Category Archives: Beer

Craft Beer in Japan

beer essentials2

I was in The Japan Times a week or so ago with an article about craft beer in Japan: “Beer Essentials: The craft beer boom in Japan shows no signs of running dry.” I’m pretty happy with the way it came out, both the text and the awesome layout they put together. This is my first feature article anywhere and my first non-Bilingual, non-Murakami article in the JT.

I wish I had better news to report: Japanese craft beer is gradually becoming more plentiful, but it’s still expensive and the quality isn’t improving as quickly. Although, to be perfectly honest, I think the quality of American craft beer isn’t all it’s made out to be.

Yes, we have a lot to choose from, but it’s not cheap, and it can be difficult to find reliable breweries. The truly excellent breweries are thriving: Sierra Nevada, Goose Island, Ommegang, Boulevard, Brooklyn…in terms of smaller more regional breweries that I’m familiar with, Urban Chestnut, Revolution, Prairie, Cigar City.

But for each of these you have smaller breweries that are producing subpar beer. Breweries that will devote half of their tap selection to IPAs that are difficult to distinguish.

So I think the comparison with the U.S. scene is overblown. I was impressed with Japanese macrobrew on my last trip. Yebisu and Yebisu Black are delicious beers. Even Super Dry is very drinkable…it has a nice bitterness not present in most American macrobrew. If only it were a bit cheaper…maybe 50-80 yen cheaper per can? I guess we just have to hope for a tax equalization at some point.

What I think about when I think about Monk


When I graduated from college I got an assortment of gifts from friends and family. Few of them stand out because they were mostly checks and gift cards, but one of our family friends got me a large beach towel in addition to a $50 gift card about a year after I finished.

At the time I had just gotten into Thelonious Monk. I visited a friend in New York for a quick vacation before shipping out to Japan on the JET Program, and my friend’s roommate had two huge folders of CDs. This was the tail end of the CD era. I didn’t have an iPod yet, but I did have a nice collection of music on my computer. I spent a few hours going through the folders and ripping things that looked interesting into iTunes.

I know I took a T-Rex album, but I can’t remember anything else other than the Monk’s Straight, No Chaser, an album the roommate recommend as a first step into his music, and Alone in San Francisco.

Once in Japan I hooked my laptop up to the large television supplied by the town and piped music through its speakers while I cooked dinner or cleaned around the house. This is how I fell in love with Monk. Chopping onions for an omelet, hanging wet clothes to dry outside (or inside if it was too cold), sweeping and wiping the tatami mats cleans. I also played Monk while driving around Fukushima Prefecture in my tiny Daihatsu Mira.

I took a few trips into Tokyo for a conference and for the winter holidays, and each time I returned with more Monk. His solo albums, his work with Sonny Rollins, his early bebop and the wild Brilliant Corners. The RECOfan in Shibuya was my go-to shop. They always had good deals or a surprising find.

I also picked up the first iteration of the iPod Mini, which enabled me to play them in the car more easily. It only had 1GB of storage, so I was forced to swap albums in and out, but I always reserved space for Alone in San Francisco and Thelonious Himself. During my first winter, I was driving a friend home to Inawashiro and had Thelonious Himself playing as we passed the snowy fields between the foot of Mt. Bandai and Lake Inawashiro. We must’ve been toward the end, right around where Coltrane comes in with the sax on “‘Round Midnight” after just piano for five straight tracks. My friend turned to me and said, “This album is pretty amazing.”

When I went home to New Orleans to see my brothers graduate in May and was surprised by the belated graduation gift, Monk was the first thing I thought to buy with the gift card. I used it on Monk’s Dream and the documentary Straight, No Chaser. We went to dinner with the family at one point while I was home, and I told them what I had bought.

“Thelonious Monk?!” the mother said with half-sincere, half-joking incredulity. “We wanted you to have some fun! That’s why we got you the towel.” She then laughed a little.

I am certain she had no real idea who Thelonious Monk was. Which is too bad. There aren’t many musicians with a greater spirit of fun than Monk.


I’ve never been able to forget her comment. I actually think about it pretty often. When I’m listening to Monk. When I use the towel, which I’ve brought to music festivals and events but not yet an actual beach that I can remember. More recently I’ve been using it to prevent bottled homebrew from becoming light struck. And to dry out my equipment after brewing.


