I’ll be back on my Pilgrim trail to visit the Avenue Pub in New Orleans this weekend. Once again, they’ve been selected as one of only 46 destinations across the entire globe for international Zwanze Day.
Brewery Cantillon in Belgium is a traditional producer of true gueuze and lambic beers; spontaneously-fermented by wild airborne yeast and hand-blended over a painstaking 2-3 year aging process. For a few years now, their brewers have been making a specialty release called Zwanze, which is Belgian for semi-sarcastic humor. Each year’s beer is a tongue-in-cheek jab at their own cherished brewing history. The result, like all the beer they create, is dry, tart, sour and oh-so-expletive deleted delicious.
Zwanze Day is a sour beer overload. The showpiece beer – this year’s being a modernist riff on an ancient recipe discovered in the ruins of a monastery under Cantillon’s basement – is doled out in small, measured pours along with cellared rarities and like-minded cousins of the main event. All of it personally – and efficiently – run by the wonderful Polly Watts; owner and beer enthusiasts’ hero at The Avenue.
For many, the intense sour qualities found in gueuze, Flanders red and certain Oud Bruins are just too much for their fragile, low-cal “beer” soaked palates. For others, like me, it’s akin to licking a 9-volt battery and actually liking the jolt.
Here’re a couple of examples of sour ale you can try locally to see if you’re up to making the trip to New Orleans. One light, one fierce, neither one even a gueuze (I already wrote about the only gueuze we carry back in my anniversary column). To quote from Ed Roony, “Pucker up, buttercup!”
First is Petrus Aged Pale. This 2 year old tingler is aged in French oak to help round out the sharp edges. This deep-gold ale has bright scents of apricot, apple cider vinegar and vinous notes with a teensy bit of barnyard funk. Like taking a bite out of a lemon, Petrus zaps your palate with sour citrus, green apple skin and slightly-underripe sauvignon blanc grapes before the pale malt sweetness balances everything out. Long, lingering finish to give you something to think about well after the glass is empty.
Next is Duchesse De Bourgogne. Named after Mary of Burgundy who turned over individual states’ rights in many spots in the extensive Kingdom of Bourgogne – pointedly Flanders where you’ll find Brouwerij Verhaege who makes Duchesse – this sizzling brew is ultra-dark brown with some ruby highlights. A tart cherry nose hides a little woodiness and mustiness. Flavors are deep; crab apple, dark cherry, currants and balsamic vinegar. Not for the faint of heart.
Try these two sour gems. If your taste buds can still handle more, perhaps I’ll see you on Zwanze Day.