Blog by Nigel Walsh


Taking the P*ss (Zwanze) and Paying Respects

This was the weekend when I was all set to head to JWF for a full English breakfast or the Ambleside for a pork pie, all while observing the typical end of season decline of those football warriors in claret and blue.

But if you have been paying attention to the weekly scorecard on my blog, you will have noticed that this past weekend was to be the last hurrah of the venerable Spuyten Duyvil pub in Williamsburg after 21 years of fulfilling the craft (and occasional cask) beer needs of its neighborhood.

You will also have noticed that they were going out with a bang by hosting, for the last time, the NYC edition of Cantillon’s Zwanze Day celebration.

I wasn’t going to miss that.

So in my Cat Wizz-perer persona, I wandered down into the 96th street subway station to grab the M train directly over to Marcy Ave, (one of the useful side-effects of MTA weekend track-work) just a short five blocks or so from Metropolitan/Havemeyer, where Spuyten Duyvil has been unobtrusively holding court for all those years.

I enjoy Zwanze day, having attended three times while I lived in DC (Churchkey twice and Sovereign once), but my primary purpose for this visit was to pay respects to the good folks of Spuyten Duyvil.

So I wasn’t alarmed when I arrived at my destination to find a substantial line outside, in fact I was very happy to see it and join it.

As it happened, I was actually there early enough to snag a ticket for a pour of the actual Zwanze beer itself, but late enough that it took forty-five minutes to get inside and find a comfortable standing spot; no problems, we Brits love to queue, or so they say.

Once inside, I eyeballed the handpump to confirm that there was no cask currently on, and then had a quick check on the posted draft list, all delicious-looking funky sours, before opting to quench my thirst with a Cantillon Sang Blue.

And quench it did, very fruit-forward for a Cantillon, but with the unmistakable cat-p*ss (but in a good way) notes in evidence.

It was going to be over three hours before the celebration beer was to be poured and celebrated, so I sauntered over to an open patch of wall near the back end of the bar area, leaned against it, pulled my belly in so as not to block the folks coming and going from the garden and the khazi, and wondered how I was going to pace myself for the duration.

And then I spotted the alternate bottle menu on the wall behind the bar; sour, farmhouse, sour, sour, sour, barley wine, farmho… wait a minute, barley wine?

And not just any barley wine, but the legendary Thomas Hardy’s Ale.

And not just Thomas Hardy’s Ale but vintage Thomas Hardy’s Ale, 2006, 2007 and 2008, and each at a very reasonable price per bottle.

Carefully sipping on a couple of those would make the three hours pass very quickly, and would also make sure that I would still be in a good state to enjoy the celebration beer and get safely back home again.

Both the 2006 and the 2008 (the 40th Anniversary version) were awesome, sixteen and eighteen years in the bottle have done no damage to the complex flavors of the beer, which had both settled into a mellow steady-state during their time under glass.

The 2007 could not be found, and the culprit may have been Alex Hall, who had recorded one to Untappd just under three weeks ago.

No sweat, two was plenty for me.

I did have just enough time for a draft Cantillon Magic Lambic (raspberry and vanilla, mmm) before drifting into the garden and joining another line, ticket in hand.

This year’s Zwanze Beer sounded very delicious (or possibly not), a gueuze with sea lettuce which is apparently a kind of seaweed, unlike a sea cucumber which is a … yeah, you don’t want to know about that.

It was actually really tasty and quite unique, as expected, with the usual sour funky notes well masked by a crisp clean brininess.

I loved it, but can see why others might not.

It is certainly not a traditional Cantillon tasting experience, but that is the whole point of Zwanze isn’t it?

Zwanze is a self-mocking self-referential joke, all in good fun and not to be taken too seriously … taking the (cat) p*ss if you will.

This post will be short and sweet after last week’s grueling marathon, but I leave with some observations:

  • Despite my English heritage, I am usually not one to stand outside in a long line for a single specific beer, but I do make an exception for Zwanze because of all of the other lambics (Cantillon and otherwise) which are typically available to purchase in draft and bottle (or bottle-tasting) form, many of which I am seeing for the first time.
  • I couldn’t help but notice that many of the folks in the line this time were laden down with large backpacks, which I assumed correctly to be containing bottles to be shared with their respective groups; fair enough, this was a party event.
  • Once inside, those groups had formed before I got to enter, taking over the two large tables at the back of the bar and most of the tables in the back yard; also fair enough, they lined up early for the privilege.
  • But here is the issue as I see it; there was very little interaction between the bottle-share groups and the bar, some just drank their own beer and provided little compensation to their hosts.
  • And to rub it in a little more, I found while searching Untappd for details on the beers that I had purchased and consumed, some very salty comments from said bottle-sharers regarding the good folks at Spuyten Duyvil.
  • It all seems a little disrespectful to me … talk about taking the p*ss, eh?
  • Of course, I am not trying to generalize, that would be equally rude.
  • But come on folks, really?

I would like to point out that this behavior was not seen from all of the groups, and it was not one that I had noticed at prior Zwanze events that I have attended.

Anyway enough of that, my funny five minutes is over, and lets get back to respect; the paying and receiving of.

As I said at the start, this visit was really about paying respect to the departing heroes from Spuyten Duyvil, and I made sure that I engaged with all of the hard-working bar staff whenever I got to interact with them.

They were really tickled that somebody would come out to a funky sour event and drink barley wine.

I also managed to identify and chat with several of the regulars who had come out for the occasion, exchanging anecdotes about the bar, and NYC pub history and pub life in general.

This was a special place, and it will be missed.

By regulars and occasionals alike.

Scorecard w/e 04/23/24

In the past week, The Cask Whisperer has enjoyed the following casks:

And has enjoyed two venerable bottle-conditioned/aged beers @ Spuyten Duyvil:

  • Thomas Hardy’s Ale (ex. Eldridge Pope) by O’Hanlon’s – 2006
  • Thomas Hardy’s Ale (ex. Eldridge Pope) by O’Hanlon’s – 2008

Upcoming Cask Festivals

5/18/2024: NYS British Real Ale Festival at Seneca Lake Brewing

5/19/2024 (double-dang): Yards Real Ale Invitational at Yards Brewery, Philadelphia PA

9/7/2024: Noah Webster House Real Ale Harvest Festival, West Hartford CT

11/8/2024: Two Roads Cask Fest at Area 2, Stratford CT

11/9/2024: 20th Annual Blue Point Cask Ale Festival, Patchogue NY

NYC Cask Venues

Known Operational/Active Beer Engines

  • Jones Wood Foundry (x2)
  • Fifth Hammer
  • Wild East
  • The Shakespeare (x3)
  • Cask Bar & Kitchen
  • Drop-off Service

Occasional Pins (worth a follow on Instagram)

  • Strong Rope
  • KCBC
  • Torst
  • Blind Tiger Ale House

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