So Zwanze Day has come and gone, and what a day it was. My brother, girlfriend, and I all attended Lord Hobo in Cambridge, MA for the day, and by golly am I glad we did. Setting out, I had no idea what to expect for the event. Every website was cryptic and very general, and no one was offering information on the individual events for Zwanze day, so I had no idea if there would be line or not.
The first thing you notice as you walk through the door of Lord Hobo is a giant red velvet curtain… because it is draped over the inner doorway, and thus blocks your view of the rest of the establishment. Once through the curtain, you are met by a dim red and black interior with some serious swanky style. Chalkboards can be found on some of the walls, wishing “Happy Zwanze Day,” showing off the cask selection, and letting us know about Cantillon. The bar itself is rich mahogany in color, the menus are thick black leather that holds thick parchment-like paper displaying their offerings. I’m not sure if it was a special happening for Zwanze day, but the bottle lists were all hand written and beautiful, as was the draught list though it was printed out if I recall correctly. The tulip and snifter rack at the bar was superb and massive, dangling above the main bar area like bats in a cave, but most surprising of all was how empty the rack was by the end of the day. As we sat and warmed up at the bar, our eyes all drifted to the ceiling where we spied the fantastic crenellated ceiling that Lord Hobo has, and which we were all quite taken with.
Before we even reached Lord Hobo we had decided to partake in their celebrated brunch, which honestly had me salivating before I got to the bar. Part of this decision to get there early to partake in the delicious brunch, of course, was the thought that it would put us ahead of the lines, if they did appear.
We got there right around eleven, and found the bar relatively empty and mellow, which garnered me some laughing at from my beautiful girlfriend. We ended up snagging a nice corner seat at the bar, but not even thirty minutes from our entrance the bar began to fill up, and it didn’t not stop filling till well after they poured Zwanze at three (except for the times when they stopped people from coming in due to fire code…). Needless to say, I got the last laugh with my girlfriend…
To begin the day the tap lists weren’t yet produced, but the knowledgeable bartender got right to the nitty gritty with us and let us know that they had one keg of non-Zwanze Cantillon on tap, and three offerings from Hill Farmstead. He suggested Anna, a funky saison, and my brother and I took him up on his suggestion while my girlfriend went with Susan, a deliciously juicy IPA that was also from Hill Farmstead. I must say that I was pretty stoked at this point, as I have never had any Hill Farmstead before, but have been hearing about it non-stop this year. It did not disappoint. Anna was moderately funky with great tastes of citrus lemon and breadiness to it, while Susan was a juicy hop-dream with a smell to die for. We were all quite pleased with our first orders, but soon we discovered that Zwanze wouldn’t be pouring till three, so we dug our asses into our stools and prepared ourselves for a good solid day of drinking.
It didn’t take my girlfriend or I long to desire some breakfast, and it didn’t take us long to choose what to eat either (we had prepped ourselves by perusing the menu online the week before). I went with the Duck Twice, which was two shirred duck eggs, a toasted baguette, and autumn spiced duck confit hash. The meal was delicious, and though the eggs were a little more solid than I prefer, they were delectable, and the hash was sweet and savory, and all types of wonderful. My girlfriend ordered the Eggs Benedict, which was a fairly straight forward Benedict with two poached eggs, Zoe’s Prosciutto, an English muffin, hollandaise sauce, and some superbly spiced hash layered with what I think was maple syrup. My girlfriend said it was the best Eggs Benedict she has ever had, and I had to agree as I sampled it. The hash for the Benedict was different than the ducks, providing rich candied sweet flavors below the delicious savory flavors of the hash. We were both very pleased, and left feeling like we’d had one of the best brunches of our lives. My brother only waited a short while before ordering an Eggs Benedict of his own, which he too thoroughly enjoyed.
For our next round of drinks, my brother opted to keep on drinking Anna, but I had to try more. The Cantillon on tap, I was told, was a two year old unblended lambic, a style that Cantillon had never served in the United States before. I was intrigued and I got it. The beer smelled richly fruity with funky leather, reminding me a lot of The Bruery’s Oud Tart (probably because that was the first truly sour beer I had ever had…). It tasted similarly, playing more towards the fruitier side of flavor than to the funky, with much of the barnyard funk mellowed by the sweet fruit. It was certainly not a horrible drink, and should most certainly be tried, but I tend to like a little barnyard in my lambics, so it really didn’t knock my socks off.
