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Zwanze Day 2016


Zwanze is a French word that roughly translates as "Humor typical of Brussels" and each year, Brussels-based Cantillon releases a beer of that name in a special worldwide event. As you might expect from the name, the beers tend to incorporate experimental ingredients or unconventional takes on their classical lambic style. In 2016, only 50 or so different bars throughout the world could hold a Zwanze Day celebration and as luck would have it, one was Monk's Cafe in Philly.

Monks Cafe Neon Sign
(Click to Embiggen)

Of course, the occasion also marks an excuse to tap lots of other rare and interesting beers, including four other Cantillon lambics. Monk's also held a truly astouding raffle and sells a limited amount of Cantillon bottles to-go. It's an all cash event and proceeds go to a good cause, this year being Fair Food. I wasn't sure if I'd be up to making the trek into the city and braving the crowds, but during dinner on the preceding night I cracked open a fortune cookie and saw this:

Fortune Cookies Never Lie

So I strapped my big boy pants on (ugh, I had to wear pants too, it was the worst), hopped on a train, and got in line a couple hours early. And if you think that's crazy, some people had been waiting in line since 8 pm the previous night (around the time I was elbow deep into some Chinese food).

The Loon
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It was a bit of a madhouse and crowds aren't really my thing, but I managed to stay sane with the help of some Cantillon Mamouche (a lambic made with elderflowers that originated as Zwanze 2009, but they liked it so much they kept making it), fresh Kriek (which is a super jammy cherry bomb and very different with some age on it - either way, it's awesome), Gueuze (always a delight), and what I believe was Iris Grand Cru (which is Iris sans the dry-hopping and unblended to keep carbonation minimal - interesting to try, but I'm not overly fond of still beer.)

Two for one - Cantillon Gueuze and Kriek
(Click to Embiggen)

The event started at noon, but they weren't tapping Zwanze until 3 pm, so I also got to dip into some other interesting beers, including a pair beers cellared since 2010. Russian River Supplication is one of my favorite beers and with 6 years on it, it still holds up pretty well. A little oxidation and perhaps a bit mellower than fresh, it also had a beautiful vinous fruit character that worked great. Lost Abbey Red Poppy from 2010 has also held up very well, retaining a surprising amount of cherry character.

Eventually, the crowd had swelled to bursting levels and Zwanze was poured. This year's edition is a throwback to Cantillon's old-school Framboise (i.e. pre-Rosé De Gambrinus, which is made with 100% Rasberries). As Jean van Roy explains: "When we used raspberries from Belgium, the taste was nice, but the color was not so beautiful. It was a bit old rose. To get a bit more color to the beer, we blended the raspberry beer with 25 percent of cherry Lambic and a bit of vanilla." For Zwanze, Jean switched things up a bit, producing a blend of 82% raspberry lambic with 18% blueberry lambic and .05% vanilla added.

Cantillon Zwanze 2016
(Click to Embiggen)

And it's delicious. Best nose of anything I had all day, complex fruit, hints of funk and oak. Taste follows the nose and the mouthfeel was a bit undercarbed (but nowhere near still, like the Iris was). It was great and with a little age and some extra carbonation, I feel like it could get even better (I don't think they sold any bottles to go anywhere, even at the brewery, but I would hope they kept some in reserve - would love to try some in a year's time to see how it held up). I wish I got a bigger pour, but I'm glad so many other people were able to get a taste.

All in all, a very exciting event. I'm really glad I went but truth be told, big crowds aren't really my thing so I'm not sure if I'd go again. I'm reliably informed that some other venues weren't nearly as crowded, so perhaps that's the ticket. Only time will tell! Until then, I'm sure I can occupy myself with lots of other great beer, perhaps with Monk's Cafe's help!

Oude Geuze Boon Black Label

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So it's called "Black Label" despite the fact that the label is clear? Well, ok then, fine, be that way. What we have here is an oude geuze blended to commemorate the brewery's 40th anniversary. It's indirectly the result of a collaboration with Mikkeller, but since the barrels that Mikkeller blended were not empty, Boon decided to put out their own version. The resulting beers should be similar, but since the blends use differing proportions, the results are slightly still distinct. Mikkeller's goal was to blend a lambic that was as dry as possible, almost 100% attenuation. However, the Black Label contains less older lambic (it's still got 1, 2, and 3 year old lambic in there though, so no worries) and is thus more full-bodied and slightly less dry.