I’m sure these aren’t the uses that she imagined, but they’re still fun. Happy 10th birthday, beach towel.

Top 15 beers of my trip to Germany and the Czech Republic

I was supposed to visit Bavaria in 2010, right before I moved from Japan back to New Orleans, but then Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland and I canceled my trip even though my flight was the first one cleared to fly from Tokyo to London: I’m an unabashed mama’s boy, and my mom may have had an aneurysm if I’d gone.

I spent the last five years thinking about that trip and imagining the beers in Europe, in particular in Bamberg, and finally this past month I was able to make up the trip. I planned a more surgical strike into Bavaria and Bohemia, covering Prague, Pilsen, Windischeschenbach (for the Zoigl communal beer), and Bamberg.

It was amazing.

The following are my favorite 15 beers of the trip.

15. U Fleků Flekovský Tmavý Ležák 13°

U Fleku

U Fleků was a beautiful traditional-style Czech pub not far south from where our hotel was on the edge of Old Town. They only have one beer—a dark lager—and you don’t even have to order: Waiters walk in carrying huge trays full of beer at regular intervals.


U Fleku dark

The dark lager here had the most flavor of any of the darks I tried the whole trip: Lots of Czech yeast character (the slightest touch of sulphur) and a hint of roast in a beer with slightly more weight than the lighter 10 plato beers that are standard in the country. Delicious.

14. Pivovar Matuska Apollo Galaxy APA

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After two straight days of lager, it was refreshing to see a Czech take on an American style ale. The proprietor of U Kunštátů recommended the IPA from the small brewery Matsuka, but I needed something lighter, so I went with the APA. And I’m glad I did. It was basically a perfect beer. Crisply and cleanly fermented, very bitter, and fruity but not overhopped. I’d say it was probably better than 80-90% of American-made American pale ales.

13. Lederer Pils

Lederer Pils

This was the first beer I had in Germany, so it will always have a special place in my heart/stomach/liver. Apparently it’s a local macro-ish brew produced now by the Nuremberg brewery Tucher. It’s a classic German pils: pale and crisp with a subdued hop bite. It went fantastic with Nuremberger sausages. I had one the night before we left so it was nearly my final beer in Europe, but I snuck in an Alt at the airport in Dusseldorf.

12. Schlenkerla Rauchweizen


Points off for this one coming from a bottle, but it was delicious and just as smoky as the cask marzen. We killed some time here our last morning in Bamberg waiting for a nearby store to open, and we watched older men take up spots at the table to down a couple early beers. I couldn’t tell much difference between this and the marzen, to be honest, but I know it’s higher in ABV.

11. Beim Käck’n Zoigl

Beim Käck’n is up the hill in Neuhaus in Windischeschenbach. We got a little lost in the small neighborhood, but once we found the main street it was easy to spot the Zoigl star.


The beer was good, just about the same as the location down the hill but slightly less carbonated. The beer is semi-dark (Munich malt?) and surprisingly hoppy (from what I was expecting), but not hoppy in the American sense. They use exclusively German noble hops which are a bit milder compared to the West Coast snuff.

Kackn zoigl

We made friends with some older German guys who were excited that we were there. Good times, solid beer.

10. Beim Glosser Zoigl

Beim glosser

Beim Glosser was right around the corner from our hotel. They recommended sausages stuffed with cheese, and the guy who sat down next to us told us we had to eat them hot.

Glosser zoigl

The beer was slightly spritzier than the other Zoigl. Other than that, it was difficult to tell a difference. My notes say that it might have been hoppier, and I vaguely remember thinking that maybe they dryhopped it. The next day was my first true hangover of the trip, although I blame part of it on the loss of an hour due to daylight savings time change.

9. Keesmann Herren Pils


Keesmann is right across the way from Mahrs, but we failed to visit on our first trip to that neighborhood of Bamberg because we were full of schnitzel and already drunk, so we had to make a second trip—no complaints.

Herren pils

Just a quick trip in for the beers here. We had the Pilsner and a Bock. The Pilsner was on the left. You can see how pale it is. Incredible. Clear and crisp with a sharp hop aftertaste. It was the best Pilsner on the trip, and I’m glad my friend encouraged me to make the trip back for it.

