Zwanze Day is a fictitious holiday created by Jean Van Roy, owner and brewmaster of Brasserie Cantillon. His intention is to celebrate and honor the playful spirit of the people of the Flanders region in Belgium, where the word “zwanze” describes a good-natured type of humor.
Each year Van Roy blends a batch of a special lambic creation and bestows a keg of it upon locations deemed suitable. There may be no better place on earth for such an honor than Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Dexter, where whimsy is an ingredient in each brew.
This year, only 60 locations throughout the world were chosen to participate. Each one tapped their keg simultaneously, coinciding with Cantillon’s tapping in Brussels which equated to 3 p.m. in our Eastern Time Zone. A toast was made with Ron and Laurie Jeffries, the duo driving the success of the hosting business. It was the first time any place in Michigan had been given the opportunity to host the event. With some luck it won’t be the last, but not all event sites are chosen for repeats in subsequent years.
Perhaps the outstanding efforts of the staff of Jolly Pumpkin, and distributor Mike Turriff of M4 CIC, will be rewarded again. They curated a world-class festival unlike any other location fortunate enough to land a celebratory keg. The brewery grounds hosted a nearly full capacity crowd, in spite of some unexpected backlash over the price of admission. Aficionados who were willing and able to invest in attending had access to over 50 beers from more than 20 breweries rarely, if ever, found in Michigan.
Good weather held out in spite of the dark clouds on the skyline and occasional threatening rumbles of thunder. Smiles and good attitudes were found all around. “I think it’s probably one of the most well run beer fests I’ve been to, with a great low-key crowd,” said Courtney Satko. She decided to attend after weighing the financial cost of her ticket with the benefits, ultimately figuring the proceeds being given to the Feelgood Tap project was worth it as much as the beer selection was.
Executive Director of Feelgood Tap, Stephen Roginson, was happy to participate and generate awareness of what his charity does with the funds raised. It began in-house at Batch Brewing Company in March 2015 as a partnership with the Multiple Sclerosis Society to do work that was near and dear to Roginson, a founder of Batch, whose mother battles MS. Since receiving their 501(c)(3) status less than one year ago, the project has evolved to support a different cause each month and has attracted involvement from nearly 30 establishments that host a dedicated tap. “This is the first time that we’ve partnered on an event,” said Roginson. The charity’s recipient for the month of October, including Zwanze Day, will be the Michigan Humane Society.
According to Cantillon’s van Roy, this year’s Zwanze beer is a two-year-old Lambic aged on a mix of 82% raspberries, 18% blueberries, and .05% bourbon vanilla beans at a rate of 300 grams of fruit per liter. That’s approximately 10.5 ounces of fruit in 32 ounces of Lambic when converted to American standard measurements, a generous and expensive endeavor that resulted in a luscious deep pink beer that pleased the palates of guests.
Laurie Jeffries, Brewery Director at Jolly Pumpkin, said her husband Ron “mentioned to Shelton Brothers a few years ago that it’d be really cool to get a Zwanze Day, and he just put it out to the universe. We got notification earlier this year that there was a possibility; that we were on the list.” In August they were notified they were definitely a selected location, but it wasn’t clear there would be enough beer to send a keg until a few weeks before the big event. Luckily it was allocated to them and arrived along with four more of Cantillon’s coveted beers.
Ron Jeffries, whose title at Jolly Pumpkin is Chief Squeegee Operator/Brewer, can’t recall when he had his first Cantillon, but remembers it was not at all what he was expecting. Eventually he met Jean Van Roy at a Shelton Brothers festival and “was so starstruck I couldn’t talk. I could barely smile, swallow, and nod. Seeing him blending last year (at the festival), I was literally blown away by his blending skills and palate. I blend beers almost every day and was just floored. He’s a master, without a doubt. For him to choose us as one of the 60 places in the world to serve this special Zwanze beer is a huge honor for me personally,” he said.
Similar to Ron Jeffries’ respect for Jean Van Roy, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company founder Jonathan Buford expressed his admiration for Jeffries. “Ron’s cool and Ron likes us, and you run with that when Ron likes you! You just do. It’s like the cheerleader in high school you don’t know why she likes you but you’re gonna like her back. If she invites you to a party you go with her,” he quipped when explaining their long trek from Gilbert, half an hour southeast of Phoenix. The two also met at a Shelton Brothers festival, but it wasn’t until a second encounter at Anchorage Brewing Company‘s Culmination event that they bonded. Patrick Ware, partner and brewer, said it happened when Buford blurted out “I hope I never see you again” to Jeffries as they parted and instead of being offended he turned around and told him it was one of the funniest things he had ever heard. Buford admits he doesn’t know where the idea to say that came from but he’s glad it happened. “He appreciates people who don’t take this too seriously, like him,” he speculated.
Revelry Brewing Company of Charleston, South Carolina is setting their sights on eventually producing enough beer to distribute in Michigan. For Jay Daratony, Revelry’s “janitor”, participating in Zwanze Day at Jolly Pumpkin was a homecoming of sorts. He’s originally from Dexter and still has family in the area.
Head brewer Ryan Coker spoke about their new barrel cellar coming online soon with up to 300 barrels and 12 foeders that will hopefully increase production to a point where they can share it here.
“We want to do it (distribute) in the right pockets I guess so to speak, put it in the right hands,” he said, implying Michigan beer lovers are capable of appreciating it.
The Revelry crew enjoyed their visit for Zwanze Day. Coker joked “What’s cool about Dexter is I had a checklist and it was to catch a fish, ride a horse, shoot a gun, and drive a four-wheeler, and I checked all the boxes today and still made it to the beer fest on time!” Sean Fleming, a Revelry partner, added “This is fun, it’s a total honor for us.”
That’s a sentiment shared by nearly everyone who was fortunate enough to be present for the first of what many hope will become an annual tradition in Dexter.
Photography: Steph Harding