Oude Geuze Boon Black Label

Oude Geuze Boon Black Label - Damn that cork pops with authority. Watch where you aim that sucker. Pours a hazy golden orange color with visible carbonation bubbles and tons upon tons of bubbly white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice and funky, some light stone fruit and lemon zest but also some spice and earthy notes, typical Boon house style stuff. Taste hits those fruity notes harder than expected, tart lemons, finishes dry, less of the earthy funk, but it's still there. Mouthfeel is bone dry and effervescent, light bodied, moderate acidity, this is where things diverge from your typical Boon offerings, in a good way I think... Overall, this is quite nice, like a drier version of Boon's other offerings and better for it. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute on 5/29/16. Bottled on: 26/03/2015. Best by: 26/03/2035.

I hesitate to say that this is something that you'll see on shelves since this sold pretty quickly around here. Not, like, people lining up for it, but I got the last bottle a couple days after it went on shelves. I'm sure it's around elsewhere and I'd like to see how it ages, so I'm going to try and track down another bottle or two. Boon continues to be a nice solid option when in need for a lambic fix. Not as good as the big two (3F and Cantillon), but generally available... and sometimes you can find specialty variants like this one, which is nice. Stay tuned, we've got another Belgian wild ale review coming later this week!

Boon Vat 77 Mono Blend

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If not for the 10% young lambic blended into this beer (which provides enough lively yeast and fermentables to allow for carbonation in the bottle), it would be something akin to Single Barrel Lambic, an intriguing concept. The other 90% is sourced from a single oak foudre, numbered (you guessed it) 77. This particular cask was originally made in 1907, and while it's survived two world wars and undoubtedly seen other uses during its long history, it's been used by Boon to age three year old lambic for use in their gueuze blends since 1986. Apparently Frank Boon has a particular love for the beer that comes out of this cask, and so when they started this mono-blend series, it was only a matter of time before it was selected for a release. These fine folks even managed to snag a picture of the foudre:

The actual Vat 77
(Click to embiggen)

Of course, these foudres are gigantic (averaging 8,000 liters each), so don't expect to see anything like the Single Barrel Bourbon or Scotch world, where local stores pick a barrel and bottle it, but wouldn't that be neat if beer could pull off something like that? You know someone would take a flier on a Password is Taco barrel or snag a single barrel BCBS, or fly to Belgium and snag a Cantillon barrel. I doubt most breweries would be all that keen on the prospect, but who knows? Maybe one of these big barrel programs will differentiate themselves with this sort of thing (and, you know, do a better job than Retribution). In the meantime we'll have to make due with approximations like this Mono Blend, which was actually a really interesting beer and something I'd like to compare against future releases... Let's take a look at how it's drinking now:

Boon A L ancienne Vat 77 Mono Blend

Boon Oude Gueuze A L'ancienne Vat 77 Mono Blend - Pours an almost clear golden color with a finger of fluffy head that lasts for a bit, but not indefinitely. Smells quite funky, lots of earthiness, lots of farmhouse, maybe even some funky cheese character. Taste also goes quite earthy, and frankly doesn't feel all that sour at all, lots of leathery farmhouse character, not as cheesy as the nose would have you believe I guess, but still quite different than I'm used to for a Gueuze. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, only a very slight hint of acidity, much more funky than sour. Overall, this is an interesting beer! I don't quite know what to make of it, actually, as it's really quite nice, but also not your typical Gueuze... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tumbler on 11/7/15. Brewed 10/26/11 and 10/27/11. Bottled 10/24/13. Best before 10/24/2033.

Next up in the Mono Blend series is Vat 79, which is apparently the oldest cask they have, dating back to 1883. Would love to compare these two next to each other someday. In the meantime, Boon is one of the few Lambic producers who you can actually find, so go out there and snag some of those Marriage Parfaits, they're pretty good too.

Jean van Roy at Monk's Cafe

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In what appeared to be a last minute decision, Cantillon brewer Jean van Roy stopped in at Philly institution Monk's Cafe, and with his arrival came a goodly amount of his prized lambic. In a fortuitous turn, Monk's owner, Tom Peters, also dipped into his cellar for a couple of really special beers. Jean Hummler of Brussels' famous Moeder lambic bars was also visiting and helping decant bottles with the staff. Because of the hasty announcement, the crowds were not completely insane (though the place was still pretty stuffed) and most of us got a taste of even the rarest stuff that was pouring. Everything except the Kriek was being decanted from bottles in 4-6 ounce pours, and as per usual, the staff was professional and courteous.

