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September Beer Club

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Tonight was beer club! For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers and acquaintances at a local BYOB for drinks, food, and general revelry. This time, we stopped in at a local Pizza place for some deep fried dough, strombolis, and yes, pizza. It's not a big place and the pizza isn't as spectacular as the last beer club gathering, but we always manage to make due. Good attendance tonight too, and plenty of beer.

September Beer Club Selections
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some half-addled thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard disclaimers apply, this was a social gathering, so I wasn't paying too close of attention to what I was drinking and you should totes ignore what I'm writing and make up your own mind because I'm totally the worst and this post is definitely an ill-advised idea that I'm only doing out of tradition because I've done it for all previous iterations of beer club and are you even reading this? Why? The beer notes are below, in order of tasting, not necessarily in the order pictured (and some later attendees brought some stuff that is not pictured):

  • Platform Speed Merchant White IPA - Not expecting much out of this Ohio beer brought back by a visitor, fantastic citrusy nose, more typical IPA-like taste. Quite solid though, and worth a look on its own. B+
  • Pizza Boy Hop Test #1 (Cascade Single Hop) - Yep, it's a pale ale. The very definition of cromulence, this does nothing particularly special, but it's an enjoyable little pale ale. B
  • New Belgium Pumpkick - Whoa there, this is quite perfumey, moar ginger than anything else, but that perfumey character really overpowers everything else with this beer. Not horrendous, but not a particularly good pumpkin beer either. C+
  • Firestone Walker Union Jack - Back in the early days of this blog, this would have been an A worthy beer, but grade inflation is a bitch. It's still an accomplished and emminently accomplished IPA, well worth checking out. Delicious citrus/pine/malt balance. B+
  • Weyerbacher Tarte Nouveau - Very nice little tart beer, tart, crisp, refreshing, very light bodied and easy going, sorta beginner sour stuff but quite nice on its own. B+
  • Overshores Tripel Brun - Bottle a bit of a gusher, and thus carbonation levels a bit off, but this is basically a very raisiny Belgian strong dark. B
  • Brasserie De Blaugies / Hill Farmstead La Vermontoise - I know I've had this before, but apparently I never reviewed it. It's not quite up to speed with the best of Hill Farmstead, but it's a rock solid saison, earthy and spicy, quite delicious. B+
  • Fantôme Coffee Ruby - One of my contributions, this came off as surprisingly muted. There's some coffee character that is definitely present, but it's not overpowering at all, despite the fact that there doesn't seem to be a ton of other stuff going on with this beer. It's got a very, very mild funk to it, and the combination of the base with coffee doesn't entirely blesh, but it's certainly an interesting beer. A little weird, but could more interesting with more funk. Keeping in mind my legendary indifference to coffee, I'll give it a B
  • Cascade Figaro - This is typical Cascade sour here, which is to say, it's a fantastic little sour. I don't get a lot of fig or lemon peel out of it, but it's got that trademark Cascade lactic sour and oak character that just work so damn well. Generally agreed to be one of the best of the night. A-
  • White Birch Indulgence Ale (2014) - Not sure which version of this beer I tried (I think it's this retired 2014 version), but it was labeled as a Belgian Imperial Stout, and it definitely had a sorta brighter take on the imperial stout style that worked really well. Lots of rich malt, light roast, some hints of Belgian character, but with the style's inherent dark malt sweetness (i.e. not a dry or highly carbonated beer). Actually quite nice and among the better of the night. B+
  • Brewmaster Jack Barrel Aged Prinsipia Quad - Sounds great, but came out kinda limp, very boozy, a little raisiny Belgian character, but not at all balanced. Not terrible, but not quite getting the job done either. B-

And that just about covers it. We just got this one in under the wire, last day of the month. Will need to try and plan the next beer club soon. Great time, as always.

Fantôme Pissenlit

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I've been marveling at Fantôme beers for years now, how is it that I've never heard of the story behind its name? Fantôme plainly translates to "ghost", but it's actually a specific reference. According to legend, the ghost in question is that of Countess Berthe de La Roche, who was murdered on her wedding night and allegedly haunts the ruins of her home to this day. The full story is pretty wild.

