around the world. Now ten years in to the series, this was my first ever Zwanze day and seeing as it was at our local and favourite Manchester pub, we couldn’t resist getting tickets.

 

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Garage, Silver Peel

The event began at 12.00pm on the Saturday, however as we had friends visiting that day we didn’t arrive at The Pilcrow until around 6.00pm. The Zwanze was not pouring until 8.00pm, so this gave us plenty of time to try out the rest of the lambic-inspired beers on offer that day. The Pilcrow still has it’s large yellow tent up outside the pub, which has been used for many events during the summer months, and the majority of the beers were being served from inside the tent. You needed to buy tokens from the bar if you wanted beers from outside (£2.50 per token), so we got a few each to begin with. Cantillon beers were two tokens each (I imagine because of the costs to bring the beer to the UK) but all the other beers were one token. I started off with the Cantillon Iris, a traditional lambic which is dry and tart, with a slight floral taste. It was delicious and I was pleased that I had the chance to try it as it had not been available when we visited the brewery itself back in July. I followed this with a Oude Kriek Boon, as I love the Kriek style so always take the opportunity to have one when I can.

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Wylam, Fruits of Perception

As well as a large selection of Cantillon brews, there were also lots of sour and lambic-inspired beers from a range of UK brewers. The Wild Beer Co had plenty on offer, many of which were very intriguing such as their Rosa Rouge Saison which was really well balanced and had a nice level of tartness to it. We also tried their Sourdough Berliner Weisse which we were pleasantly surprised by, as although we were keen to try it, we weren’t convinced it would work. It was actually quite light and refreshing. We were expecting it to have a stronger bread taste, but the fact it didn’t is probably a good thing. Personal favourites from the non-Cantillon beers we tried were Silver Peel, a sour Berliner Weisse from Garage Beer Co from Barcelona (really light, fragrant but very sour. Definitely packs a punch!) and Fruits of Perception by Wylam from Newcastle, UK which I found to be quite unique compared to other sours I’ve had (I also couldn’t quite place the fruit, but possibly apricot – very nice). I know that sour beers are not for everyone, but for sour lovers like me, this event was a brilliant opportunity to try lots of interesting and harder-to-come-by styles.

IMG_3075As it approached 8.00pm, we joined the queue to receive our Cantillon Zwanze 2018. While we waited we had a good chat with a few lambic-enthusiasts who had only just returned from visiting the brewery in Brussels. They also told us about how you can only purchase a certain amount of bottles of Cantillon beer from the brewery every year (something we didn’t know) and apparently they have a way of tracking past purchases on your card so they know if you’ve already reached your limit for that year. We also saw two men with two wristbands each (you had to exchange your tickets for a wristband when you arrived). They must have been very keen to try this years Zwanze!

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Zwanze 2018 lambic and glass

Once we received our Zwanze, it was worth the wait. This years version was a blend of two year old lambic matured in first use italian wine barrels. It was really tart and so flavourful. You could definitely taste the wine and the time it spent maturing in the barrels. We received a third measure and sadly we got through ours way too quickly – we definitely could have had more if we’d had the chance to. There is definitely a level of excitement to having a beer you know you will never have again though. As much as I value having my ‘go-to’ beers that I’ll come back to time and time again, it’s a special experience to have something that has taken so much time and effort and you will never have again. And I guess there’s always next year?

I had never heard of Zwanze day before this year and I’m glad that The Pilcrow got the chance to host it, as it’s a really fantastic little pub. Over the next few weeks/months I’ll be writing about loads more local events – the next one being Indyman Beer Con 2018, which I’ll be attending tonight. Perhaps see you there?

Bruges: De Halve Maan Brewery

I’ve been so busy again recently that I’ve barely had any time for writing. Works been hectic and my boyfriend and I are trying to buy a house, so that’s also taking up a lot of our attention right now. I’m going to have to start writing more again though, as there are so many great events and beer festivals coming up  in Manchester over the next few months! Before I get back to writing about more local beer though, I am going to finally write about our fantastic trip to the De Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges this summer.

I first heard about De Halve Maan Brewery from reading this Buzzfeed article about the two mile, underground beer pipeline that transports beer from the brewery in central Bruges to the bottling plant outside the city. Ever since reading that article I’d been really keen to visit the brewery, and of course I’d already sampled De Halve Maan’s wonderful Brugse Zot, so was excited to taste it again straight from the source.