Naturally, I got some stuff I'd had before, like the Classic Gueuze (excellent as always), Vigneronne (even better than I remembered!), Iris (not as spectacular as the last one I had), and Kriek (on tap, and much more jammy and fruity than I remember from the bottle). New to me was the Cantillon Mamouche, a lambic with elderflowers added (it was originally Zwanze 2009, but they liked it so much they made it a recurring specialty), it was naturally quite nice. I liked it better than most of the above, though I didn't take detailed notes.

Jean van Roy and moi
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Jean was hanging out with the crowd, answering questions, posing for photographs, and being generally personable. I don't normally go in for this sort of thing, but I grabbed a picture with the guy too. He was a good sport. I didn't get a chance to talk with him that much, but I was listening in to a few conversations. Stuff I remember had to do with his use of an abnormally long brewday (starting at 7 or 8 in the morning, ending at 5-6) and that he has a lot of respect for what some of the American breweries are doing. He spoke a lot about Allagash and their coolship program, saying that their first batch was ok, but that each successive batch was getting better and better because spontaneous fermentation relies a lot more on the environment than just regular innoculation. He also mentioned Jester King and Hill Farmstead as brewers who knew their stuff, as if we didn't already know. I was going to ask him about how the Cantillon expansion is going, but didn't get a chance because he was called over to the bar to open those special bottles.

2000 Cantillon Fou Foune
2000 vintage Fou Foune

First up was Fou Foune, a pretty special beer in any scenario, but then add in the fact that these bottles were from the year 2000 and jaws were dropping all over the room (even Tom Peters didn't realize how old they were until he opened the bottle and saw the date on the cork). Pours of this were slightly smaller since there were only 5 bottles available, but a pretty large proportion of folks got a glass (and those that didn't generally got to take a sip of someone else, as everyone was being generous). It was supremely funky, wonderful nose, lots of earth and almost cheese rind character, a little fruit. Taste wasn't quite as funky, but had a very Gueuze-like feel to it, but with hints of oak and tart fruit (not identifiable as peach, for sure). Nothing at all like the nimble, light, and airy fresh Fou Foune, but pretty spectacular in its own right. It's nice to take down a teenager, and it feels well worth the experiment of aging a lambic for absurd amounts of time like this.

Cantillon LH12
Cantillon LH12

Finally, another true rarity, Cantillon LH12, an unblended lambic aged in a Cognac barrel. Yes, singular, they only made one barrel of this stuff, meaning that there were fewer than 400 bottles in existence back in 2010 when they bottled this. Who knows how many are left right now?! As an unblended lambic, this pours almost still. Given my extreme sensitivity to carbonation issues, I was a little worried, but it turned out to be pretty fantastic. As van Roy noted when he introduced it, "This beer is very, very fine, you have to compare it more to a wine than a beer." And he's dead on, this felt very vinous, a little funk and oak, but that vinous fruit carries the day. Supposedly Cantillon 50°N-4°E incorporates something similar (cognac barrel aged lambic) into its blend, though that's another rarity I've never glimpsed.

This was a pretty fabulous night of drinking and proves that you would do well to monitor Monk's Cafe's events page (actually, Framboise For a Cure is coming up in a week or so, I may need to head back there!) Tick another two off the infamous White Whale list. A few more and I'll be completely insufferable.

Cantillon Cuvée St-Gilloise

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In 2004, head Cantillon brewer Jean Van Roy was supes excited that his hometown football (that's soccer to us Yanks) team won a championship, so he cracked some barrels of 2 year old lambic, dry hopped it for good measure, then bottled his Cuvée des Champions! Sadly, it seems that Brussels' soccer club Union St. Gilles has since fallen on hard times, to the point where a disgusted1 Jean Van Roy decided that "he could not in good conscience dedicate the beer to 'Champions.'" As such, the beer is now named a less celebratory Cuvée St-Gilloise2.