It seems the Countess' wealthy father organized a tournament in order to find a man worthy of his daughter (and sole heir to his inheritance). Enter the Count of Montaigu, a knight famed for his jousting skills. He was already betrothed to Countess Alix de Salm, but abandoned her in favor of the more wealthy Countess. Due to his well-known prowess, there was only one last-minute challenger, a much smaller man who boasted little in the way of strength or even equipment. But this small rival was quick and nimble, and used those qualities to defeat his opponent (and this ain't no Disney tale, "defeat" in this case means the Count's throat was cut). And so the smaller rival won the affections of the Countess and were married that evening. In the morning, both were found dead. It turns out that the small rival was actually Countess Alix de Salm. Infuriated by her fiance's betrayal, she made a deal with the devil, disguised herself as a man, and took her revenge on both her former fiance and the object of his desire. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Or George R.R. Martin, because this is some Song of Ice and Fire shit right here.

Because it's always hard to tell what makes one of these different from another, this particular Fantôme is made with dandelion flowers and the typical melange of spices and funky yeasts. The label sez none of that, but it does feature some goober blowing the leaves off a dandelion so I'm pretty sure that's right. Let's see if this is worthy of the Countess' name:

Fantome Pissenlit

Fantôme Pissenlit - Pours a murky, dark orange/amber with finger of off-white head. Smells of grassy, almost vegetal hops (or perhaps that's just the dandelions) at first, then you get a little of that more traditional musky Belgian yeast, maybe a hint of dried fruit, raisins and the like. Taste is sweet, with an uncommon but only slightly funky middle, unidentifiable spices, vegetal flavors (again, presumably the dandelions coming through), raisins, dried fruit, and just faint hints of tartness towards the finish. It's weird, some sips feel much different than others, emphasizing one aspect of the flavor over another. I guess this keeps the sips coming though! Mouthfeel is medium bodied, moderate carbonation, slightly spicy, a little funky note, slightly sticky at times. Overall, gone are the days of the Smoketôme, but I feel like the funk factor has gone down considerably as well. Perhaps this will reassert itself in the near future. I certainly enjoyed this for what it was though and give it a mild B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a teku on 1/23/15.

I also snagged a regular Fantôme, my first since the famed Smoketômes of yore (in fact, I think I might even still have a Smoketôme down in the cellar somewhere), so I'm excited to see how that one's doing.

Fantôme Été

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A most elusive ghost, this is one of a series of seasonal Fantôme offerings based on, uh, the seasons. Insert hoary history lesson about how "Saison" translates to "Season" and was made on farms for the seasonal workers to drink out in the fields or some such. Été is the summer entry, and I don't believe I've ever even seen this one in the states. From what I understand, for whatever reason, it hasn't seen much distribution over here for several years... until now, apparently. Perhaps their year long bout of smokey latex funk has loosened demand a bit, thus freeing some stock for distribution. And the days of the Smoketôme are long gone, which is good, but does this beer stand up to the celebrated vintages of yore? I think not, but it was still fun to try. But then, Fantôme's charming lack of consistency is one of my favorite things about them - you never know what you'll get when you strap on your proton pack and catch some ghosts:

Fantome Ete

Fantôme Saison D'Erezée - Été - Pours a deep, murky reddish brown color with barely any head at all, just some bubbles from pouring vigorously. The nose is sweet, with some sense of spice (perhaps a faint hint of ginger in the nose - I'm not normally a fan, but it is very light here) and a little bit of that sour twang (not powerful, but it's there). Taste is mildly sweet, with a fruity kick, light sour cherries, maybe a little fruit by the foot. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, almost no carbonation, and quite sticky, especially in the finish. It feels a little under-attenuated and gloopy, but sometimes that sort of thing clears itself up in the bottle. I'd like to try one of this batch in a year and see what's going on with it. Plus, I know I'm particularly sensitive to carbonation issues, and while this is far from the worst example I've had, it's still too low. Overall, carbonation issue aside, it's got a nice character to it. Sort of like a fuller bodied but less sour Flanders Red. I actually had no real problem drinking this thing, I just really wish the carbonation was higher. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml corked and capped). Drank out of a wine glass on 12/12/14.

A disappointing tick, but I will forever be intrigued by Fantôme. I have some of the new batch of the standard saison, as well as another specialty that I've not tried before.