8. Mahrs “The U”


It took two trips to Mahrs to fully appreciate this beer. The first trip was made very late in the evening after a drunken nap that went longer than I intended. The beer was hoppy, a bit sour (not in an unpleasant way), and yeasty. The mug we had the second trip may have been fresher—it was more carbonated and seemed slightly paler.

Mahrs casks

I imagine that the cask we got the night before had been sitting out for longer than the second one. A fantastic beer. One that you can just drink forever. When I think back now, it seems to have similarities with the Zoigl beers.

Mahrs ungespundetes

7. Úněticé 10° světlé

For lunch one day in Prague we went up to T-Anker, this restaurant on the top floor of a small shopping center. They had a great view of the city and a very respectable selection of beers, including even one from Matuska.


The Úněticé 10° světlé is your basic pale Czech lager. I love that the breweries put the gravity of the beer on labels in the Czech Republic. Just multiply by 4 to get 1.040, the gravity reading that homebrewers might be familiar with. This is a low gravity that results in a 4% ABV beer or so. It has the characteristic Czech yeast flavor—a little bready with traces of sulphur. It was so good that I had another in lieu of coffee or dessert.

I’ve been back for two weeks now, so all the flavor sensations feel just beyond my memories, but this one stands out for its pleasant bitterness, for being unfiltered (like many), and well carbonated…which was not true of many of the Czech beers! I feel like they were either purposefully not well carbonated or gassed off during the serving process. The beers were served with lots of foam, and often the server jets the beer aggressively into the bottom of the glass in order to generate the foam, which reduces the carbonation.

6. Pilsner Urquell


The last stop on the Urquell tour is the caves under the factory where they still have a few wooden barrels full of beer fermenting openly—you can see the krausen threatening to spill over the top. Then they take you a little farther into the lagering cave where the barrels have been sealed and rolled up next to the walls. A friendly old man pours everyone a cup full of unfiltered, unpasteurized Pilsner from one of the barrels. It’s pretty magical experience for a beer nerd.

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Urquell cask

The beer itself is perfect. Slightly higher in alcohol and more golden than Czech pale lager thanks to more barley and a triple decoction. It has many of the same characteristics as the other Czech pale lagers but is much richer.

5. Schlenkerla Marzen

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This is the beer I booked the trip for. My friend Paul recommended it to me at some point when I was living in Tokyo, and I eventually picked up a bottle at a shop in Mejiro (the legendary Tanakaya). I was hooked on rauchbier.

Schlenkerla schwemme

Schlenkerla rauchbier

It’s surprisingly different on cask in Bamberg: the smokiness is far more intense, and different in quality from the other rauchbiers in Bamberg. There’s something more phenolic and smokey rather than bacon-y. It’s just on the border of being over the top and unpleasant, but it’s not. It’s very good. Much darker than the other rauchbier in town. The marzen is on the left. The beer on the right is the seasonal fastenbier.

4. Buttenheim St. Georgen Landbier

This is one of the beers I think back to most often. It’s also one of the few beers that generated an almost physical response in me: I was shocked how good it was. This isn’t to dismiss the other beers on the trip—they, too, were amazing—but I just wasn’t ready for how superlative this beer was.

Buttenheim landbier

My buddy Paul, who was there, too, said something like, “How do they do that?” And I couldn’t say. Landbier is a pretty simple style. Mostly Pilsner or Vienna malt, probably some Munich malt, hopped with Hallertauer hops, fermented cleanly with a local lager yeast, and served in a ceramic mug. I wish I’d gone back for another. Next time I’ll have to make the trek to Buttenheim.

(I just spent five minutes on Google Maps checking out the route from Bamberg to Buttenheim. Looks like it would be a three-hour hike, a one-hour bike ride, or a half-hour train ride.)

3. Ferdinand Lager

I know U Kunštátů was a nice bar because when we arrived looking for food, they told us they had none and recommended a nearby brew pub (basically a competitor). After being fed and sauntering around Prague for a bit, we came back and I asked for a mug of the only beer they had on tap—Ferdinand. I’m not sure whether it was their 10, 11, or 12, but I’d guess the 12, which would be the same gravity as Pilsner Urquell (i.e. 1.048 OG).


They said it had been kegged “two hours” before, which could be true since Benešov, the town where Ferdinand is brewed, is only a half hour away from Prague, but I took it to mean that the beer had been kegged that day and was extremely fresh.

