Four Nights at Lord Hobo for Zwanze Day
I rarely go to Beer Festivals. I am sure they can be a lot of fun and people that do go to them seem to have a great time there, or at least that’s what they tell me on twitter. But waiting in lines, negotiating crowds, 2 ounce pours, and disposable plastic cups just arent my idea of a great time. Because, as insanely good as some of those beers that command giant lines at festivals may be, the happiest memories I have around beer are never about a single taste. They are always about sitting down with folks I care about and living in that moment. The beer is just a bonus, and when the quality of the beer comes close to matching the quality of the company, unforgettable memories are made.
So, last week, I chose not to go to BA’s Night of the Funk or Belgium Beer Fest, and instead, attended a series of beer events at Lord Hobo, my favorite bar in Cambridge, leading up to Cantillon’s Zwanze Day. I’ll get to talking about Zwanze in greater detail soon, but what makes it special, is that even though Cantillon makes some of the most celebrated and coveted beers in the world, Zwanze’s rituals emphasize the communal aspect of enjoying a beer. We’ll get there, don’t worry, there’s just a lot to cover. It kind of became a really long, incredible beer festival, in which full pours were given out and you had a place to sit. So, not anything like a beer festival. But stick with me.
The first night was a New England tap-takeover. The folks at Hobo were pretty coy about what exactly that meant in the weeks leading up to the event. Of course, my fellow beer nerds and I wasted no time in letting expectations run wild (in case you haven’t notice, we like beer a lot, and Vermont is in New England). Despite the lacking presence of Hill Farmstead (or was there? keep reading to find out!) this crowd was still excited about a solid lineup with the likes of Night Shift and Jack’s Abby, and even more lines for Trillium which might be the hottest brewery in town right now. The biggest hit was Enlightenment Ale’s Howe Farmstead, a Vermont-style IPA. It’s tough to say which beer was consumed at the quickest rate, since I don’t know how many liters of each were available, but this keg kicked in less than 2 hours, the shortest lasting one of the weekend. It was a phenomenal beer that I would love to order again sometime. I wish I could tell you more about it but I was talking and drinking, and honestly, writing down tasting notes was not very high on my priority list. If nothing else, it piqued my interest in Enlightenment Ales and I’ll certainly pick up a bottle of it next time I go shopping. I’ll tell you how that goes.
This night was a good reminder of how exciting and diverse the beer scene is here in Boston. Less than six months ago, I was telling you that Trillium had just opened, and now they have four lines at a special night at Hobo. And there were several breweries on the menu I had never heard of but are less than two hours away from my house. I’ve said this a million times and I’ll say it again, I find my local beer scene to be thrilling and that night reminded me of how much I still have to explore.
Lost Abbey & Port Brewing
Now these two (or that one, depending on how you look at it) breweries are among those that never go unnoticed. Disagree? Well you’ve been drinking under a rock. Tomme Artur’s breweries are mandatory curriculum in your Beer 101 class and any advanced beer student has a favorite from each of them. In fact, they’ll likely talk your ear off about how badly they want to find someone to trade for Duck Duck Gooze. A must try is Port’s Mongo—everyone loves West Coast IPAs and that’s a really hard one to beat. I’ve had people with access to much rarer, trendier beers tell me that’s their all time favorite IPA and I can easily see that. And yet, that is one of their year round beers, the stuff your bar will most likely have! Do you see where I am going with this?
So that night, things started to get ridiculous. I had full draft pours of beers I didn’t even know were available on draft and I would have gladly paid a Fryeian amount of money to get bottles of. Cuvee de Tomme to start the night? Sure, why not? And then why not follow that up with Framboise and Red Poppy? Of those three sours, Framboise was my favorite and, at that time, it became my favorite raspberry beer. But I love sours and I really love raspberries and I knew Lost Abbey brewed excellent sours so this wasn’t a huge surprise.