Fantôme Printemps

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Every once in a while some respected craft brewer will mention that they enjoy the occasional Miller High Life or something, and everyone loses their shit. In reality, there is something amazing about what the macro brewers do, and it's called consistency. These companies make a gajillion gallons of beer in dozens of facilities worldwide, and yet their resulting product is remarkably, almost mind-bogglingly consistent. The technical achievement, logistics, and efficiency that goes into making these beers is actually very impressive. They even go so far as to cryogenically freeze cans of beer to compare over long periods of time.

Craft brewers are often less consistent, for a variety of reasons. In most cases, this is well known and planned for, like IPAs with best-by dates that aren't that far off or bottle conditioned beers that are actually meant to evolve over time. Intense and fresh flavors are difficult to maintain any sort of consistency with, if only because you can't control what the consumer does with your beer. I suspect one of the reasons that hyped IPAs remain so highly rated is that they are almost always consumed very fresh. So I do think that Heady Topper is pretty consistent, but if it was the sort of beer that lingered on shelves for several months, I don't think it would have quite the consistency in the public's eye (incidentally, I have had an old can of Heady, and while it is still quite good, it's nowhere near the fresh Heady).

Enter Fantôme, a brewery that doesn't even pretend that their beers will be consistent. They have a regular range of saisons, but Dany Prignon is known to change up the recipes from year to year. Then you add in the fact that he's also working with wild yeasts, which are notoriously difficult to control. This leads to tremendous variation in bottles of Fantôme, sometimes even bottles from the same batch.

In 2013, there was a distressing trend of wild yeast gone smokey. I picked up on just how different this was from the Fantômes of yore, but found even these Smoketôme batches to be inconsistent. I had one that had a light, almost pleasant smoke character that complemented more traditional Belgian yeast character, and then I had one that tasted mostly like burnt rubber. In years past, Fantôme had a distinctly tart, lemony character. Lately, it's been more traditional saison, with a more earthy Brett character. I'm sure there are many people who feel burned by the inconsistency, who wonder if they got a bad bottle, but are hesitant to shell out more cash for an unpredictable experience. It's an understandable sentiment, but then, this unpredictability, this inconsistency is actually what makes Fantôme so intriguing to me. I value consistency as much as the next guy, but sometimes you want something surprising. I find Fantôme's wildly diverging beers to be charming for precisely this reason. Not every brewery should aspire to this sort of inconsistency, but Fantôme is not every brewery. This might not be a popular sentiment, but by all means, leave more on the shelf for me.

Here we have the Printemps, actually a seasonal Spring release whose recipe has changed considerably over the years. Fortunately, gone are the days of the Smoketôme, so fear not, the Ghosts are back:

Fantome Printemps

Fantôme Saison D'Erezée Printemps - Pours a golden orange color with a finger of fluffy white head that sticks around for quite a while. Smells strongly of Italian herbs, Oregano and Basil, along with that distinct musty funk character. In general, it kinda smells like pizza. The taste definitely displays more in the way of funk, musty and earthy, with that Italian Herb character coming through strong as well. It has some more typical fruity, spicy saison character lingering in the background, but that Italian herb, savory pizza character is what is really doing its thing here. Mouthfeel is very well carbonated, medium bodied, a little spicy, a bit harsh. Overall, a fascinating spiced saison, light funk, complex, interesting. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 10/10/14. lot aj 13 best before end 2018.

Perhaps because of the Smoketôme debacle, I am seeing Fantôme around more often these days. It's still a rarity, but there is at least a chance to snag some every now and then, if you have your PKE meters running, that is.

Fantôme Santé 15!

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The word "Santé" roughly translates to "to your health", and as such, is often used as a toast, akin to "Cheers" or "Prost" and so on. But in this case, it has a double meaning. Fantôme brewer Danny Prignon brews a new beer every year for a charity that helps those in need of healthcare not provided by standard means, and thus a second meaning of Santé comes into play. That sneaky ghost, always doing the right thing. It's hard to find much info on these beers, but I gather that the recipes are different every year, though they are always saisons (as befitting Fantôme's general nature). This particular edition is actually from 2011, and seems to be particularly well regarded, though it is clearly showing its age at this point:

Fantome Sante 15!