It was crisp, not completely clean in a very typically Czech way, and clear despite the fact that it was unpasteurized and unfiltered. My notes tell me there wasn’t as much sulphur as in the Pilsner I had with dinner, but that it still had some—that Czech funk. Just a delicious, crisp, bitter, spritzy beer. You can’t ask for much more.

2. Spezial Ungespundetes


We stayed two nights at Spezial when we only intended to stay one, and I’m glad we did. Their breakfast spread was better, the rooms were better appointed, they had wifi, and the beer was amazing. But you don’t have to stay there to try the beer.

Spezial ungespundetes

I didn’t have the U at Spezial until later on our first day in Bamberg. We had the lager, walked around the town, tried Schlenkerla, had a nap, and then came back down for a late night snack. The kitchen had already closed the hot food (Spezial is pretty strict with their meal hours), so I ordered Camembert and bread and one of these, which was a perfectly good snack for me.

The beer was perfect. Noticeably bitter and hoppy with great malt backbone but still light. This is what beer is supposed to be. I had it a number of times on the trip, and the hoppiness seemed to vary slightly.

1. Spezial Lager

For me, this was the beer of the trip. It’s a rauchbier, but they call it the “Lager” and that’s what you order. It’s crystal clear, nice and brown, and intensely smokey but not off-putting at all. On the contrary, because your taste buds get used to the smoke, you just keep drinking more and more in search of that first smoke shock.

Spezial rauchbier

Spezial rauchbier and me

The smoke was more hammy than the Schlenkerla rauchbier and paired perfectly with German food. It’s also served off gas instead of off cask, so it has some carbonation to it, which was good for me. I like bubbles in my beers. Definitely worth the trip.


I thought I had done a good bit of drinking on the trip, but now that I sit down and tally up all the beers, I seem to have averaged three beers a day, which is a pretty reasonable pace. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I have to thank Paul for recommendations (especially the Zoigl tip) as well as the Prague tourism website (which never failed us—they only list solid bars and restaurants; check out the PDF at the bottom of the link) and Fred Waltman’s The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Bamberg.

So go on and get over there. The dollar is mighty at the moment, and the transportation in Germany and the Czech Republic made getting around an absolute pleasure.

Zwanze Day 2013 in Chicago

I moved up to Chicago in late July, and it might be a shallow thing to say, but one of the events I was most disappointed to be missing in New Orleans (thus being forced to negotiate the Chicago equivalent) was Zwanze Day at Avenue Pub.

The past two years I Zwanze’d at Avenue and enjoyed the clear, orderly structure to the day. Was it crowded? A little. Did I do far too much daydrinking on a random Saturday and spend too much money? Probably. But the beers were great and so were the food and company.

Shortly after I moved, I made an effort to visit West Lakeview Liquors, the Chicago Zwanze Day venue, but I was unable to find any information about how the event worked or what I should expect. Maybe my Google skills have just eroded, but I don’t think anyone has written up a decent review of Chicago Zwanze yet. So I’ve decided to take it upon myself to fill in this gap in Internet knowledge for future transplants to the city or even new converts to craft beer who are in need of Zwanze Strategies.



  • West Lakeview Liquors favors the early bird. If you go early enough and are willing to wait (as is the case at almost every Zwanze event), you will get the beer.
  • Great crowd control. At no point did I feel overwhelmed by the size of the crowd.
  • Endlessly patient bartenders and store staff.
  • Extremely friendly beer geek community.


  • Small pours. Zwanze pours were 2oz but seemed to vary slightly by bartender. I knew this information going in.
  • Food distribution could have been improved. It probably makes sense, but there was more food at the store than at the bar.
  • Iris went on too late, although I understand why they did it.
  • Limited selection of Cantillon beers on tap (only three, where Avenue Pub had eight)

The Venue – West Lakeview Liquors

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West Lakeview Liquors (WLL) is a small bottle shop on Addison just west of the Brown Line. The neighborhood is mostly residential, especially as you move away from the Brown Line, but then you come to the store and, across from it, Roscoe Village Pub (this will figure in the review later). WLL has an amazing stock of beer: several fridges full of craft sixers (local, regional, and national) and walls and walls of shelves covered in single bottles and bombers.

