Recently in Saison Category

BFM XV (√225 Saison)

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It's January! Cold, desolate January! You know what that means? It means it's time to drink some obscure saisons from Switzerland. Brewed for the 15th anniversary of BFM (hence the square rooting of 225, though it's unclear why they squared it in the first place), those wacky swiss brewers that make Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien, this is a rustic saison style beer aged in old Bon Chien barrels (i.e. mostly third use wine barrels). There appears to be some sort of blending of aged beer and fresh beer, but Google translate produces text that is charmingly vague on the matter. So grab your slide rules, nerds! It's time to take the square root of saison:

BFM XV Saison

BFM XV (√225 Saison) - Bottle isn't quite a gusher, but it could easily get that way if you're not careful... Pours a very cloudy golden yellow color with huge amounts of billowing, dense head and visible sediment. Smells funky, with tart, vinous fruit, oak, and a little mustiness. Taste hits standard saison tropes pretty hard up front, sweet with spicy Belgian yeast, but then the tart, vinous fruit emerges in the middle, white wine, grapes, a little oak with some musty funk closing things out. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, low to medium bodied, oak tannins and yeasty spice dancing around. Overall, this is an excellent little saison. Don't let it linger on the shelf (or do, it will be more for us). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (33 cl swing top). Drank out of a teku on 1/17/15. Batch 3. Best by 2016.

I've got a bottle of 2013 Bon Chien that I'm hoping to spring on some unsuspecting friends next week, which should be fun. And I may need to snag something else from these folks, though who knows what I'll tackle next.

Tired Hands You Are the Emptiness

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The latest in a series of saisons aged in wine barrels that usually incorporate local fruits sourced from the likes of rockstar farmers like Tom Culton. This sixth installment is the one we've all been waiting for, bringing the sour with peaches. It's worth waiting in line for, though I have to admit, I'm going to really enjoy when the new production facility opens up and I don't have to wait out in the cold, rainy Sunday morning for bottles of my precious. But to the patient, come the spoils:

Tired Hands You Are The Emptiness

Tired Hands You Are the Emptiness - Pours a cloudy but bright, almost radiant yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells utterly fantastic, big fruit notes, those peaches coming through strong, lots of musty funk. Taste is sweet and sour, lots of musty funk, juicy peaches, oak and vanilla. It's not as sour or oaky as other entrants in the Emptiness series, but it's well balanced and more quaffable. Mouthfeel is light bodied, crisp, and refreshing, reasonable carbonation, light acidity, and quaffable. This went down a heck of a lot faster than previous entrants. Overall, another delicious entry in the Emptiness series, well balanced, great match with the peaches, complex, me like. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV (allegedly) bottled (500 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/31/14.

Merry new year to me. Oh look, the original batch of Emptiness, Out of the Emptiness (made with plums) has a new batch coming out. Dammit, when will this Believer's Club thing kick in? It's going to be cold on Sunday.

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.

Hill Farmstead Florence

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Breweries like Hill Farmstead represent a problem for us here at Kaedrin, and this is actually a microcosm of a more general problem. We rate beers here and we've been doing so for 4 years now, and I've been noting, especially over the past year, the toll of rating inflation and deflation. Put simply, beers that blew me away 4 years ago, while still great, don't always compare as favorably to what I'm drinking now. Unfortunately, this means that every time I have a new Hill Farmstead beer I find myself reaching for hyperbole and the "A" level ratings in my admittedly flawed grading system.

There are probably numerous reasons for this, chief among them is that I'm the worst. Seriously, this is one of the reasons I started the blog. I knew nothing of beer, and writing about a subject has always been a good way to learn for me. Along the way, I started to develop an actual palate and became more comfortable with my subjective tastes. For instance, we all know of my ambivalence to coffee in beer (I won't shut up about it), and at this point, despite the fact that there are some coffee beers that I appreciate, I have admitted that there is a genuine issue of taste there. But when you're still a fledgling beer nerd, unique experiences and flavors are exciting. Straight up Belgian styles like Dubbels and Tripels were my gateway into good beer, and my fondness for them is reflected in early ratings, even as I drink less of them today. It took me a while to get into stouts and sours, but now they're a mainstay of my drinking cycle. And so on.

I fully admit that Blogging is an ultimately selfish pursuit, and this learning process is one of the many benefits I've reaped from the process. Ratings are ultimately an arbitrary exercise, they're subjective and don't always make wholistic sense, but I feel like they're useful to me, and even recognizing that rating inflation is going on feels important. Perhaps even something that applies outside of the other things I frequently rate, like books or movies. I won't claim a universal truth or anything quite so profound, but as I grow older and my tastes (literal and figurative) evolve, I see this sort of process happening elsewhere in my life.

