“Ah, my Belovéd, fill the Cup that clears
TODAY of past Regrets and future Fears:
Tomorrow!—Why, Tomorrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday’s Sev’n thousand
Approaching Redlight Redlight on Saturday to begin my shift for Zwanze Day, observing the line that had been stretching down the sidewalk since earlier that morning, my left eye began to twitch at the thought of serving all these people, keeping their glasses full, their faces smiling, assuaging their nearly unquenchable thirsts. Those who had been there the longest camped out in lawn chairs. Many toted coolers and cold cases. They had scoured their cellars for the bottle share, eager to show off the exotic and rare brews they had saved for this very occasion.
Gathering courage at the knowledge that these people were depending on me for access to the even more exotic and rarer beers that would only be available at Redlight Redlight on this Zwanze Day in the year of our Lord 2014, I regained my composure, donned heroic game-face and bowed with chivalric pomp at my adoring fans like an athlete about to play the most important game of his career or a soldier heading into a battle from whence he may not return, for the salvation of these same citizens, their freedoms, the ways of life that they hold dear. I waited for my adoring fans to erupt in wild applause. Any moment now the were sure to shower me in roses, lift me into the
air, so overwhelming was their love for me, their bartender on Zwanze Day.
I looked up. I saw faces turned down at smart phones, central Florida’s large beer-geek community chuckling amongst each other, sweaty and shuffling uncomfortably in the ninety degree heat. They are certainly a dedicated lot, but who can blame them? Zwanze Day only comes but
once a year, and Redlight Redlight is one of only twenty-three bars worldwide invited by Cantillon, the apex of the Belgian Lambic brewing tradition, invited to participate. If that wasn’t enough to get these geeks out in the middle of the muggy, Florida heat, Mandy and Brent had done an amazing job of putting together an absolutely unparalleled draft list of exciting and very hard to find
beers from Florida and across the world. Celebrities included Cigar City White Oak Jai Alai; B Nektar Zombies Take Manhattan, a cherry cyser aged in rye whiskey barrels; Anchorage Galaxy White IPA; The Bruery Oude Tart; and Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, an imperial Oatmeal stout brewed with coffee beans passed through the digestive tract of civets, but there were many newcomers to compete with the classics such as Angry Chair’s 3 Little Birds Berliner Weisse;
local beer guru Ron Raike’s Cherry Sour and Sour Grapes Saisons; and Redlight Redlight’s own Spanish Bombs, a saison brewed with Tempranillo grape must, and Singe Puant, a collaboration with Saint Somewhere. Brewed with the pungently confrontational durian fruit, Singe Puant literally means “stinky monkey” and has the distinction of being the most odoriferously unusual beer I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.
If I failed to mention your favorite, forgive me. There wasn’t a mediocre beer to be found on the extensive draft list, and yet despite this impeccable line up, Cantillon’s entourage were the unquestioned stars of the evening. We had Iris; Mamouche, a lambic infused with elderflowers;
the Classic Gueuze, a longtime personal favorite; and of course, that unicorn among ales, the ever elusive Zwanze beer itself, Cuvée de Florian, a dry-hopped lambic brewed with a generous dose of Belgium’s word-famous cherries, a beverage that once consumed shall never be seen again as Cantillon brews an entirely new beer for each annual celebration. Alas, were you not among the company at Redlight Redlight last Saturday or in one of twenty-three other bars across the
globe blessed with a single keg of this ruby elixir, you shall never know the esoteric pleasures that had once sat within. That is to say, you snooze you lose, brothers and sisters, and I weep for your loss, though it were my gain.
How is a bartender to prepare, both emotionally and physically, for such an endeavor as Zwanze Day? It wasn’t just the ever-building crowd outside the bar; a draft list brimming over with this many exotic brews was intimidating even to me, someone who has been working with craft beer for over seven years and drinking it much longer than that. As five o’clock, the moment the floodgates would open, quickly approached my co-workers and I ran through the drafts, sampling each one after the other. Not only was it educational, but it took the edge off of the anxiety and anticipation of the impending onslaught. I exhibited an uncharacteristic self-discipline by declining to sample the Cuvée de Florian until my shift was over. Anticipating the hysteria that would ensue
were we to offer the Zwanze beer on a first come first served basis, Redlight Redlight wisely portioned it out and made it available only to those with pre-purchased tickets, tickets that had sold out several weeks ago. Nevertheless, they were kind enough to set aside a full serving of the beer so that each member of the staff was able to enjoy it, but even so, a slight mathematical miscalculation or unforeseen problems with the CO2 pressure could waste precious ounces. All the same, I saw my sample of the beer as a beacon guiding me to the end of the strenuous evening, a reward for enduring the mania, and so I decided to wait.
They say time goes by fastest when one is having fun or under great stress. Bartending on Zwanze Day is a little bit of both. In any other situation people would form a line, but for some reason, while in bars the average drinker completely forgets about this most basic tenet of civilized
society. In order to manage this kind of hectic atmosphere on a day like Zwanze Day, my bartending style takes on a fast-paced but meditative series of patterns, like The Bride running through a routine of kung fu exercises at the cruel tutelage of Pai Mei. Take an order, pour the drink, receive payment, repeat. When obstacles appear, I dodge, block, or kick them out of the way as necessary. The sink is full of dirty glasses. With dizzying speed, I have them washed, drying, and ready for use before my next customer can voice her order. We’ve run out of our signature Redlight Redlight tulip stemware. With preternatural instinct I reach for the next best glass and have it filled, perfect one inch head of lacy foam billowing from the top. What the hell is
Rachel doing at the same tap handle I need to use this very moment?! I monitor my breathing, take a sip of water, and repeat in my mind the secret bartenders’ mantra I memorized when I answered the call. By the time Rachel is finished, I am refreshed in body, mind, and spirit and ready for more abuse. Watching the kegs of Iris and Mamouche blow barely an hour into the evening, I gave myself permission to indulge in a couple extra ounces of Classic Gueuze, knowing I would most likely not see it on draft for another year. Only moments later that keg followed its Cantillon cousins into beer heaven. In this way time flew by and stood still simultaneously. I’d look at the clock, shocked to realize that hours had passed without me noticing, while in other moments a measly ten minutes would press down on me with the weight of a Plutonian year. At some time
after midnight the bar had thinned out enough to function at peak efficiency without my assistance.
My watch ended, I threw my apron, towel, and bar key on the floor leaving them where they lay. I grabbed the nearest glass I could reach, felt my body rise from the surface of the earth, and floated in midair to the Zwanze tap. With a flourish and flick of the wrist I filled my vessel with the coveted nectar, which gushed forth as if from divine realms, blessed by Bacchus, and poured by nerieds. Putting my nose in the glass, I inhaled deeply, took in the aromas of fresh cherries and ancient earth, the Apollonian and Dionysian in perfect harmony, the competing but complimentary
scents of mountain air and pungent musty leather. The weight of it in my hand was imbued with a sparkling significance. It was the kind of drink over which even the nonreligious prayed before the imbibed. The mystics of old equated wine with transcendence because the poor fools had never heard of Cuvée de Florian, had gone up to their perspective gods before it had even been invented.
I drank it up in one gulp, and now I can’t even remember what it tasted like.
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