They also have an amazing selection of liquor, which I’ve found to be a little overpriced. That said, they do have good buys amongst the crowd such as $29.99 bottles of Buffalo Trace Barrel Select, which were hand-selected by owners of the store. The beer prices seem to be more standard.

Immediately next to the bottle shop section of the store, through a door, is the deli half of the store. During normal store hours, they have a fridge of deli offerings and also glassware and a few other items for sale. The deli also gives them increased space for events.

Events at WLL

I knew that I wanted to scout out a few events before I Zwanze’d, so I went to the Prairie Artisan Ales tasting in late August. This was a good choice. I arrived about ten minutes before the start of the event, and the store was full of likeminded folks. At six, they released rare bottles of Prairie beer, which were quickly snatched up for purchase (although bottles didn’t sell out immediately).

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Then everyone filed through into the deli where there were four beers on tap and five or six being poured from bottles – these were all free. I couldn’t believe it.

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After I’d tried all the flavors, I was about to leave and was browsing the bottle selection one last time when a pair of pizza delivery men came in. They set these out on tables in the deli. The pizza, too, was free. Unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it. Altogether there must have been 40-80 people or so? I’m bad at estimating crowd size. At no point was it overcrowded, and everyone was friendly in line. The pizza did get eaten completely, but the free beer lasted longer than I was there.

Suffice it to say my curiosity was piqued for Zwanze, but I was worried because the store had put out almost no information about the event and all my questions about Zwanze had been answered with stonefaced disinterest bordering on annoyance. Sorry, guys! I just wanted to know what the deal was!

Zwanze Day – Preparation

A week before Zwanze, WLL updated their website with this info:

September 14, 2013 – 12pm – 8pm
Zwanze day is a special day in which Brasserie Cantillon in Brussels, Belgium releases a rare beer at only forty-six locations around the world. West Lakeview Liquors is extremely pleased and honored to have been selected as one of the locations again this year! For Zwanze 2013, Cantillon was inspired by the Abbey brewing tradition in Belgium. You can read a full description of the inspiration and process behind the beer here.
The event starts at 12pm! Zwanze 2013 tapping is at 2pm. Commemorative Zwanze Day Glasses for sampling will be available at 10am on Sept 14. We have a great day planned with rare beers, special bottle releases throughout the day, lot’s of delicious food & so much more.
Zwanze 2013 • Brasserie Cantillon, Belgium
Gueuze • Brasserie Cantillon, Belgium
Iris Grand Cru • Brasserie Cantillon, Belgium
Cochonne “Speciale” 2012 • Cochonne, Belgium
XXX Bitter • De Ranke, Belgium
Wild West • Alvinne/Stillwater, Belgium
Black Damnation 1 – Blackberry Albert • De Stuise, Belgium
Aphrodite • Dieu du Ciel!, Canada
Peche Mortel • Dieu du Ciel!, Canada
Pénombre • Dieu du Ciel!, Canada
Hr. Frederiksens Væsel Brunch • Amager/Mikkeller, Denmark
Salty Kiss Gose • Kissmeyer/Magic Rock, England
Wild Boar IPA • Buxton, England
Vereinigte Historische Bierfanatiker Grätzer • The Monarchy, Germany
Sauer Power • Freigeist/Jester King, Germany
Son Of A Batch • The Monarchy, Germany
Grooving Hop • Toccalmatto, Italy
Zona Cesarini • Toccalmatto, Italy
Madamin • Loverbeer, Italy
Sweet & Sour • Trois Dames/Bad Attitude, Switzerland
Sainte Ni Touche • Trois Dames, Switzerland
Saison Framboise • Trois Dames, Switzerland
Tart Lychee • New Belgium, Colorado
Espresso Yeti -Oak Aged • Great Divide, Colorado
Bourbon County Stout 2012 • Goose Island, Chicago
Blueberries Feel Pain • Offcolor/Penrose, Chicago
Hubris – Brewery Vivant, Michigan
Sidra de Nava • Virtue, Michigan
Pecheron – Virtue, Michigan
Saison du Fermier • Sideproject Brewing, Missouri
Barrel Fermented Belgian Style Quad • Perennial, Missouri
El Cedro • Jester King Brewery, Texas
Australian Summer Ninja • Pipeworks, Chicago
Poivre Cucumber Saison • Pipworks, Chicago
Cantillon Zwanze 2013 T-Shirt • Yellow-Orange print on Dark Grey • American Apparel • Men’s & Women’s Sizes – 20$
Cantillon Wood Crates 45$
Limited Edition Zwanze Day 2013 Tulip Glass (for sampling) – 40$
Limited Edition Zwanze Day 2013 Tulip Glass for sampling with 2oz each of Zwanze 2013 & Iris Grand Cru) – 50$
We hope that you will join us for Zwanze Day 2013.

