We came for the Zwanze, we stayed for the 30-some-odd funky and sour beers available on tap.
The bar was one of 46 selected worldwide to serve the rare beer. Two other Canadian destinations, Dieu du Ciel! in Montreal, and Alibi Room in Vancouver, were also among the chosen – all of which ceremoniously tapped the beer to mark the occasion.
So what’s the deal with Zwanze? Why the pomp and circumstance for, dare I say it, a beer? Why all the hype?
For one, the Belgian brewery Cantillion has a reputation for making highly regarded and sought-after beer, usually in the lambic style. (A lambic beer is spontaneously fermented using wild yeast, giving it its sour taste).
Adding to the intrigue, an archeological dig at the brewery is said to have inspired this year’s Zwanze. As the story goes, the excavation unearthed the ancient Abbey of Cureghem, as well as a centuries-old beer recipe that lured pilgrims from all over Europe.
This year’s Zwanze, named “Abbaye de Cureghem,” is an alleged replica of the ancient recipe. Much like the original, it has enticed craft beer enthusiasts worldwide.
But as Cantillion confides on its website, the citizens of Brussels enjoy a “semi-sarcastic humour.” The Abbey Cureghem, it teases, probably didn’t exist. “Some people think it’s a direct product of the Zwanze-imbibed imagination of the team at Cantillion.”
Let’s not forget that the English translation of the Flemish word “Zwanze” is “joke,” from the verb “Zwanzer,” which means “to joke,” which could suggest the good folks at Cantillion are playfully taking the piss out of beer nerds — especially those who would lie, cheat and steal for a taste of the sweet nectar, or profit from it.
Zwanze was originally available in bottles, but was hoarded and sold on eBay at ridiculously inflated prices. Zwanze Day was born as a means to put a stop to the scalping, and to level out the playing field in terms of who consumes the rare beer.
All myths aside, Zwanze is an annual, one-off release. With the invention of Zwanze Day, it’s offered one day of the year, which makes it highly exclusive, and in very high demand. Zwanze Day tickets for barVolo’s We Live for the Funk event, for example, sold out within minutes.
The tounge-in-cheek marketing campaign behind Zwanze reflects a brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This usually resonates with craft beer consumers – that is, if it doesn’t get lost in translation.
In the lead-up to Zwanze Day, online craft beer forums were buzzing, mostly with panic that the “golden tickets” would go to those unworthy of Zwanze, rather than true craft beer drinkers.
We didn’t have tickets for the event, but easily walked in once the doors were open to the general public. There was plenty of Zwanze pouring at barVolo, and we were fortunate to taste the complex and tart Abbaye de Cureghem, alongside other sours from our own backyard.
Representing Ontario were some amazing beers from Bellwoods Brewery, Oast House Brewers and Junction Craft Brewing, among so many others. Quebec’s Dieu du Ciel! and Hopfenstark also threw down the funk.
Without a doubt, barVolo’s extensive line-up of funky and sour beers is worthy of hype. It’s a telling sign of Canadian craft beer’s advancement, and forecasts industry trends to come.