Expertise is a funny thing. You don't become an expert by being perfect. For anything I'm good at, there was a time when I was terrible at it. I made mistakes, learned from them, and moved on. Writing this now, it feels rather trite, but it's worth bearing in mind. Everyone is so impatient these days. With beer, you can't just work your way through the Beer Advocate Top 100 or whatever Best-Of list you've discovered, as that will give you a very distorted view of beer. True, you will probably drink some great beer, but if you don't have anything to compare it to, what is that really worth? There aren't any shortcuts. Indeed, my typical response to gaining a lot of experience is to continually feel like I know less about the subject as time goes on. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it makes sense from a relative perspective. When I first got serious about exploring beer, I had a few tactics and strategies and after a bit of time I thought I had a handle on this stuff, but then I kept finding new areas to delve into. My perspective of what beer was kept growing, such that my actual beer knowledge, while also growing, simply wasn't keeping up with what I knew was out there. This isn't just a beer thing, it's a knowledge thing.

So we return to Hill Farmstead, considered by many to be the best brewery in America, and yes, I seek it out as much as possible. But in the grand scheme of things, that translates to a few opportunities a year. Whatever bottles I obtain (i.e. not many), I squirrel away for semi-special occasions (trying not to be too precious about it, but that's a topic for another post). Of course, I generally consider those to be blog-worthy beers to review, so perhaps even this blog might give a newbie the wrong impression. I don't crack open massive face melters at every opportunity, but it's not really worth blogging about the hundredth local pale ale I've quaffed either. Newbie advice might be it's own topic and I've blathered on quite enough for now, so lets get to it: If Florence, a wheat saison, was more regularly available, I would be crushing it at every opportunity. Look at this stuff:

Hill Farmstead Florence

Hill Farmstead Florence - Pours a very pale, almost radiant straw yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head and great retention. Absolutely gorgeous. Smells deeply of wheat and musky, slightly funky yeast, and hints of spice. Taste hits up front with wheat and some spicy yeast notes that very quickly transition into a tartness that further blooms in the middle, some vinous white wine and tart lemons, finishing with that wheat and both the spicy and tart notes. Mouthfeel is very light bodied, highly carbonated, crisp, refreshing, effervescent, and downright quaffable. This is straightforward and simple, in the best way possible. Overall, another winner from Hill Farmstead. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a glass on 10/19/14.

So this probably marks the last HF beer I'll try this year (certainly the last of the Operation Cheddar II spoils), barring the outside chance of a trip to Vermont (which I think may happen later in the winter). As per usual, I will usually seek out more when I can. In the meantime, I'll just have to settle for the world class beer I get at Tired Hands. Poor me.

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.

Various and Sundry

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Astute readers will note that the grand majority of reviews here are for beers that I drink at home. This is not to say that I don't visit any local drinking establishments, just that I'm usually with other people and I don't want to be that dork who ignores his friends to write obsessive tasting notes. However, I do take my fair share of pictures and maybe check in to Untappd or somesuch. So I do have a fair amount of beer porn in my picture repository that doesn't really see the light of day. Until now! Enjoy these pictures and muddled recounting of various and sundry beers I've had recently, including a rather epic Birthday lineup. In fact, let's start there. It all started, naturally, at Tired Hands:

Tired Hands Cant Keep Up 8

Tired Hands is a small but very popular operation, so every once in a while, especially on weekends, they sell through more beer than is ready. At that point, Jean dips into the cellar and blends up a stopgap, often using some proportion of barrel aged awesome. The resulting beers are called Can't Keep Up, and this was the 8th installment in the series, made with beer from one of Christian Zellersfield's barrels (if he really exists). And my oh my, it was spectacular. Perhaps not quite Parageusia levels awesome, but for a beer that was whipped together under duress, it was rather spectacular. Speaking of spectacular, the other highlight of Tired Hands that day was a Citra IPA called Psychic Facelift. It turns out that I'd already visited Tired Hands earlier in the week and loved this, indeed, I even housed a growler of the stuff.

Tired Hands Psychic Facelift

It seems like Tired Hands always has great IPAs on tap, but this wan was exceptional even for them. Huge, juicy citrus character, absolutely quaffable stuff. Just superb. It's rare that I drink the same beer more than twice in short succession these days, and I think I had about 2 liters in the course of a couple days (I totally should have filled the larger growler, but hindsight is 20/20). Anywho, after some time there, we headed over to Teresa's Cafe (a few miles down the road) for some more substantial food and, of course, great beer. I had a Pliny the Elder, because how can you ignore that when it's on tap? Then my friends proved adventurous and generous, and we went in on a bottle of Cantillon Iris:

Cantillon Iris

It was fantastic, great balance between funk, sourness, and oak, really beautiful beer. And you can't beat the full pomp and circumstance, what with the proper glassware and pouring basket thingy... I had a few other beers, and they were all good, but I had a great birthday.

Some more random beer porn:

Double Sunshine

I guess I could have put up some Double Sunshine for trade, but I just couldn't handle having these in my fridge. I had to drink them.