I’ve bolded the most important information. From this I could gather that the true start time was 10am (when they start selling glasses) and that I’d probably have to line up before that. I resigned myself to another day of waiting and drinking (woe is me; woe, I say) and decided to try and arrive by nine.

The Line

On the day of, I got there about 8:50 and my stomach sank when I saw the line:

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Luckily I made friends in line who guaranteed there would be enough glasses to our spot in line. They’d been at the same spot the year before and had no trouble. Over the next two hours, more and more people got in line. There was a delay of an hour or so, during which workers hustled back and forth from Roscoe Village Pub with kegs on dollies. By the time they let us in, the line behind me looked like this:

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Everyone filed into the deli side of the store. It took ten minutes or so to get in the door and another five minutes to get to the register where they sold Zwanze Day glasses.

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The glass alone was $40 and for $50 it included two tasting tickets – one for the Zwanze which was to be tapped at 2pm across the street and Iris which was to be tapped at 4pm. They also gave us two tickets good for “rare beer purchases.” Throughout the day, they brought out boxes of rare beers. Apparently, these bottles were monopolized by folks standing near the counter last year, so this year WLL limited purchases to two bottles per person.

$50 sounds like a lot, you might say. And you would be right…until you learn what it gets you.

Zwanze Day – WLL

The beer was flowing immediately. There were, I think, eight taps in the deli, all of which were free with the purchase of a glass. This included some really nice stuff. Favorites include Grooving Hop by Birra Toccalmatto, New Belgium’s Tart Lychee, and Pipeworks Poivre Cucumber Saison.

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2-3 workers manned the taps and there was only ever a short wait for access to brew. 2-3 additional workers were on the register in the deli, and another 2-3 folks were on the cash register in the bottle shop. This was an all-hands-on-deck type event.

All this beer for free for $50 wouldn’t be a bad value, especially for 11am in the morning, but a huge number of people brought their own beer, and a bottle share erupted around a table in the back of the deli. They were very willing to share, even with me who’d brought nothing. It was a little crowded, so I wandered around the store checking out the selection and making friends.

At 11:45, I headed across the street to stand in line again.

Zwanze Day – Roscoe Village Pub

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When I wandered across the street, there were still people standing in line to buy glasses at WLL. Altogether, I think there were probably 300-400 people there for the event. I knew that the pub would not be able to hold everyone, so I decided to get into the bar with the first wave and to sit and enjoy myself for a few hours until the Zwanze tapping. This meant more standing in line, but I was closer to the front in this line than I was in the first line.

After a few minutes, the bottle sharers came across the street in a big crowd, and at noon we poured in Roscoe Village Pub (RVP) for more pours. RVP is your prototypical bar. There’s a long counter bar with stool seating and then 4-5 tables along the wall opposite which fit four people each. There was a yard out back which seemed blindingly bright every time I stepped outside.

4-5 bartenders manned the bar, and again, despite the numbers, it was never a bad wait for a beer. Everyone continued to be social and friendly, sharing more beer left and right. Not once did I see a staff member be short with a customer or make an ugly face or even look frustrated or tired – it was amazing.

There were ten taps on at the main bar at Roscoe, the best of which was Side Project Saison du Fermier, in my opinion. I managed to get two pours of it before the keg kicked. A lot of the other “great” beers were a little out of my ABV range but included sought after stuff like Black Damnation I – Blackberry Albert and one of the Great Divide Yeti varietals. I did also enjoy the Alvinne/Stillwater Wild West sour golden ale which was light, sour, and almost infinitely quaffable.

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At random intervals, folks came through the bar with big trays of food. I saw pretzels at one point, but that might have been it. They went pretty quickly. Luckily I had the foresight to pack a sandwich and some light snacks. I wish I’d brought more, and I easily could have been the coolest guy there if I’d brought more to share with folks at my table.