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Entrance to De Halve Maan Brewery

We decided to book on to the Deluxe tour which was €19 each and included a guided tasting of three beers. The standard tour is cheaper and is about an hour quicker, so is a good option if you don’t have much time or need to stick to a budget. You also still get to try Brugse Zot unfiltered – the only place where you can do so. We booked in advance, but most people appeared to show up on the day to join a tour.

When you first arrive, it feels a lot more commercial than a lot of other breweries – mainly because there are so many people – but once you get inside the brewery itself it feels very different. A complete contrast between much newer, shinier equipment and the older, traditional parts of the brewery. Our Tour Guide, Ann, was extremely knowledgeable and took us through much of the history of the brewery, as well as the specifics of Belgian brewing. Ann’s vast knowledge and enthusiasm really made the tour feel special and she was happy to take questions and give recommendations.

One part of the tour that was unexpected but definitely one of the highlights was climbing the staircase up to the very top of the brewery and taking in the view of Bruges. It was spectacular and controversially, I thought the view from the brewery was even better than from the Belfry which we had climbed earlier that day. A word of caution though for anyone not comfortable with climbing lots of stairs or being in confined spaces – there are lots of steps that are quite steep and hard to climb (even harder to climb down because they are very narrow). Fortunately there are a few areas to rest along the way!

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View from the roof

The final part of the tour was the best bit – tasting the beer! We were led down to the brewery tasting room which had an traditional feel with dark mahogany furniture. It’s very much like how you would imagine an old beer hall to be. We were then taken through a guided tasting of the unfiltered Brugse Zot, Dubbel, Triple or Quadruple (you can choose whether to have the Triple or Quadruple, but if you are in a couple or with a  friend choose one each so you can try both!).

Ann expertly guided us through the tour, even telling us what cheese you should pair with each different style. She inspired us to plan our own Belgian beer and cheese night, which I can’t wait to organise! Apparently the Dubbel and Tripel goes well with a lighter, creamy cheese like a brie or camembert, whereas the stronger Quadruple complements a strong blue cheese. It was also interesting taking part in the tasting as a group because everyone seemed to have a different experience and favoured certain beers over others. I really enjoyed the Dubbel for instance, but quite a few people on our table found that they couldn’t finish theirs (I wasn’t complaining…). The unfiltered Brugse Zot was also amazing – so much more satisfying that the version you find more readily across Belgium. Unfortunately you don’t get to see the infamous two mile beer pipe, however Ann told us that she gets a lot of questions about it!

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The beer recommended to us by Ann

Following our tour, we decided to stay in the De Halve Maan bar for a little longer. My boyfriend had loved the Tripel we had tried and was also wearing a t-shirt he had bought at Cantillon Brewery in Brussels (well known for their lambic beers brewed with wild yeast), so Ann recommended another beer to him that she thought he’d like – the Straffe Hendrik Bruges Tripel ale, re-fermented with a wild “Brettanomyces” yeast. It was delicious. She also brought over a leaflet for us about the beer with the full description and information about how it was made. We really appreciated this and were really struck by how passionate and attentive Ann was as a tour guide. She clearly loves her job and we feel very lucky that she guided us through our trip to De Halve Maan.

So if you ever find yourself in Bruges, make sure you visit the De Halve Maan Brewery – it will be well worth your time. Even if you don’t have time for a tour, make sure you order an unfiltered Brugse Zot and sit in the brewery’s lovely outdoor bar and watch the world go by.

Brussels: Moeder Lambic, Cantillon and Brussels Beer Project

I’ve had a bit of a blogging hiatus over the summer, but now I’m back and I’ve got plenty of things to write about!

Towards the end of July my boyfriend and I went to Belgium on holiday and really fell in love with the place. The first stop on our trip was the capital city, Brussels. I’ve always wanted to go to Brussels however I didn’t really know what to expect because a lot of people have told me in the past that it’s not the most exciting city to visit. I have to say that they were all wrong! Brussels exceeded my expectations and it is now definitely up there in my top favourite cities. We are already thinking about going back for a long weekend because we loved it so much. I would highly recommend a visit to anyone, however for the beer lovers out there it’s an absolute must.