But Deliverance? That was a surprise. It was a surprise because, as much as I like beer and I do like bourbon, I usually like to keep those flavors separated, meaning, I almost never go for the Bourbon barrel-aged beers. More often than not, they’re overly boozy and sweet and overpowering and sticky and end up ruining my appetite for bourbon and for beer. My dad once joked that soda floats are the best way to ruin your ice cream and your soda at the same time. That’s kind of how I feel about these beers, most of them anyways. Luckily, Deliverance was none of those things. It balanced out those notes I usually find unpleasant with roast-y and chocolate-y ones, and it all came together beautifully. I drank that after the sours so the chocolate was even more prominent, and there wasn’t even the slightest boozy note. I imagine that as the days get colder I am going to start dreaming about that beer. So much so that, on my way out, I made sure to stop by the booth Tomme Arthur was sitting at unannounced and shake his hand for this excellent beer.
Do you guys mind if I cheat and skip this write-up?
No? Cool. Ask me about it, if you must, it was awesome, really, but I just want to get to the big event.
Zwanze Day – Beer nerd christmas
I don’t know how to introduce Zwanze, or Cantillon for that matter, to a new audience, without using superlatives or sounding like a huge douche. So I’m going to let Daniel Lanigan, the owner of Lord Hobo and master of ceremonies(Master Hobo?) at Lord Hobo’s Zwanze celebration introduce the topic here, since he gets so beautifully poetic when talking about this brewery.
Zwanze was obviously the main event, not just of the week, but, for a lot of people, myself included, of the year. Like Lanigan pointed out, only some 40 places in the world will get keg of Zwanze, and if you live close to one of those places, you should feel quite lucky and you should definitely go at least once. But, at the risk of sounding braggy, Lord Hobo’s Zwanze day is not your average Zwanze day, not at all. One of the worst kept secrets in Boston is that there are a lot of great, rare beers in Lord Hobo’s basement. Although I have never seen it, I do imagine there’s a good amount of Cantillon down there. No one outside of Belgium gets a lot of Cantillon, but Hobo does get a couple cases here and there throughout the year. And all those theoretical bottles are only sold one day of the year, and you are not going to believe this, but that day, is Zwanze day. Shocking, I know.
So, if you were a dedicated beer nerd and lined upabout an hour before Lord Hobo opened at 11:00AM, you could buy bottles of beers like 2012 Saint Lamvinus, 2010 Zwanze, and 2010 Framboise. But you had to be there early, because those insane bottles predictably disappeared very fast. There were a couple tables that, as soon as they sat down, ordered one of every single bottle available, and at that pace, given that even Hobo had, at most, a case or two of each, bottles don’t last. My table got there quite early and we decided to start very strong with 2010 Zwanze and Framboise.
Although starting off with some of the rarest bottles was the best strategy for obtaining beers before they sold out, it did have one drawback. Those were, by far, the two best beers of the day and, even though the beers that followed were all amazing, and although I would love to have the opportunity to drink any of them again, I would be lying if I told you they didn’t feel like a little bit of a downgrade.
Some of you might not know this, but certain beers can be aged, and Cantillon ages beautifully, getting more complex, and funky and less straight-up sour as the years go by. Those 2010 vintages were just right, especially the Framboise. As my friend Fletch, who took the wonderful pictures for this piece said it “This is the best f’ing Framboise I have ever had.” Friends, it tasted like the most decadent raspberry pie you could ever eat: full flavored fruity, and yeasty, and funky. For days after that event, my friends and I daydreamed about that beer. It will haunt me for a long time. It’s similar to how I felt when I first tasted Hill Farmstead’s Edward and it didn’t simply taste like the best Pale Ale I’ve ever had, it tasted like its own category of excellence.
We were riding such a beer high after that bottle, that we decided to just go for it and order a bottle of St. Lamvinus as well, but by then it was long gone. So we “settled” for a tiny bottle of the Kriek before switching over to the cask offerings, the Cuvee, and the Geuze. Yeah, I know what you are thinking, that’s a lot of sour beer and a lot of Cantillon, right? That’s how we felt too. So obviously, we had to refresh our palate a little bit so we could taste and enjoy the 2013 Zwanze when it was time to toast. Guess who came to the rescue? Hill Farmstead! Lord Hobo somehow had a keg of Walden, a wonderfully refreshing Session IPA, made in collaboration with the Alchemist, of Heady Topper fame. Although I had been a little disappointed on Wednesday when there was no Hill Farmstead for the New England tap takeover, I was so happy to drink this on Zwanze Day, that it totally made up for it.
