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Blaugies Saison D'Epeautre

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Started by a pair of married schoolteachers in their hometown of Blaugies, these folks have been brewing in their quaint farmhouse garage since 1987. That's a pretty long time for an American brewer, but in Belgium, where some brewers have histories dating back centuries, it's a young brewery (Michael Jackson once quipped that this beer was "A fine revival"). Everything they make is a saison, so you know it's a good bet, even if you're playing Belgian roulette. This particular example is made with Spelt and Dupont's yeast strain, but despite being very yeast-driven, it manages to remain distinct from most of Dupont's classic beers:

Blaugies Saison D Epeautre

Brasserie de Blaugies Saison D'Epeautre - Hoo boy, the pressure in this bottle must've been massive, that cork could have punctured the ceiling if I wasn't careful. Pours a slightly cloudy straw yellow color with massive amounts of bubbly head and decent retention, though little in the way of lacing. Smells of dusty, musty belgian yeast, a little spice, like clove and coriander, and faint hints of fruity esters. Taste has a big spice note to it, the clove and coriander from the nose, plenty of musty yeast, with hints of bright fruit coming through. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, quite dry as well. Overall, this is a fantastic, very well executed example of a rather straightforward saison, one I'd like to revisit for sure. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 5/2/15.

Well, now I need to go find everything Blaugies ever brewed. Super.

BBQ Beer Club

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Due to the capricious whims of Mother Nature, we had to push beer club back a ways, very nearly missing the month of January. But thanks to a no-show on yesterday's storm, conditions were fine (if a little cold) tonight, where we hit up a new BYOB BBQ place, shared some beer, did some "Adult" Mad Libs ("I need a noun." "Assless Chaps."), and generally just had fun. For dinner, I ordered something called "Loose Meat", and drove everyone crazy attempting to make double entendres about it. In case you were wondering, this is what loose meat looks like:

Loose Meat
(Click to Embiggen)

It has a nice phallic arrangement, but the feng shui could be a little better if the brisket and pulled pork were a little far back, don't you think? Also of note, the parsley merkin. Anyways, it was good stuff, and we had some decent beer to go with it:

January Beer Club 2015
(Click to Embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, thoughts on each are below. Standard beer nerd disclaimers apply. I'm sorry, but the BBQ place did not have a hermetically sealed environment suitable for proper note taking. Also, I didn't really take notes. I'm the worst. In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the pic):

