Zwanze Day in Vermont

Zwanze Day in Vermont

Have you ever heard of Zwanze Day? Every year, beer enthusiasts celebrate the release of a special sour beer made by Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, Belgium. In Flemish, a zwanze is actually a joke, and Zwanze Day is meant to be fun day of drinking this rare beer that is different each year. Cantillon actually hand picks the bars and breweries across the world that they would like to participate in Zwanze day. Then, they send the Zwanze beer over to be tapped at the same time around the world (3 PM EST for us).

Zwanze Day Tickets

Zwanze Day Tickets

Here in Vermont, we were lucky enough to have a brewery that was picked by Cantillon to participate – Hill Farmstead. Hill Farmstead aka Shaun Hill (the brewmaster) really knows how to throw a party! Only ticket holders were allowed at the brewery for the day, and a tent was set up complete with five different beers: 2 Grassroots beers & 3 Cantillon beers (including Zwanze). They decided to approach the festival in a different manner than usual, handing out colored tickets that corresponded to each beer. Each person received one ticket per beer. This gave each drinker a guarantee that they would be able to try all of the beers so that they didn’t have to worry about waiting in any lines. For once, a beer event wasn’t all about getting a beer and drinking it in line so that you could get your hands on the next beer. Instead, we were able to hang out on Hill Farmstead’s beautiful land, enjoying each and every beer in a civilized manner. Shaun Hill mentioned that he is always trying to think of better ways to organize beer events, and I really thought this way worked well.

After the Zwanze event, we headed over the “Zwanze After Party” at a local restaurant, Parker Pie. This is one of our favorite hang outs in Northeastern Vermont. I’ve actually mentioned it before here. Parker Pie had some great Cantillon bottles and I was hooked on their Kriek as usual!

Post Zwanze Day at Parker Pie

Post Zwanze Day at Parker Pie

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Burlington Brewers Festival 2013

Burlington Brewers Festival 2013

It’s July 19, just before 11:30 am, and beer enthusiasts from across New England, and beyond, crowd behind a single white string, their empty sample glass in hand. When time changes to 11:30, the white string instantly disappears beneath the crowd, and the beer tasting commences. This is the scene as the Vermont Brewers Festival begins, and although this year began much the same as previous years, 2013 introduced new breweries and beers to the thirsty visitors who were able to get their hands on completely sold-out tickets.

Burlington Brewers Tents

Burlington Brewers Tents

Tickets sold out, to all sessions, for this year’s festival in just 34 hours. The three sessions saw more than 7,000 visitors this year and for good reason. As New England’s oldest and largest beer festival, the Vermont Brewers Festival consistently showcases the best of what Vermont beer has to offer in addition to highlighting Quebec brews. This year, lines began forming early for certain breweries, quickly displaying what breweries had the beers highest in demand. Some Vermont breweries with longer lines included: the Alchemist, Fiddlehead Brewing Company, Hill Farmstead Brewery, Kingdom Brewing, and Lawson’s Finest Liquids. In addition, a number of Quebec breweries saw long lines including Brasserie Dunham, Brasserie Dieu du Ciel, and Micro-brasserie Le Trou du Diable.

Brewers Festival Goers Enjoying the View

Brewers Festival Goers Enjoying the View

I was most surprised by the lines that formed at Fiddlehead Brewing Company and Kingdom Brewing (whose line formed towards the end). These two breweries are lesser known outside of the Vermont community, but showed up with such great beers that became quick favorites. Fiddlehead’s stand out beer that brought forth the crowd was the ‘Hodad Vanilla, Chocolate, Coconut Porter’. It is described by Fiddlehead as “paradise in a glass” and did not disappoint. The coconut notes stuck out with a powerful chocolate porter punch that followed. Kingdom Brewing showed up with ‘Benedict Arnold’, a sour porter that hit all of the right notes in terms of sour and drinkability. It left me smacking my lips for more. Although I noticed quite a buzz about this beer, a later crowd formed for Kingdom’s ‘Addy Pearls Spice Maple Rum Ale’, an ale made with pure Vermont maple sap and stored in Thomas Tew Spiced rum barrels. I was amazed at the maple and rum tastes that hit my taste buds at full force as well as how much I ended up enjoying the combination of those tastes.

The Vermont Brewers Festival continues to deliver a different kind of beer festival in New England. It’s set in a truly idyllic location and features the best of what Vermont has to offer. The festival continues to reveal new and breakout brewers from across the region, in addition to groundbreaking and experimental beers, making it the most exciting beer festival in New England for both the visitors and the brewers.