Flying Dog Single Hop Imperial IPA Citra

It's no Double Sunshine, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this Flying Dog Single Hop Imperial IPA (Citra). I usually don't enjoy IPAs when they get into the 10% ABV range, but this was extremely well balanced between sweet and bitter, and it had that great Citra hop character, tropical fruits, floral notes, and even a bit of herbal goodness. I've always enjoyed Citra-based beers, but I think I'm starting to really crave the stuff, which is going to be dangerous.

Bulldog Top Banana

This was from a long time ago, but it was another surprise, ordered totally at random one night. It's Bullfrog Top Banana, and it was a really solid saison made with bananas. I know that sounds a bit gimmicky and it's not one of those crazy funkified saisons either, but the banana fit seamlessly into their standard saison yeast profile, and it was an absolutely refreshing and tasty brew. Worth checking out if you see it. I should checkout this PA brewery sometime, perhaps go to a bottle release or something. Time will tell.

And that just about covers it. I hope you've enjoyed this rather lame stroll down beer lane. Until next time!

Forest & Main Lunaire

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I've been hitting the local brews pretty hard this past week or so, and I don't see any reason to stop now. Here we have another two year old local brewpub specializing in English and Belgian styles, with a particular focus on saisons. As I've mentioned before, they share a fair amount of DNA with what makes Tired Hands a Kaedrin favorite, so you know I'm interested when they do a bottle release. They're a bit further away from me, so I don't always get up there for bottle releases, but on the other hand, they tend to be low stress affairs, much like the laid back atmosphere they cultivate.

Here we have the second release of Lunaire, a saison aged in Chardonnay barrels for about six months. So strap in, it's time we take Le Lunaire Voyage*

Forest and Main Lunaire

Forest & Main Lunaire - Pours a cloudy golden orange color with a finger of tight white head that sticks around for a while as I drink. Beautiful nose, musty funk, bright citrus, wine, and lots of oak. The taste amps up that funk a bit, lots of earthiness, a little citrus tartness, vinous fruit, and tons of oak. I suspect there are some who'd say this is over oaked, but I'm not complaining at all. That being said, I'd be really curious to see what this does over time, perhaps that oak will mellow out some (fortunately, I have a few extra bottles to lay down). Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, light bodied, tannic, with just a bit of acidity. Overall, this may be my favorite Forest & Main beer yet. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a flute glass on 8/2/14. Batch 2 (I think... definitely the second bottling), bottled May 21, 2014.

I seem to be drowning in excellent, funky, local saisons aged in wine barrels of late. I'm not really complaining about that, I love me some farmhouse and I've been trying to live off my cellar for the past few months instead of continually buying more than I could even drink, but I also try to write about more diverse stuff. I'll have to see what I can do in the near future about that. Incidentally, I've got a line on some midwest Gold, and even a potential trip to Vermont next week, so I'll most likely be stocking up again in the near future. Stay tuned!

* For the non film nerds amongst you, I was trying to evoke the early cinematic classic Le Voyage dans la Lune (aka A Trip to the Moon)with that quip, but the fact that I'm even writing this footnote is probably a bad sign, no? I'll just stop then.

I Am The Emptiness

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Another in an ongoing series of saisons aged in wine barrels with various local fruits sourced from rockstar farmer Tom Culton, this is what happens when you add strawberries and your cellar is full, so you just release it on tap because there's no space for any bottles. This sort of thing will be remedied shortly once their new facility is up and running, but for now, I'll just have to suffer through drinking this excellent beer on tap and in a growler:

Tired Hands I Am The Emptiness

I Am The Emptiness - Pours a deep, dark orange color with a finger of off white head. Smells fantastic, strawberries, fruity funk, musty, just a hint of earthiness, some yeasty spice, a little oak and vanilla, did I mention strawberries? Taste has a more prominent oak character, lots of fruitiness with those tart strawberries really coming through well, but not dominating. Sour, but not overpoweringly so, because there's that typical saison backbone, a little spice, and even a little citrus hops poking through, with perhaps more bitterness than expected from this Emptiness series. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, reasonably well carbonated (less than the last couple bottles, which were perfect), only a bit of acidity from that sourness. Overall, though I may prefer the persimmon variant, this is still another winning entry into the Emptiness series. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV from a growler (1L swingtop). Drank out of a flute glass on 7/26/14, growler filled earlier that day.

I had this on tap last week too (it kicked while I was sitting there finishing up a glass), and I found it slightly better than in the growler (but that's my general feeling with growlers). Up next in the Emptiness series are The Emptiness is Not Eternal bottles. Jean sez the bottle conditioned version is better than the one that was on tap during the Second Anniversary, which makes me wonder if I Am The Emptiness would similarly improve if bottled... Anyway, after that one comes You Are The Emptiness, which is made with peaches, and therefore represents some sort of beer nerd singularity that will draw quite a crowd when released.

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

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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