  • Kaedrôme Saison - Hey, remember that saison I dosed with Brett, like, a year ago? It's doing reasonably well right now. It's carbed up to a drinkable state, though still not as effervescent as I'd like. But the flavor is there, and it's doing reasonably well. B
  • New Belgium/Three Floyds Lips Of Faith - Grätzer - My first Grätzer, and um, it's a weird style. Light smokiness, very thin, with a weird tartness in the finish. A perfect beer for this situation, as I'm happy to try something like this, but I'm not sure I'd go out of my way for more. C+
  • Left Hand St. Vrain Tripel - A pretty standard American take on a tripel, a little too sticky, but a nice palate cleanser after the Grätzer. B
  • Wicked Weed Terra Locale Series - Appalachia - I've heard great things about Wicked Weed, so I was really looking forward to this, and a Brett saison made with sweet potatoes and grits sounds like it could work, but I found it a bit on the bland side. Nothing wrong with it, per say, but there's not a lot of funk, and it just felt a little on the dry side. It's certainly cromulent and I could probably drink plenty of it, and maybe it was just that this is not ideal for a tasting like this, but I was disappointed. B
  • Chimay Red - Yep, it's Chimay all right. I've never been a huge fan of this particular expression though. B
  • Cigar City Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale - Rock solid take on a brown ale. Not going to knock your socks off, but it's a tasty alternative to macro slop. B+
  • Almanac Devil's Advocate - Another fantastic little sour from Almanac, very tasty, vinous, sour, oaky, delicious. I don't normally think of "hoppy" and "sour" going together very well, but these folks are doing it right. Probably my favorite beer of the night. A-
  • SoChesCo Valentine's Day Chocolate Milk Stout - A friend's homebrewed milk stout, asolid take on the style, very tasty. B
  • SoChesCo Pennsyltucky Chocolate Milk Stout - The same stout as above, conditioned on bourbon soaked oak, which wound up as a light character. You could definitely taste the difference drinking them side by side, but I don't think I'd have pegged this as a bourbon oaked beer if I drank it blind (my own Bourbon Oaked Bomb & Grapnel fared little better on that account). B
  • Bière De L'Amitié (Green Flash & Brasserie St. Feuillien) - A very interesting and different beer. Standard Belgian yeast spice and fruit, but also some citrus hoppiness, and something that really felt like they dosed it with white grape juice (I don't think they did, but that's what kept coming to mind). B
  • Ken's Homebrewed Creme Brulee Stout Clone - Holy vanilla, Batman! Like the Southern Tier inspiration, this is incredibly sweet and it's got a great nose that I could just sniff all night long. I think there might be more vanilla here, but I love me some vanilla. B
  • Stone Bourbon Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard Ale - Another beer that I was looking forward to, but which didn't quite live up to expectations. It was a fine beer, one of the better of the night actually, but I didn't get a tone of Bourbon barrel character out of this. It felt like the barrels muted the aromatic aspects of the hops while leaving the bitterness. Fortunately, the Bourbon sweetens it up a little, so it's still reasonably well balanced (er, for Arrogant Bastard), but it's not something you really need to drop everything and try (like, for example, Stone's Fyodor's Classic). B+
At this point, we decided to call it a night, and we didn't get to the last two beers. Oh well, there's always next month, which should come up soon!

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.

Liquid Confidential

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Most of the time, when you're talking about beer aged in a wine barrel, you're talking about a sour beer. The wild yeast and souring bacterias seem to produce something that works harmoniously with the acid and tannin character of wine. My experience with non-sour wine barrel aging is somewhat more limited, but also quite variable. When it comes to red wine barrels, you've got something like Victory's Red Thunder, which was fine but unremarkable, and Dock Street's Barrel Aged Prince Myshkin RIS, which had a fabulous barrel character that didn't really give much red wine, but lots of oak and vanilla (unfortunately, also a distinct lack of carbonation, which really put a damper on things for me). Two very different beers (though in fairness, the Dock Street barrel was on its third use, which does make a difference).

Then there's Mikkeller's Red Wine BA Black Hole, which is probably most relevant to this post, as To Øl are basically the spawn of Mikkeller. They've got the same freewheeling gypsy brewer mentality going on, and indeed, both Mikkeller's Black Hole beers and To Øl's Liquid Confidential beers are brewed at De Proef in Belgium (given such, I have to wonder if the De Proef folks were involved in some way, perhaps contributing a house yeast or some such that lends such a familiar character). Both use a large imperial stout as a base that is then released on its own or aged in a variety of barrels. The only real difference is that the Liquid Confidential beers incorporate Chili peppers into the mix. The result? Let's find out:

To Øl Wine Barrel Aged Liquid Confidential

To Øl Liquid Confidential (Wine Barrel) - Pours a black color with a finger of light brown colored head that sticks around for a bit. A very nice nose, some roasted malt, adobo and chipotle chiles, and lots of vanilla. Taste has a nice roasted malt character, some sweetness, followed by some chocolate and spice in the middle, not quite as prominently as in the nose (or as identifiable), with just a hint of that wine barrel in the finish. No sourness, just a light fruity note in the aftertaste. As it warms, the barrel and wine tannins come out more, but it's not quite as harmonious a combination as, say, bourbon would be. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated, and a little sticky. As it warms, there's an astringency that emerges in the finish as well. Overall, it's a decent beer. It's definitely interesting to try a non-sour red wine aged stout, but I can't say the price tag for these is really worth it. B

Beer Nerd Details: 12.3% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 12/12/14. Label has a number stamped on there: 11161310 (November 2013?)

