West Lakeview Liquors has always held the Illinois celebration of Cantillon’s Zwanze Day, and at least since 2012 (the first year I attended), it was a “show up and get a ticket” event. Things have changed over the years, the biggest being the fest moving from the West Lakeview store and the bar across the street to just the yard behind the store. But the biggest change this year was having to purchase tickets ahead of time. How did it work?
Tickets, huh. $85?!?!?!: Yes, pre-paid tickets were required for the first time this year. They had some first come, first serve tickets at the door for those unlucky enough to miss out on the pre-sale, so you could still do it the old way if you felt like risking it. While the $85 was a hard pill to swallow, the improvements to the fest totally justified the ticket cost.
Line? What line?: Past Zwanze Days, most notably last year, were famous for the line to get tickets and get in. If you wanted to be in the fest within 30 minutes of opening, you probably had to line up at 7 or 8 AM for the 10 AM pouring. Since I had a ticket, I strolled in at around 11:30 AM, no line, with — according to people who had been there the whole time — all beers still pouring. I guess there was a line to get in at 10, but I would happily trade the few bottles I might have missed in the bottle share for the ease of simply walking up and getting in.
I can swing my arms: While not as spacious as Belgian Fest, this year marked a drastic improvement in breathing room. The ability to control the attendance led to less lines and more ability to stand and chat with friends. The only place there was a crunch was in the back bottle share area, but once you found your group, you were set. Plus the weather was perfect this year. Amazing.
I’ll get it later: Things took a while to kick. When I arrived at 11:30, the pourers were amazed that Iris Grand Cru hadn’t kicked yet. While initial lines for Cantillon tappings (especially the Kriek and Zwanze beer), Off Color beers, and special bottle pours were long, they were manageable and died down after a few minutes. Having multiple people pouring the beer out of pitchers helped a lot with this too.
The food. My god the food: Two years ago food plates were brought out and, if you weren’t nearby when they were, you were probably out of luck. Last year they centralized the food to a tent in the back, but the line was stupid long and the food ran out. Both years I made the 4 block trek to the Subway on Western, which worked out well enough.
This year, however, I was getting yelled at to eat. Delicious sandwiches, sausages, pork, pretzels, chocolate-covered pretzels, and individually wrapped candy were always there. Near the end I got a hankering for some cheese and proceeded to basically devour a cheese plate. They even had someone bringing sandwiches on a platter around the fest. I left full and not all that drunk. Very Impressive.
The beers: Well what about them? Of the Cantillon offerings, Iris Grand Cru was a bit flat, Kriek was fresh and delicious, Vigeronne was amazing, and Zwanze, the wild Brussels stout, was decent. Someone came around with Tilquin’s sour stout, which I thought had the combination of stout roastiness and slight sour punch nailed perfectly.
Among the non-Cantillon beers, the unfliltered Pilsner Urquell was an outstanding change of pace from all the wild ales, stouts and IPAs being poured. Off Color brought their BA DinoS’mores, which was solid, and their Whiskers wild ale, which I will be eager to see in 4-packs.
Bottle sales? Nope: In lieu of special bottle sales, West Lakeview decided to just open the bottles and pour them for attendees. I saw Cantillon Grand Cru Brousclla, Drie Fonteinen Framboos ’14, and a variety of Jester King and Side Project. Rumor has it there was a bottle of Cantillon’s Soleil du Minuit being poured as well. I honestly completely forgot that they used to sell beer at Zwanze day, as I was having so much fun.. Getting a taste of some of these beers was more than enough. Kudos West Lakeview.
And there goes the perfect game: The bathroom line breaks it up. While adding two Port-o-Potties was a necessary move, one or two more would have eased congestion a little bit. It was the only line that I absolutely needed to wait in.
Bottle share: This is what makes events like this top notch. In addition to the stupid amount of Cantillon and other out-of-state or hard-to-get drafts, the bottle share at Zwanze Day gets crazy. I brought a growler of Tree House Brewing’s Alter Ego, thinking it would last a while. It was gone in 10 minutes, with people thanking me as they had never had a Tree House beer before. I even had people ask about it after it was gone.
Multiple Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, and Tilquin were opened, alongside a Faro from an unknown brewery from 1988. Schramm’s Mead, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, and de Garde Brewing were well represented, as the whole bottle share area was a virtual beer orgy with people walking around and sharing pours with complete strangers. While always a Zwanze Day highlight, it shone even more when paired with the stupendous amount of food and free space available.
So was the $85 dollars worth it? Absolutely. It kept the attendance in check, the beer flowing, the food available, and the space free. While the Zwanze beer itself was a bit of a let down, the other attendees of the fest made it a memorable experience. Like it’s supposed to be.