Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Zwanze Day/Dieu du Ciel 15th Anniversary Party: The Insanity of Beers, Lines, Palate-Killers and ABVs!

Sometimes I wonder whether I should spend more time writing about everyday beers but, like many a beer geek and many, if not all, of my readers I get moved most by the extremes encountered.

This past Saturday (September 14th) marked not only Sour Beer Day, but also Cantillon's annual Zwanze Day and, Montreal host-bar Dieu du Ciel's 15th Anniversary, and fantastic extremes were everywhere to be found!

The lineups (literal, draught list, and bottle list) were beyond impressive!  Knowing how fast the Zwanze would sell meant me and my crew arrived at 11:30 am, well in advance of the 3pm open, and found ourselves with merely two people ahead of us in line.  Our wait was worthwhile though, since the 3-photo stitched panorama below shows the line just before open; a line that would see Zwanze AND the second Cantillon keg (Iris) sell out before the last person in this line ordered their first beer at nearly 6 pm:
At least there was a 3rd Cantillon keg (Kriek), for I didn't fully realize we'd return to the back of a 2+ hour line for our second round, exposing our folly for not having ordered more than 2 drinks each in the first place.  Thus, while we were blessed to get Zwanze, by the time of our return for a second round, not only was the Zwanze finished (as expected), but the Iris had been both tapped and tapped out, and the Kriek was just being tapped giving us two out of three Cantillon's but no chance for the Iris - while I realize that many there likewise had no chance at the Zwanze (or perhaps the Kriek).  Just insane!  With approximately 5oz samples and 30L kegs, this means that somewhere over 400 Cantillon orders were filled before I got my second round - this should give some idea of the madness (which coupled with any understanding of just how small DDC is, should explain well the nature of the day!)

I've previously expressed my wish that DDC would eliminate the brewing room in these cramped quarters (since they brew most things in St. Jerome now) in order to expand the seating area or would buy out a neighbour or expand upstairs, but in the absence of that, perhaps they could use an alternate venue for this great event.  Waiting 2+ hours in line for another round is just insane and in that time, those two Cantillon kegs tapped and dried, while MANY of the bottles on the special list sold out.  

Accordingly, on our next round(s), we over-stocked with greater forethought!

The crowding seemed even more extreme when it came to even getting to the bathroom, which resulted in something like doing the lambada with way too many strangers for someone not in bondage gear at an overbooked fetish night.

But the beer... oh my, the beer! Without further ado, let's turn to the reviews in three categories.  Beware: though I reviewed simply the top 16 beers I had (which I had a hard time narrowing down to even that due to the quality), this means 16 reviews of insane and insanely awesome beers follow the picture below of our table's first round.

1) Those beers that absolutely rocked my world:

  1. Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic (5% ABV): this was, hands down, the best fruit lambic I have ever had - quoted just before the taste and on many occasions I have said, "Fruit lambics that I have had tend to just downplay the sourness in favour of sweetened fruit notes. So don't fuck with my lambic and just leave it tart... but, of course, I have yet to have had a Cantillon fruit lambic, so that may change my mind," and indeed it has!  Wow!  Vinegary tart nose with some decent fresh cherry notes and just a hint of hay.  The taste starts just faintly wheaty-sweet for just the briefest of moments before one is blasted by an intensely acidic cherry tartness that puckers all who touch it to tongue, and the long-lasting, intense linger only allows this sourness to grow for a lengthy moment afterwards.  There is sufficient carbonation to spread this feel, but it isn't the most intensely carbonated lambic ever.  Just another marvel of Cantillon brewing!  Cantillon has shown me that when well-done, one is free to 'fuck with my lambic!'  Grade: A+
  2. Dieu du Ciel/The Alchemist Moralité (6.9% ABV Simcoe Dry-Hopped Cask IPA): I have waxed poetic of my deep and fond affection for this citrusy marvel many a time and I won't repeat myself here except to say, as good as this is to begin with, that creamy cask feel takes it from perfect to differently perfect!  Grade: A+

2) What would have rocked my world had it been any other day against lesser competition:

  1. Dieu du Ciel/New Belgium Lips of Faith - Heavenly Feijoa Tripel (9% ABV Tripel with Hibiscus Flowers and Feijoa): This excellent collaboration expressed a fairly sweaty nose with just hints of the hibiscus and a nicely dry, faintly apply-tart flavour with some dry fruitiness (is this the feijoa?).  Quite solidly carbonated and a touch sticky, this is a fine brew.  If not your standard tripel, it is more of a standard tripel than the Zwanze of the year (see below), though it is better - in my humble opinion - than many tripels that lack the depth of character this beer provides (though there are many style-norm standard tripels that still excel as well).  Grade: A
  2. Dieu du Ciel Pionnière (9.5% Double Black IPA): This rarely brewed marvel and highly sought after gem deserves its praise, wafting a solid citrus nose supported by mild toast notes.  Very piney flavours fill the mouth quickly, virtually bypassing the present malt-base that just briefly expresses some roasted coffee notes, as they assault the palate with a lingering and intensely dry finish.  The body is moderate, with a fair carbonation, while the warmth is entirely hidden from the senses, until the senses find themselves effectively hidden by this discernibly absent but effectively intoxicating intensity!  Grade: A
  3. Dieu du Ciel Solstice d'Hiver Réserve Spéciale (10.8% Bourbon Barrel-Aged American Barleywine): This rare marvel wafted a quite boldly oaked and bourbony vanilla nose, with just faint hints of the fruit and caramel underneath.  The aroma prepared me for a beer I expected to be quite hot, but flavourwise the booze was quite well-hidden as woodyness and fruity sweet raisin and plum notes came through sweetly.  The sweetness, however, was tempered as a decently dry earthy hops finish lingered bringing a desire to return to this full-bodied creamy delight!  Grade: A
  4. Dieu du Ciel Equinoxe du Printemps 2002 (11-year aged Scotch Ale with Maple at 9.5% ABV): This is a great beer on its own terms, but in a style I can never imbibe much of as the excessive sweetness assaults my senses.  Similarly, this 11-year old oddity evokes the same uncertainty in my apparaisal as the original as it is fantasic if not quite my cup of tea, as odd as that sounds to vocalize.  The maple on the nose here seems to only increase with time as it wafts maple syrup candy through-and-through.  While I find many beers in this style, and the un-aged version no less, a bit too hot, this has no noticeable amount of alcohol in the mouth or on the way down, feeling and tasting like a faintly peaty, cloyingly sweet maple sugar marvel.  It may not be my thing, but it sure was sweetly delicious, a unique evolution of a solidly-brewed beer, and something to try that can easily be replicated - if you cellar your bottles long enough!  Grade: A
  5. Dieu du Ciel Quintessence XV (10.5% Barrel-Aged English Strong Ale): This was only the third time this beer has been brewed as DDC brews it every fifth anniversary only and slightly differently each time.  This XV version presents a pretty hot bourbon nose with some caramel malts and hints of milk chocolate.  The flavour, howeverm is dominated by smoked malts and some peaty-ness.  Both sweetly warm and richly smoky alongside just traces of the wood, this full-bodied brew finishes with a decent lingering resiny hops, but of fainter remains than the smoke, and a light-moderate carbonation.  Very good and of diverse hybridity.  Grade: A
  6. Dieu du Ciel Peché Mortel Réserve Spéciale (9.5% Bourbon barrel-Aged Coffee Imperial Stout): Though the bourbon did shine through nicely on the nose with some woody vanilla notes, I found it smelled much warmer, while the taste began differently than the non-barreled standard DDC treat with a warm oakiness that evolves into the similar coffee finish this beers fans all love.  This is a bit less bitter than the staple, with the oaky-sweetness and all, but also more discernibly boozy even with an identical ABV.  It would be hard to choose the better beer, but they are clearly different animals of high esteem.  Grade: A
  7. Dieu du Ciel 2009 Grande Noirceur (9% Russian Imperial Stout): One of two bottles we purchased.  We had hoped to get the Le Purgatoire Archeoporter from Trou du Diable, but didn't attempt it until our second order - and the person two spots ahead of me bought the last one so we settled on this.  It isn't much different from the original, that I reviewed here, but is a little smoother and bit more creamy and chocolatey, with the warmth tempered slightly.  A fantastic beer improved upon at least slightly, though without a side-by-side comparison, it can be hard to recall how subtle these differences may be.  Regardless, Grade: A
  8. Dieu du Ciel 2009 Isseki Nicho (9.5% Imperial Dark Saison): The other of the two bottles we purchased.  We had planned to buy the Pinot Noir Barrel-Aged version, but the person in front of me bought the last one and this was our backup.  To be honest, I won't say more here other than that without the side-by-side comparison, I didn't notice the differences (or maybe because - as you can tell - I'd had quite a few, admittedly small, tastes of many a strong beer by this point)! Grade: Just as damn good as the original?  Better probably, but your guess is as good as mine!
  9. Dieu du Ciel/Le Trou du Diable Purgatoire Pils (5.6% Pils): I shouldn't have been surprised that just because I don't seek out pils, doesn't mean a DDC/TDD pils collab wouldn't be remarkable and, indeed, it was.  This beer had a stellar hoppy nose wafting mango and citrus with the best of the IPAs, while it tasted a bit sweeter up front with some honey characteristics leading the charge before a nice hoppy assault of tangerine and rind.  The linger wasn't as substantial as this might lead one to expect and it had the lighter body of a pils, with decent carbonation, while otherwise bearing much in common with the IPAs of hop-head affections.  Grade: A-/A
  10. Kissmeyer Smoked Baltic Porter (7.3% ABV): Kissmeyer strikes again with another solid beer!      Though I found this beer to be only slightly smoky on both nose and tongue, it had some other solid characteristics with some roasty notes alongside cocoa and woodyness in the aroma, the taste was of sweeter chocolate with a toasty, lightly smoky finish without a substantial linger.  Slightly oily with a medium body that makes it easier drinking than a 7.3% smoked baltic porter has any right to be!  Grade: A-/A