Vermont Brewers Festival 2013

Vermont Brewers Festival 2013

*The Great Indoors: Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom

The Northeast Kingdom of Vermont is often overlooked when it comes to indoor fun. It’s not a bad thing, people just usually head to this picturesque part of the Green Mountain state to enjoy everything outdoors. But, what about those who enjoy being inside? Well, it is time to set the record straight: if you want some of the best alcohol, food, and indoor fun in the state, head northeast! The following afternoon tour will give you a chance to taste, drink, and enjoy the best of the “NEK”.

Caledonia Spirit's Tanks and Ryan, one of the distillers

Caledonia Spirit’s Tanks and Ryan, one of the distillers

Caledonia Spirits & Winery, Hardwick, VT

Hardwick, Vermont is the home of award winning vodka, gin, and wine all made from honey and other Vermont ingredients. Head down to their giant distillery to learn about how they make all of their products from pure honey and also take a tour of their facility. End your visit with a free tasting of all three spirits (Elderberry Cordial, Barr Hill Vodka, and Barr Hill Gin) and their four delicious wines.

Hill Farmstead, Greensboro, VT

Outside of the Hill Farmstead Brewery

Outside of the Hill Farmstead Brewery

Have you ever wanted to enjoy the best beer in the country in the confines of a huge, wooden barn? Then, take a trip out to Hill Farmstead to find the Kingdom’s most popular beer. Some of Hill Farmstead’s beers have even earned a 100 on ratebeer.com. Greensboro, VT is a short but beautiful drive north of Hardwick. Beer is poured into samples, glasses, or growlers, fresh from the brewery that is also housed in the same barn.

The Parker Pie Co., West Glover, VT

End your tour with dinner, drinks, and entertainment at the Parker Pie Co. in West Glover, VT. What started out as a small pizza shop in the back of one of Vermont’s many country stores has turned into one of the best foodie, beer, and entertainment destinations in Vermont. The Parker Pie Co. uses fresh, Vermont products on their pizzas and has a constantly revolving beer menu. They also have the best indoor events in town including trivia night, live bands, and weekly ping pong tournaments. You may originally come for the pizza and beer, but you will most likely return for the atmosphere and entertainment.

Inside Parker Pie

Inside Parker Pie

The Northeast Kingdom is located off of interstate 91, about a three hour drive north from Boston.

*As published in Tavern Players, Spring Issue.

New England Real Ale Exhibition – Somerville, MA

NERAX Cask Ale Festival

Not everyone has heard of cask beer or real ale. For those of you who have not, real ale is different from your everyday beer because it completes its secondary fermentation in the same container from which it’s served. So, in the case of cask beer, the top fermented beer completes its secondary fermentation in the cask and then is manually pumped out of that cask without the use of any type of gas. What you get is a less carbonated beer, with more flavor and even more texture. Surprising to many, cask beer is served at a cellar temperature of 55 degrees.

One of the many reasons I enjoy living in New England is because of the diverse options that exist when it comes to beer. Each state has its own thing going when it comes to beer and, as a beer lover in New England, you can never go bored. This weekend, the New England Real Ale Exhibition held their  16th cask festival. So, on Saturday morning, Anth, Pup, and I made our way down to Somerville, MA to check out what a 100 cask beers on tap in one room looks, smells, and tastes like.

The cask conditioned ales waiting to be tapped

Somerville is located right outside of Boston and is about four hours from our home in Elmore, Vermont. Four hours is an easy weekend drive for us, so we left Saturday morning, meeting for lunch with our friend at the Yard House, before heading to the festival’s night session. What struck me most about this festival in particular was how organized and relaxed it was. Many beer festivals can be quite chaotic, with large lines and loud music. The NERAX cask festival was much more about enjoying cask beer with other cask-minded individuals. I was also impressed with how they chose their tap list. They had two categories of beer: beer from the U.S. and beer from the U.K.. However, the beer from the U.S. was all from New England! Yes, all 50 U.S. beers hailed from the six most Northeastern States.

My favorite cask conditioned drink was actually not a beer at all, but a fermented cider. It was called the Take Two Dry Cidah and hailed from Portland, Maine. The cider actually takes reactivated cider yeast, and instead of adding carbonation to feed the yeast, they add raw Maine wildflower honey and then cask condition it. The company behind this madness is the Urban Farm Fermentory. They are doing a lot of cool stuff in and out of the cider world including fermented vegetables.

The NERAX Cask Ale Festival lived up to its expectations and offered something different in the New England beer scene. I think we will definitely be heading back for future sessions. On our way home Sunday, we made a detour in Gloucestor, MA, one of my favorite coastal New England towns, to visit the beach and local brewery. It was the perfect ending to the weekend, but that’s an entirely different post!