Oddly, RateBeer and Beer Advocate don't list this variant, instead only mentioning the Cognac and Sherry barrel versions. Not sure what's up there, and it does look like the Sherry label is at least similar... Regardless, I have to admit that I'm not all that interested in exploring more of To Øl's catalog. I could see myself trying something of theirs again, but I won't be going out of my way after two decidedly mediocre experiences...

December Beer Club

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For reasons outside of my control, I was unable to attend the November Beer Club. I am, myself, doubting my commitment to Sparkle Motion, but I managed to pull it together and attend this month's beer club. For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and fun (which is not optional). This month, we hit up our favorite local pizza joint (and a regular delivery option here at Kaedrin HQ), America's Pie. Most attendies partook in the off-menu Pizza Pocket Pie option, a delightful deep-fried stromboli-like concoction that I have certainly devoured on occasion. Oh yeah, and we had beer too:

December Beer Club
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some completely unreliable thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard beer nerd disclaimers apply, if you disagree, you're probably right and I am wrong. It has long been established that I am totally the worst. Stop harping on it, ok? In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the pic):

  • Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose - Salty and sweet, with lots of that tart blood orange character making itself known. Not a mind-blower, but very nice nonetheless, would make a great summer beer. Decent way to start the night though! B+
  • SoChesCo Marianne IPA - A homebrewed IPA from one of our regular attendees, this is part of pair of IPAs brewed as one batch, then split in secondary. This one is straight up IPA. The other was does with fresh chopped ginger (it would be titled Ginger IPA, get it?) As IPAs go, this is pretty standard stuff, clearly using Chinook somewhere in the recipe. Very nice! B+
  • Kaedrin Christmas Ale (2011) - My homebrewed Christmas Ale... from 3 years ago! It's holding up reasonably well. Much of the spice character has faded away, but the base was robust enough to make for a decent light drinking option. When fresh, this was probably right up there with my favorite batches of homebrew. After 3 years, it's definitely degraded a bit, but it's still worth drinking. B
  • Maredsous 8 - Brune - Pretty standard Belgian Dubbel stuff, though this seems much more raisiny than I remember. B
  • Spring House The Martians Kidnap Santa! Egg Nog Stout - Wonderful nose, milk stout with a heaping helping of vanilla and a light spice. The taste doesn't quite live up to that, though it's certainly fine. Definitely worth trying. B+
  • Jack-O-Traveler Shandy - I'm not much of a shandy kinda guy, but this is bad even for a shandy. Something about the Pumpkin mixed with the lemon just doesn't work. As noted at the table, it kinda tastes like Lysol. I'm feeling particularly ungenerous at the moment, so we'll go full F
  • Earth Eagle Puca - A pumpkin porter, this had a fabulous, spicy nose, though like the Spring House beer above, the taste just didn't hold up to the nose. It's certainly a fine beer though, and worth trying if you like that sorta dark pumpkin option. B
  • Shiner Bock - Tastes like Texas! Obviously nothing special, but it still holds a nostalgic value with me. B
  • ShawneeCraft Frambozenbier - Despite yesterday's disappointing, mildly infected Bourbon Barrel Porter, I shared this beer with everyone, and they seemed to love it, just like I did. B+
  • Hardywood Gingerbread Stout - I've heard many things about this sucker, and now that Hardywood is distributing up here, I'm starting to see these things show up more often. Alas, I have to admit that amongst the typical Pumpkin/Holiday spices, Ginger is probably my least favorite, so this was good, but not quite the mind-blower I'd been lead to believe. (Oddly, I love gingerbread cookies and gingersnaps, but I guess this just had the wrong proportions). I'm sure I could easily drink an entire bottle of the stuff, but I'm glad I got to try it in this tasting atmosphere. Now, the Bourbon Barrel version of this beer is another matter entirely! That's something I really want to try. B
  • Victory Earth & Flame - A collaboration with a tiny local brewery called Earth+Bread brewery, this is a smoked Scotch ale aged in Bourbon Barrels. The smoke is pretty well muted by the Bourbon Barrels, leading to a nice fruity, bourbony character. Not quite top tier (and not quite at the level of Otto in Oak, another BBA smoked Victory beer). Something I'd definitely like to revisit in more detail. B+
  • Vicarus Winter 2013 - This is great up front, Belgian Strong Dark, highly carbonated and very dry up front, with some raisiny character apparent in the finish (which is not as dry as the initial taste would have you believe). That being said, I can't help but feel that this would probably have been better if it were fresher. Still quite decent B
  • Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout - Holy coffee, Batman! My ambivalence to coffee in beer is legendary, though I've grown to appreciate some of the more subtle varieties that have a lot of other things going on. This one is almost pure coffee grounds, which I imagine folks who love coffee would be really into, but which doesn't translate well to me personally. B
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (2014) - The latest incarnation is as good as ever, and if anything, it's not as hot as the past couple years (it's actually "only" 13.8% ABV this year, apparently an artifact of a cool spring and summer). The great satan of AB/Inbev or not, I love this beer. A
And that's all for now. Already looking forward to January.

Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille

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The conventional beer nerd line about lambic seems to indicate that only Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen are worth buying. That may be unfair (both make wonderful beer), but try finding a bottle of either that is not absurdly overpriced at a bar (and they'll make you open it at the bar too - no takeout). I would also put Guezerie Tilquin in that upper tier and I'm pretty sure that the only reason it's not is that people are so sick of overpaying for Cantillon and 3F that they don't want to acknowledge Tilquin's greatness, least they fly off the shelves, never be to seen again. Because I have, like, three regular readers, I have the luxury of not worrying about such things.

Regardless, the notion that only those three brands are worth checking out is patently ridiculous. It's true that most anything you get from them will be fantastic and worth the stretch (and even worth, sometimes, the price gouging you get at restaurants), but there's a pretty reliable second tier of lambic producers that are worth seeking out. Think Boon's Marriage Parfait line or Girardin's Black Label, amongst others. Oud Beersel certainly fits that mold as well.

Perhaps one thing that holds these breweries back a bit is that they put out younger, blander versions of their beer (with fruited varieties relying more on syrupy adjuncts than actual fruit). Boon's Marriage Parfait Gueuze is fantastic, but their regular gueuze doesn't quite stand up to the big guys (the Marriage Parfait tends to incorporate more 3 year old lambic into their blend than the regular). The blending process is key, and indeed, Drie Fonteinen still gets a significant portion of their wort from Boon (I'm pretty sure they are gradually decreasing their dependency on Boon and have expanding their own brewing operations, but it's pretty clear that the difference is aging and blending). Oud Beersel has a similar line of younger lambics and a line of "Vieille" lambics which seem to incorporate more mature stocks into the blend. While I wouldn't put this up there with Cantillon's fruited sours, it's still a pretty darn solid Kriek:

Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille

Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille - Pours a striking ruby red color with tons of fluffy pink head. Seriously, that image doesn't quite capture the striking appearance of this beer... I shall endeavor to take better pictures (I know, I'm the worst.) Smells of tart cherries, oak, and some dusty, musty funk - definitely a different house character than the other lambics I've had. Taste hits with tart, jammy fruit up front, moves quickly into some oak, that dusty, earthy funk in the middle, and a quick quick sour kick in the finish. When cold, its got sharp edges, but it smooths out a little as it warms. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, dry up front but sticky in the finish, not as much oak as expected, but it gets fuller as it warms. Overall, a nice cherry lambic, certainly not top tier, but perhaps top of the middle tier... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a Charente glass on 11/29/14. Best Before: 18.04.2032.

Not bad for a brewery that's been operating since 1882 (with a brief blip about a decade ago where it was ownerless), at this point I'd certainly like to check out their Oude Gueuze Vieille

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.

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

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