3) What was just run-of-the-mill, standard Dieu du Ciel-level sort-of-fantastic:

Quintessence XV and Zwanze 2013
  1. Cantillon Zwanze 2013 Abbaye de Cureghem (Spontaneously fermented tripel with 10% lambic blend) (7.2% ABV): The beer of the day - tapped in 46 pubs around the world at the same precise moment, never to be released again - is clearly not a standard tripel.  It bears resemblances, with aromas of lightly tart apple and some wet wood alongside some vinous grape qualities.  Taste-wise there is less sour and more funk than present on the nose, if neither extremely, with hints of vine and rind.  The body is a bit fuller than most lambics, while the carbonation was a touch lighter.  I get the hybridity and love the attempt, but only liked the beer.  My first Cantillon I didn't give an A+, if still a great experience!  Grade: A-
  2. Dieu du Ciel 15 Nord (8.4% ABV American Strong Ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels): This 15th anniversary surprise was quite good and offered what I wish the #4 below had: tempered vinous notes!  While quite dark in colour, the nose was faintly floral hopped with some discernible wine notes and just a faint peatyness and slight roasted cereal grainy notes.  The taste was sweetly vinous and lightly woody, with just enough drying earthy hops and roastiness to clean things off.  Quite enjoyable - though I do love my American Strongs to be hopped-to-high-heaven in a way this wasn't quite... but it was delicious if a different animal.  Grade: A-
  3. Dieu du Ciel/De La Senne Blanche Van de Plateau (4% ABV Witbier): Not usually a fan of the style, this beer hits some decent coriander and peppery spiced notes on both nose and tongue, while presenting just a light tartness that intrigues, dries, and lingers in a very re-enticing manner. I cannot wait to give this another go - when drinking less of such high gravity and bold flavour!  Grade: A-
  4. Dieu du Ciel Dernière Volonté Réserve Spéciale (Pinot-Noir Barrel-Aged Belgian IPA): All I will note here is that this offered an aroma with little transformation from the original, while the taste was strongly akin to a dry pinot noir, which is fine, but with the diminished carbonation and wine-dominance it isn't really what I'd personally love in a beer.  Rich and complex, and well-brewed, but a bit more of a barrel-aged for barrel-aging sake thing to me.  Maybe aged half as long would suffice (for me) as I'd rather hints than dominance of these notes, though a few at my table disagreed - which is why thoughts more than ratings are so crucial!  Grade: B+
Yep, and I tasted only a few beers that didn't make those super-highly-ranked category cuts.  With pretty affordable pricing too, it's safe to say this is a day not to miss, as long as you have a high tolerance for lines, crowds, general insanity, and high gravity and/or low ph beers!

It's probably a good thing for my liver - but bad for the soul - that it'll be another year 'til Zwanze 2014 and the DDC 16th Anniversary roll through.  But rest assured, you'll hear from me again aplenty before then!

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