It's labeled a Gueuze, but it's not really a blend of younger and older beers, just that swanky 2 year old stuff. This makes me wonder why the "Cuvée" moniker, though I suppose there's still blending of different barrels going on here. As for the dry-hopping, RateBeer sez they used Styrian Goldings, but this guy sez they changed to Hallertau. It's an interesting and uncommon tweak for lambics, but I don't think either hop variety would tweak American hopheads all that much and this bottle is pretty old, so I'm sure the aroma has faded considerably. Not that I'm complaining, as this was still rather awesome.

Cantillon Cuvee St-Gilloise

Cantillon Cuvée St-Gilloise (AKA Cuvée Des Champions) - Pours a bright golden yellow color with a couple fingers of bubbly white head. Smells of funky, lightly earthy Brett, with lots of fruity notes, lemony, almost more like a funky saison than guezue. Taste is bright and fruity, lemony, nice subtle oak character (which opens up a little more as it warms), with a well matched sourness emerging quickly, bringing that guezue character big time. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and refreshing, a little thinner than some other gueuzes, but not in a bad way, and it's highly drinkable too. Overall, this is great, why do I need to rate these? They're all so damn good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a Tired Hands glass on 6/28/13. Bottled 12 November 2012. Best before November 2022.

Danger: lambic reserves have reached critical levels. Only one or two left. Fortunately, I've got a line on some (probably not Cantillon though) that I might be able to grab next week. Fingers crossed. Also worth noting that I've saved the supposed best for last, but you'll just have to wait a couple weeks to read about that sucker.

1 - As a Philadelphia sports fan, my notions of sport fandom are probably much different than Jean Van Roy's, to the point where he would probably describe "disgusted" as an exaggeration. In Philly, such a description would be much more vivid and colorful, involving expletives and threats of violence, so I find "disgusted" to be a decent compromise.

2 - But on the other hand, he's still dedicating a beer to his hometown team - so he's no bandwagon fan either.

Drie Fonteinen Golden Blend

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Drie Fonteinen has been around since 1887, and they've been making geuze style beers since then. Well, technically, they purchased new and old lambics from other breweries and blended them together (as befits the style). Since they opened, they've gradually been expanding the operation over the generations, to the point where they now have their own production brewery. But seeing as though geuzes are always comprised of a blend, they've kept that skillset up to date as well. Indeed, the guy they put in charge over there, Armand Debelder, is called a Master Blender, and if you get your jollies by obsessing over top lambic lists, you'll see that he's well deserving of that title.

Your typical geuze is a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambics. What we have here incorporates 4 year old lambic as well, clocking in at about 25% of the blend. The rest of the blend is comprised of a "secret" allocation of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambics, because, you know, Master Blenders gotta put food on the table. Given the expense of aging beer, the thirst of angels, and the extra year needed to produce this, the cost of entry is a bit on the high side here (hence the "golden" blend). Is it worth it?

Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze Golden Blend

Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze Golden Blend - Pours a very pretty golden orange color with a couple fingers of fluffy, big bubbled head that seems to fade into a more dense head with decent retention. Smells of musty funk with a big oak element. Taste starts off sweet, with that oak hitting pretty quickly, but then yielding to tart, fruity flavors that escalate into full blown puckering sourness towards the finish. As it warms up, that sourness intensifies even further. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, effervescent, crisp, with an extremely dry finish. Overall, this is a great beer, certainly a step up from their regular Oude Geuze, and among the best that I've had. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/14/13. Bottled 02/17/2011. Good until 02/2021.

I've seen people saying that this bottle is sitting on shelves with absurd price tags upwards of $40. But then, it's also on Etre Gourmet for 11 Euros, so do the math on that, and even with absurd shipping costs it's cheaper to order it direct from Belgium. On the other hand, more reasonable prices in the $20-$25 range might be worth it if you're a huge fan of the style... Certainly not a beginner beer though.

June Beer Club


You know the drill: a bunch of beer-minded colleagues and I get together at a local BYOB and drink our faces off. A low turnout this month due to scheduling, but still good times. I was negligent and forgot to take a picture of the beers on offer, so I made this fancy artist's rendering in MS Paint:

The middle one is a lambic, which is why its in a green bottle.

I think I may have missed my calling. For the sake of posterity, some half-remembered notes are recorded below. You're welcome.