Eventually the staff started handing out little golden bracelets (think golden ticket, but for beer) to anyone who would want to participate in the annual Zwanze toast. Why you would be there and not take a bracelet is a question I will never be able to answer, but the relevant part here is that that’s when the excitement level of the room went through the roof. Up until then, we were all just hanging out, enjoying beer, but then the room got loud, and hot, and everyone was getting super antsy, in a good way. We’d all heard the tale of a Zwanze many years ago when an unexperienced waiter dropped a tray of Zwanze, so no one relaxed until we all had our full 5 ounce commemorative glasses in front of us. Soon, we all did, and Lanigan got up and gave that wonderful speech.
And then we toasted! I didn’t drink from my tiny glass right away. I remember taking a couple seconds to look around the room. I tried to take mental pictures and reflect. I saw so many familiar faces in that room: good friends, new friends, old friends, friends from twitter, friends who are nerdier about beer than me, friends who nerded out over beer just for that day because they wanted to hang out with me. Then I thought of all the others that I raised a pint with that week that just didn’t make it to Zwanze, and what a great time we all had and how many laughs we shared. And then I drank it, slowly, because I didn’t want it all to end.
As I mentioned, all these beautiful photographs were taken by my good friend Fletch. Do make sure to check out his website. I contacted him as soon as I came up with the idea for this very long post and honestly, I would not have gone through with it if he had not agreed to do this with me. I just feel like few photographers portray Cambridge as well as him, and Lord Hobo is very Cambridge, in the best way possible.
Thank you all who met me at that week, you all know who you are. I had a great time because of you.
 This is one of my biggest gripes, honestly. Everyone is so precious about proper glassware, but, for some unknown reason, if they wait 40 minutes for a 2 ounce pour of Lawson’s or whatever, everything goes out of the window and suddenly it’s cool to drink the most hyped beers from a poorly washed plastic cup. That makes sense how?
 The list around here is usually Cantillon, Hill Farmstead, Westies, and Lawson’s. But I heard that at the latest Night of Funk the biggest line was for Lost Abbey’s Duck Duck Gooze.
 Get it?
 Maybe. I feel like a keep telling whoever is reading my stuff that I’ll write about things and I end up never coming around to them, so I guess this seals Enlightenment’s fate. Sorry?
 I made an ass out of myself by asking Lanigan where is Westfield‘s brewery? As known by everyone at the bar except me, Westfield is a town in Western Mass. Ooops. I am really good at this, don’t worry about it.
 And that doesn’t even include all the breweries that will be opening soon!
 Spoiler Alert: This will not happen.
 Kind of a short-lived reign. You can imagine what dethrones it. For those taking the beer SAT soon Robb Stark: King of the North::Lost Abbey’s Framboise:Gabe’s favorite Framboise. Yeah, fine, Zwanze Day was that beer’s Red Wedding.
Great journalism, I know.
 Lanigan, if you are reading this, I’ll accept that invitation faster than you can say “Zwanze.”
 Allegedly, if you know where to look in Belgium, you can not only pick out which Cantillon you want, but also its vintage. I’m skeptical, I’ll believe it when I see it.
 A solution to this issue has been proposed: Shelton Brothers, the distributors of Cantillon in the US, could hold onto all the bottles and release all of them at the same time. Thoughts?
 Underrated aspect of Zwanze: looking at people’s puzzled faces when they see 50 people lined up outside a bar before 11 AM.
 Unsurprisingly, I knew people in both of these tables. I pick winners. If one day someone comes up with a Fantasy Zwanze league, I am taking my buddy atdunn with my first pick. This soldier was at Hobo for almost 12 hours on Saturday alone, and, since he lives about an hour away, he had to sleep in his car that night. Get on that level Adrian Peterson.
 But not all out, because, you wouldn’t believe this but, vintage Cantillon bottles at a bar aren’t exactly a bargain.
 “He had a heart of gold but didn’t last very long.”
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