Fantôme Santé 15! - Pours a golden yellow color with a finger of bubbly white head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edges that stays around for a while. Smells of earthy, fruity funk, Brett is clearly doing its thing here. Taste is very sweet with a surprising fruity note, almost raisiny, like an aged dubbel or quad, though this is clearly its own thing. That Brett kicks in towards the middle with some tart fruit that intensifies into a full blown sour note in the finish. Mouthfeel is on the upper end of medium bodied, with lower than normal carbonation for Fantôme, but still ample enough to work. A bit of stickiness lingers in the finish as well. Overall, this is yet another interesting offering from Fantôme. It's showing its age a bit, but it's really brightening my outlook after a long day at work. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 10/18/13. Bottled July 2011, Released 6&7 August 2011 (charity weekend).

Fantôme continues to fascinate, and I'm always up for trying a bottle of the stuff. You never know what you're going to get.

August Beer Clubbery


Tonight was Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded folk from my work who get together every month at a local BYOB for drinkery and fun. A light turnout this week, so we didn't actually get through every beer pictured below, but we made a valiant effort and actually drank a few that aren't pictured. I know, I'm disappointed by my neglect to capture those additional beers in photographic form too, but we'll just have to live with this:

August Beers
(Click for larger version)

Standard tasting note disclaimers apply: these notes are not trustworthy in any way, shape, or form, because whatever, I had fun tonight. In approximate order of consumption, not necessarily how pictured.

  • Fantôme Saison - One of my contributions, it seems that Fantôme hasn't quite emerged from their smoky, rubbery funk phase just yet, though this one wasn't quite as janky as the one I reviewed recently. It actually had more of a Saison Dupont feel, with just a bit of smoky, barnyard funk to make things interesting. I'll keep it at a B+ and pine for the lemony, sour Fantômes of yore.
  • Dale's Pale Ale - Pretty standard fare, but excellent as such beers go. Always a good choice, and I'll hit it with a B+, just like before.
  • Kaedôme Saison (regular version) - So my regular homebrewed saison is actually drinking quite well at this point, big spicy yeast notes, plenty of Saaz hops, not as much Nelson Sauvin hops as I was going for, but quite a pleasant brew nonetheless. About half the batch is still in secondary, dosed with Brettanomyces (like Fantôme, hence the name of this beer). Probably still a few months away from that sucker, but even this non-funky version is doing pretty well. Another B+
  • Bear Republic Red Rocket Ale - Rock solid hoppy amber ale, not quite as mindblowing as some of those hoppy imperial reds, but a worthy, highly drinkable beer. Yet another B+. I swears, not everything in this post will be rated the same.
  • Ken's English White Beer - My buddy's homebrew, this one was made with wheat, rose hips, and an English ale yeast. A rather odd combination, but it works out reasonably well in the end. Nice wheat character, not much in the way of rose hips, but some English yeast character (thankfully without the diacetyl note that I often get from such yeasts)> Not a mind-blower, but a nice summer beer. B-
  • Ken's Roggenbier - Another of Ken's homebrews, and possibly my favorite of the homebrews tonight. Nice spicy rye character mixed with hefeweizen notes from the yeast. Really nice combination that works very well. B+
  • Port City Essential Pale Ale - Terrible. Ok, not quite that bad, but not particularly good either. A sorta muddy mess of hops and malt, never quite coalescing into good.C+
  • Dominion Oak Barrel Stout - Now this one is legitimately terrible. Ok, so some people like that British diacetyl note sometimes, but I cannot stand it, and it just overshadowed everything else about this beer for me. Not undrinkable, but definitely not good. D
  • Stone / Farking / Wheaton W00tstout - Ah, now we come to my favorite beer of the night, the Wil Wheaton collaboration with Stone and, a huge imperial stout made with pecans, wheat, and rye, partially aged in bourbon barrels. Great rich sweetness, a hint of that bourbon and oak, with a nice overall malt character. A bit heavy, but quite a nice beer, really glad I got to try some. A-
  • Ken's Irish red Ale - Another homebrew, this time a pretty straightforward Irish Red that was made with potatoes, a pretty nice combo. Sweeter than your typical Irish Red, though it keeps that same flavor profile and works well enough. I'll go with a standard B for this one.
And that just about covers it. For those who saw the Eclipse beer in the picture and are upset that we didn't get to it, do not fear, I reviewed it a while back. You're welcome. See you next month...

