Since 2008 traditional lambic brewery Cantillon has been producing lambics with unusual ingredients and releasing them under the name “Zwanze.” The word zwanze comes from the Flemish / Brussels expression “zwanzen” which roughly translates into “fooling around”, “being silly”, “talking nonsense.” The Zwanze series further reinforces Cantillon’s reputation as a brewery that reconciles tradition and experimentation. The 2008 Zwanze is a blend of 2 year old lambics with rhubarb (!). To my knowledge, this is the first traditional lambic with a vegetable as its main addition.
The, by Cantillon’s standards rather plain, label reads (translated from Dutch):
An industrial lambic with artificial aroma’s, that we know. A traditional lambic with fresh fruits, that is a rarity. A lambic with vegetables, that is true “zwanzen.” And zwanzen, that is what we know how to do at Cantillon…non peut-etre!
Ingredients: water, wheat, malt, hop, rhubarb (300 g/L) 5% alc.
The following notes were made in April 2010, a year after this bottle was purchased at Chez Moeder Lambic in Brussels.
Appearance: Blond. Orange. Fairly clear. Modest head, dissipates quickly.
Aroma: Brett. Honey. Vegetable smell. Parents say they recognize the “rabarber”.
Taste: Recognizable Cantillon style. Sour. Pickles. Seldery. Cold vegetable soup. Tangerine. Rather long, bone dry, and bitter finish. A quick check against the young rhubarb from my parents’ garden (!) indicates similarities indeed.
Mouthfeel: Light body. Significant carbonation for a Cantillon beer.
Drinkability: I found this less drinkable than Geuze or fruit lambics.
This combination of tartness and vegetable taste may not appeal to everyone. An interesting aspect of this beer is that it may be the only Cantillon beer that has a rather pronounced bitter note (at least in the bottle I drank) without the use of fresh hops. Adding vegetables to a lambic may be one solution for those brewers who do not want to “sin” with fresh hops but want a bitter note in their lambics. A truly unique experiment. Its green, vegetal character makes this the Cabernet Franc of lambic beers.
Not all the Zwanze experiments may prove rewarding but if the 2009 Zwanze (brewed with elder flowers) is any indication there is a good chance that Cantillon will discover a great year-round beer at some point.
My only quibble. If this is supposed to be an ongoing annual tradition, can we have a better label?