It was shortly after my second beer that we seriously started to examine some of the beers on the bottle list, and it was then that we got to discussing prices. My brother finally decided to buy the Cantillon Gueuze for a more manageable price of $14, but we seriously considered getting one of the $40 bottles before that. It led me to an interesting conversation and thought train on the pricing of beer.
As the owner of Lord Hobo points out, no one would bat an eye at paying $100 for a bottle of wine, but because its beer we suddenly get up an arms about it. He told the crowd at Zwanze Day that he has been cellaring some of the beers we drank for quite a few years now, and thus has put some serious time into the bottles. He also told the crowd to not buy the bottles if they thought they were too expensive, which I found rather smart and inspiring for him to say. His overall mannerism was very professional while still being laid back, which I found admirable.
Lord Hobo, however, definitely charges up for the price of their beers. Most of the beers on the tap list were $7 to $10 for a pour, which is quite an exorbitant amount to pay for beer on tap. That being said, some of these beers were super rare, like Hill Farmstead or Cantillon, and thus deserved a higher price. Some of the beers, though, did not deserve the price tag they were given. Especially such beers as Allagash White or Founder’s Breakfast Stout, which are superbly fantastic beers, but can be found at other bars for far cheaper than the prices that Lord Hobo was offering them at. I don’t really mean to criticize Lord Hobo on this, and in truth I actually like what they are doing. They are adding a fancy-chique to the beer world, and raising it to the same pinnacle that wine is held at. They are trying to argue for equality between beer and wine, which is awesome. At the same time, though, we are all used to beer being cheaper, and that is what has led so many people to falling in love with beer. Beer doesn’t hit your wallet quite like wine does. Beer is accessible to all walks of life and social statuses. High prices on fancy beer raises a number of questions that, to put it simply, are very hard to answer within my own head, let alone on paper. For now I will let the issue rest.
For her second drink, my girlfriend went with the Haverhill Brewery’s Cali Pom, of course the Haverhill Brewery is now calling itself The Tap, but I guess that does not change the names of some of their older beers. Cali Pom is a wheat beer with a little bit of sour funk (I think…), and a lot of nice creamy flavor, and it was also the cheapest beer on the menu, and the only one to cost less than seven dollars. I consider it a superb buy.
For my third beer, I went back to Hill Farmstead, so that I could say I tried everything they had to offer. Foster was the last beer offered from Hill Farmstead, and was an American Black Ale deserving of the Cascadian Dark Ale moniker by my labeling system (provide link to Black Ales Article). The beer smelled beautifully hoppy with a twist of smoky toasted chocolate thrown in there, and on the tongue it was a beautiful melding of smoke, roasted malt, chocolate, and light fruity hops that blend so well with the other flavors of the beer that the mouth just sighs with pleasure. This beer was my surprise hit of the day. I don’t know if it was my favorite, but it certainly was different from all the funky beers I tried, and certainly was something I want to return too.
My brother, meanwhile, was briefly making me doubt my order of Foster, as his bottle of Cantillon Gueuze was brought to the table and poured out a beautiful light caramel color with a lovely white head. The beer smelled perfectly barnyarded, and it pumped its flavor across the bar. On the tongue, it tasted just as great with big fruit leather notes that weren’t overly cloying, and played beautifully into the barnyard funk of the beer, caressing the mouth in superb puckering ecstasy with notes of hay and what beer-people like to refer to as horse blanket, though it most certainly did not taste like actual horse blanket. The beer was amazing.
After that it was quite a wait for Zwanze, and oh were we tempted to buy another beer in the meantime, though we all fought the temptation with thoughts of our pour wallets. We learned from a bartender that the special Cantillon Glasses and shirts that were supposed to be there for the event had not arrived at Lord Hobo, and that we would be drinking out of mundane glasses, which was only mildly disappointing, as the beer and food were far too good.
The owner of Lord Hobo gave a great speech before the pour, and we all raised our glasses to the wonder of Cantillon beer. Zwanze was a little lighter in color than the Gueuze with some more straw colors shining through, it smelled wonderfully tart, and tasted even more wonderful with big fruity notes that must have been the rhubarb that was thrown into the barrels with it. Zwanze’s taste proved difficult to pickout the individual flavors (probably due to all the beer I had had before it), but the barnyard funk was nicely present, though not as lovely as it had been in the gueuze, and the tart fruity leather notes were also nicely present alongside biting carbonation. Zwanze was a damn good beer that I wish I could have another taste of (or a six pack of, no matter how wrong that might be…). It was more than worth the wait, and Lord Hobo was more than worthy to host the event.
Good food, Good beer, Great cheer, and an all around wonderful day!