We were fortunate enough to stay in a hotel in central Brussels, so it was very easy to get around. Brussels is a very walkable city, as long as you have some decent shoes to wear – the cobbled roads and pavements can take their toll otherwise! Something that really surprised me about Brussels (due to what I had been told) was how beautiful it is – the main square is very grand and really takes you aback when you first stumble across it. The streets in the very centre of Brussels are quite narrow and small which means that the main square is quite hidden away, so you really don’t see it clearly until you get right up to it. As well as tourist information and a multitude of chocolate shops, you can also find the Belgian Beer Brewers Museum. Yes, that’s how much this country loves its beer – the brewing museum takes centre stage in the main square! The museum is small and doesn’t take long to look around but for €5 it’s well worth a visit, even if only for the beer you get at the end. You get a choice of a light beer or a dark beer and both are excellent.

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One of many delicious beers enjoyed at Moeder Lambic

Another place that all beer lovers should visit when in Brussels is Moeder Lambic – a fantastic bar serving craft beers, as well as more traditional Belgian brews. We visited the “Fontainas” location, however there is also the “original” Moeder Lambic in the south of the city which we didn’t get to visit this time but we will definitely go in future. Moeder Lambic has a standard menu which has a wide range of more traditional brews, but also has a list of guest kegs which change all the time including breweries from Belgium and beyond. We tried quite a few beers from Quebec based breweries during our visits, as well as many from Belgium of course. The staff in Moeder Lambic are extremely friendly and knowledgeable and with every beer you get a little bowl of roasted malt to snack on – so delicious. We were only in Brussels for three days but we just kept going back to Moeder Lambic – we will definitely keep coming back to this place.

We also visited two breweries while in Brussels – both very different from each other but both amazing. We visited Cantillon Brewery first, which exclusively brews Lambic beers. Cantillon was one of more than one hundred operating breweries in Brussels when it was founded, but was the only one to remain operational through the 2000s. It’s a fascinating place to visit, but you need to keep your eye on your map because it’s easy to miss. For €7 you get a quick explanation of the brewing process at Cantillon (Lambic beers are brewed using only naturally occurring yeast), followed by a self-guided tour where you can look at all the brewing equipment (which is still all in use, despite being very old).

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The Fou’Foune and Mamouche we drank at Cantillon

Once you’ve finished looking round the brewery, you also get to choose two beers to try from the bar. I had a pure Lambic followed by a Kriek – both fantastic. When you’ve had your two beers as part of your entrance fee, visitors are welcome to stay for longer and purchase sharing bottles from the bar. We stayed and had two bottles between us, the first was the Fou’Foune which is a lambic with soaked apricots and the second was Mamouche, a lambic infused with elderflower. It’s a great place to go and spend a few hours as you end up talking to so many people. We got chatting to a guy from Portland, Oregon (where we visited last summer, so had plenty to talk about), a girl from Indiana who now lives in Madrid and another young American traveller who had just come from Ghent. Cantillon is definitely worth visiting if you can, it really is a unique experience. Unlike most Belgian beers, all Cantillon beers are 5% which is pretty low for Belgium, so it’s also a good place to go if you want to avoid the really strong brews.

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Juice Junkie New Zealand IPA

The second brewery we visited was a much more modern experience – Brussels Beer Project. We were due to leave for Bruges on the day we visited Brussels Beer Project but we waited around until it opened at 2.00pm (BBP is only open 2-10pm Thursday to Saturday). It was definitely worth the wait. Brussels Beer Project began in 2013 with the aim to collaborate in order to become more innovative and daring and offer a more modern take on Belgian craft brewing. We had picked up a flyer in the tourist information centre which offered us a free taster beer, so we started with that. I chose the Juice Junkie – a hazy New Zealand IPA. We didn’t have much time unfortunately but we decided to stay for another one, I had the Grosse Bertha, a Belgian Hefeweizen. Both were delicious and I really didn’t want to leave but we had to go and catch our train. We can’t wait to come back to Brussels so we can come back to Brussels Beer Project and spend much longer there. We will be back soon!

 

Thanks for reading about my amazing trip to Brussels. There’s so much more I could say but this blog is already over 1,000 words. I look forward to writing more about this great city and it’s amazing beer scene soon. Look out for my next blog which will be all about our beer travels in Bruges.