  • The Captain's Invisible Moon - Which, if named after the style, would be "The Captain's Cream Ale", which just sounds gross. Unless you're a big Chris Evans fan. Like, a really big fan. Oh yeah, the beer. A homebrewed cream ale, it came out pretty well, kinda like a wheat beer, but with that smooth texture of a cream ale. Really easy drinking and a good way to start the night.
  • Brewer's Art Ozzy Ale - Nice Belgian yeast character, lots of spice (clove) and again, pretty easy drinking. It's a perfectly cromulent beer, but nothing to go nuts over. B
  • Boulevard Coffee Ale - This was one of those beers I got from the BIF trade, but since I wasn't a big coffee guy, I figured I'd share it with some people who might appreciate it a bit more. The coffee wasn't overwhelming at all, which is nice, especially since this isn't a stout either. Lots of malt character with that coffee taking a prominent place. It's not really my thing at all, but I was glad I got to share it (even though, uh, it seemed that a most beer club peeps were also not coffee people either). C+
  • Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale - I have actually had this before (and incorporated it into my Choose Your Own Adventure Beer Review epic), and in this setting, it stood out pretty darn well. I could probably be tempted to upgrade the rating, but I'll leave it at a B for now.
  • Oude Gueuze Tilquin à l'Ancienne - This is the green bottle in the artist's rendering above! One of my other contributions of the night, this one is every bit as good as I remember, and compares favorable with the big boys at Cantillon and 3F (at least, when it comes to their regular lineup). Still an A- in my book.
  • Dark Horse Tres Blueberry Stout - Another of my contributions, I actually bought a Dark Horse variety pack a while back, and since Dark Horse apparently loves to make stouts, they have a sorta numbered series of beers, this being the third. It's got a big blueberry aroma and even a little taste, but it doesn't feel artificial either, which actually kinda works. B
  • Boulevard Love Child No. 3 - Label sez it's aged in bourbon barrels, but I should have inspected more closely, because this sucker is actually a wild ale. A malt-forward base with some very tart, sour notes that hit quickly, but fade towards the finish, making this a pretty darn good drink. Decent funk, actually one of my favorites of the night. A-
  • John Henry West Indies Pale Ale - A pale ale aged on rum oak spirals... I would have expected that boozy rum to dominate, but it doesn't. Unfortunately, it doesn't really add much either. I feel like the rum and oak sorta fought the hops, sorta canceling each other out. What we're left with is fine, I guess, but not as flavorful as you might think. B-
  • Dark Horse Too Cream Stout - Another of Dark Horse's stout lineup, this one is a milk stout. Smooth, but big and burly, it's a bit of a bear, but it actually acquitted itself really well considering it was the last beer we opened. B
Well, there you have it. We'll return to normal review blogging for the next few days. It is actually Philly Beer Week, so I should probably hit up some other places this weekend and write about a few things I've already seen. Or something.

Cantillon Gueuze


What a good way to start the weekend. After a long week at work, coming home to a bottle of Cantillon makes me want to pump my fist triumphantly like Judd Nelson. Don't you forget about me.

What? Oh yeah, beer. So this is Cantillon's straight up organic Gueuze. You know the drill: a blend of various ages of oak barrel conditioned lambic (usually involving 1, 2, and 3 year old spontaneously fermented beer). Cantillon sez this beer represents half of the production of the brewery and that when cellared properly (i.e. not how I do it!) it will still have "an exceptional taste and flavour after 20 years." Hard to believe that anyone can hold on to a bottle for that long, as this is classic stuff:

Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic-Bio

Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio - Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with a finger of tight white head and good retention. Smells of musty funk, yeast, a little oak, that twang that indicates sourness. Taste starts sweet, with some yeasty funk and spice hitting in the middle, followed by oak and a nice tart sourness intensifying through the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, smooth, some pleasant acidity that intensifies through the finish. Plenty of carbonation, a little more than 3F, but not as much as Tilquin. Overall, a fantastic, well balanced beer, not quite the revelation that the kriek was, but definitely on par with the best Gueuzes I've had. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (375 ml capped and corked). Drank out of an entirely too big Tired Hands glass on 5/10/13. Label sez: Bottled 3 December 2012.

I have a 750 of this in my cellar, but I can guarantee it won't last 20 years. Probably not even within an order of magnitude. Glad I'm starting with the simple stuff though. Not sure how much of a difference there is between this "Bio" stuff and the regular Classic Gueuze, but it's still damn good. Anywho, I get the feeling minds will be blown as I start to branch out into their fancier offerings. Stay tuned.


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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Gueuze category.

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