Zwanze – The Tapping

At 2pm, the Zwanze was tapped, and the people rejoiced…but you hardly would have noticed it. The bar was crowded, but not overly so. The bartenders filled several pitchers full of Zwanze to facilitate a greater number of distribution points, and after a few minutes, everything was back to normal. Because Zwanze required a ticket for a pour, the keg remained unkicked until later in the day.

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Note: Throughout the whole time I was in RVP, there was a line outside to get in, and a bouncer kept track of those entering and leaving, I assume to prevent them from breaking fire code. I heard that some had to wait another two hours to get in, so I imagine that those with Zwanze tickets slowly made their way into the bar and had access to the beer. It’s feasible to imagine that some arrived later in the day at around 1 or 2pm, bought their glasses, stood in line outside RVP, and had Zwanze at 3 or 4pm. This is thanks to the strict 2oz pours and single tasting ticket per person.

I get why they do this, but I did miss the 6oz pours from Avenue Pub. (I mean, goddamn, check out the pours at Avenue Pub in 2011!) That’s a full-fledged pour that really lets you get a sense of the beer, whereas at West Lakeview Liquors you really just get a tasting, a sample, a tease. But I can understand and respect the way they run things. It’s definitely a more fair way to run things and allows them to accommodate a larger crowd.

This year’s Zwanze, however, didn’t require a full pour to get a sense of it. As was well publicized before the event, the base beer was an Abbey Dubbel (one that was supposed to be released last year but didn’t turn out right), so to me it tasted like a dried out, superfunky version of a Dubbel – the trademark maltiness disappeared and left was some funk and hoppiness. Not a bad beer, but not as overwhelmingly impressive as past Zwanzes, notably the 2011 and 2012.

Here are my Zwanze Power Rankings:

4. 2010 – The original bottled “wit” that started the Zwanze madness. This might be style discrimination (I hate wits), but I just wasn’t into this brew.
3. 2013 – This year, the spontaneously fermented “abbey” beer.
2. 2011 – A lovely grape-based lambic not dissimilar from the spectacular St. Lamvinus.
1. 2012 – A brilliant rhubard lambic. To be honest, I’m not sure if I prefer this over the 2011, they were both so great.

Zwanze – The End

At around 3:00, I passed my Iris tasting ticket to a friend and then got out of there. I had a little writing to do and a big buzz to sleep off first, so I was unfortunately not able to make a whole day out of it and catch the Iris Grand Cru tapping. I like that they left some Cantillon to tap later in the day, which would definitely benefit those who aren’t interested in starting early or standing in line too long. Very well planned.

I did make sure to stop back by WLL, and I’m glad I did. They had trays of food and cookies out, and I was able to supplement the meager lunch I brought with me.

I also got to check out the rare bottle scene. At random intervals the staff brought out a big cardboard box of beer and those near the counter had the chance to purchase from it. This included things like Cantillon Gueuze, Cantillon St. Lamvinus, Dogfish Head Bitches Brew, the Eclipse Stout series, Drei Fonteinen Oude Gueuze, Tilquin Gueuze, Three Floyds Behemoth, etc. Lots to choose from. I didn’t buy anything, but I probably would’ve had I had access to a Cantillon bottle.

And of course, the taps in the deli were still going strong. I made sure to have a second hit of the Grooving Hop, a lovely session beer. All in all, it was a great day of drinking.

My Advice

Here’s the section where I give my tips:

  • Either go early around 8 or 9am or show up late at 2pm. Anywhere in between is kind of a no-man’s land. Not sure what I’ll do next year given the choice, but since I’m a ball of stress normally, I’ll probably be an early bird.
  • Bring food. Sandwiches, nuts, chips, fruit, cookies. Not a huge amount, but definitely enough for yourself. And I guarantee you will win friends if you bring enough to share.
  • Just relax and go with the flow. Don’t stress: you’ll probably get your Zwanze. I was seriously impressed by the friendliness of the crowd and the patience of the staff. I didn’t see a single ugly encounter.
  • Don’t bring bottles. There’s SO. MUCH. BEER. already. I’m not sure why more is necessary. You’ll just spend the whole day carrying heavy bottles and getting even more drunk than you need to be. Save them and have friends over for your own tasting. Enjoy the fresh keg beer that’s included in the Zwanze sticker price!

Whew. I hope that was helpful for someone. Huge thanks to the West Lakeview Liquors crew for running a great event.