Fantôme Magic Ghost

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Just when you think you've got your head wrapped around the saison style, Dany Prignon drops a bomb like this on your face. No stupid memes necessary, just look at the damn stuff. Brewed with Green Tea (and Prignon's usual secret spices), it looks like friggin' Ecto Cooler, so strap on your proton packs. We've got some ghosts to drink:

Fantome Magic Ghost

Fantôme Magic Ghost - Sweet merciful crap, look at that stuff. It looks like straight up ecto cooler. A vivid green color with a finger of, yep, very light green head. Calls to mind crappy St. Patricks day stunts, but this is anything but. Listen! Do you smell something? It actually smells utterly fantastic, great tangy funk (none of that smokey stuff that you see in recent regular Fantômes), some spice, and green tea - a surprisingly harmonious combination. Fortunately, the taste bears that out. The funky Brett character is perfect right now, slight fruity tartness, well balanced with traditional saison spice and sweetness, with that tea taking a bit of a back seat, but still present and harmonious. Lots of complexity, tea coming out a little more as it warms up. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, crisp, and a little on the dry side. Really pleasant to drink. Overall, this works shockingly well. Matching this sort of complexity with this sort of balance is difficult. I cannot believe this sucker, probably my favorite Fantôme since my first taste. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 7/5/13. Lot no: b. Best before: February 2014.

I've heard that the color can vary on these, that some pour out an almost neon green, and some are darker or more of an olive green. I found mine to be more on the brighter side, not quite neon, but dark enough that I found it difficult to photograph (I took some pictures that were barely green at all). Anywho, Fantôme continues to blow my mind. Even when I don't particularly love something, it's always an interesting experience, and while some may poo-poo the inconsistency between batches, I find that to be part of their charm. Stay tuned, more Ghost reviews in the coming weeks.

Fantôme Brise-BonBons!


Last week, I got an email from some guy named Dany. Oh, it's the brewer from Fantôme, and he ran across my recent review of Fantôme Saison, a beer that has been inconsistent, but great (he said it's not always perfect, but he doesn't want to do the "same basic commercial work, like ... too much belgian brews"). We exchanged a few emails, and Dany recommended that I try out Brise-BonBons, which he said "USA amateurs" seemed to enjoy because it's more hoppy than your typical Belgian stuff. Fortunately, I just happened to get my hands on a bottle of this stuff, so I cracked one open this weekend, and yep, this one is competing for the very best Fantôme I've ever had. As the bottle sez:

With joy and a little bit of mischief, Fantôme brewer Dany Prignon dedicates this very bitter beer to all of the many varieties of brise-bonbons - literally, ball-breakers - in the world. Specifically, this beer is meant for wise-guys, braggarts, pains-in-the-ass, muck-rakers, troublemakers, know-it-alls, stuffed-shirts, blow-hards and bores, as well as nut-cracking, wind-bag, prattling-on, self-appointed experts on everything, and nose-in-the-air snobs, convinced they can do anything better than you. Dany intended to make a beer too bitter for a normal person to enjoy. The problem is, everyone loves it! Guess we're all just a bunch of brise-bonbons sometimes...
So I guess it's time to break some balls:

Fantôme Brise-BonBons!

Fantôme Brise-BonBons! - Pours a cloudy yellow gold color with a couple fingers of fluffy white head. Smells deeply of funky Brettanomyces, lots of earthy aromas, a little yeasty spice, but also a sorta brightness to it. A kinda lemony bubblegum aspect, but, uh, better than that probably sounds. Perhaps even some hops up in the mix. Really nice nose, actually. Taste starts off sweet and spicy, like a Dupont-style saison, but then that funky Brett moves in, bring that earthiness and maybe some bright lemony tartness too. It finishes with a really well matched dry bitterness, presumably from the hops. Mouthfeel is perfectly carbonated (effervescent might be an overstatement, but it's got a high carbonation), crisp on the palate, refreshing, and dry. Overall, this is right up there with my favorite Fantôme experiences, fantastic beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/3/13.

If I may name-drop Dany again, he also recommended I try some Magic Ghost, that saison brewed with green tea that looks like straight-up ecto-cooler. I just happen to have recently acquired a bottle of that stuff as well, so keep an eye out for a review in a few weeks.


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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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