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This was my first Zwanze Day, and I'm sorry to see it end.  I have been told that it was quite a bit less crowded and chaotic than it was last year.  I can attest to the fact that it was very calm - no lines, no crowds, no crazy, just a lot of great wild and sour beers. 
    If you are an embittered skeptic, you may find it gimmicky.  But for the die-hard beer geeks, there is something almost magical about taking a sip of this year's Cantillon at the same time that people in Belgium - Canada, Italy, Japan, and the myriad of other countries around the globe - are taking their first sip of this year's Cantillon.
    The 2013 Zwanze Day offering was entitled Abbaye de Cureghem.  Named for a fictional abbey, this one was a tongue-in-cheek take on a traditional abbey ale, blended with lambic, aged six months, then a secondary fermentation in cask or bottle.  This was a beautifully-balanced beer, with a hint of Belgian yeast character and candied fruit - primarily this was a very interesting take on a non spontaneously fermented - yet very wild - beer.

I was asked yesterday which Cantillon beer was my favorite.  It's always so hard to pick a favorite when they're all so different.  My American taste for innovation and boundary-pushing naturally made me a fan of the Abbaye de Cureghem.  And I was - of course - impressed by the Cantillon Gueuze, which was my first taste of the day.  I always love the Champagne character of a good Gueuze.  This one had a great lemon-lime character, along with a hint of apricot, a beautiful bright straw color and excellent head.  Then, there was the 2010 vintage of the Lou Pepe Framboise...The Lou Pepe fruit lambics are in a class by themselves - with a base of 2-year old lambic aged in wine barrels, then the addition of 300 grams of fruit, aged in Bordeaux barrels, and a secondary fermentation after adding sweet fruit liquor, the complexity and tart balance is beautiful.  Then add a couple of extra years of aging and...well, I suppose this one would have been my favorite of the Cantillons.

I think one of my favorites of the day, however, was not actually a Cantillon beer.  Sacreligious, I know.  It was the 3 Fonteinen Intense Red Oude Kriek.  This was very cherry-complex, meaning it left nothing out of the cherry experience.  There was the tartness, of course, and a slight sweetness, but there was also an earthiness and tannic quality to it as well.  Really, this was a gem that stood out to me, and following it with the Cantillon Kriek was a bit unfair.  It left the Cantillon version, sadly, tasting like pie cherries and not much more.
    Another favorite was The Bruery Tart of Darkness.  I'd been wanting to try this for a while, so it was a treat, and my propensity for style-bending beers was certainly soothed by this lovely tart stout.  A difficult style to pull off, for sure, but they did it.  The influence of souring critters and wild yeast was prominent, but with an underlying roasted chocolate that was very well-integrated.  Another surprisingly delicious beer from one of my favorite breweries.
    Also a treat to try was Crooked Stave - which is a brewery that doesn't usually make its way to Oregon - Surette, which was a wood-aged farmhouse ale with Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus.  Also interesting was The Commons Braam, a sour stout with blackberries - mind you, not much to look at (a muddy, thick concoction) - but a very interesting flavor and an admirably bold style.  I did not have a chance to try the Block 15 Framboise Rouge, which I'm certain was excellent.  Block 15 made one of my favorites at Puckerfest this year - Cuvee Rouge - and they have proven themselves to be a world-class brewery. 

Overall, I had my favorites and those which didn't stir my soul quite as much.  But what does it all mean when you're comparing an excellent beer to a world-class beer?  Everything I tried was wonderful, and I can't wait to go back again next year. 

Cheers! ~ Craft Beer Gut
 


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