A beer with subtitles: autumn saison, brewed with sweet potato and squash. I bought two bottles of this a few Fridays ago from the retail counter at Stone City, a short march up the hill from work. The first bottle gave me a bit of pause. This was an example of something. An excellent beer thoughtfully made that I liked but, still, one that I was not sure about.
And my uncertainty was fuelled by my own uncertainty as to why I am uncertain. So I am glad I bought two. This is a fabulous beer. The base saison is white peppered and dry. The gourd and rhizome quite restrained. On this warm Sunday afternoon in the middle of this strangely warm autumn, it tastes like the rich earthy air flowing in through the wide open windows. It is a clever timely release with adjuncts which are right up my alley. I grow squash and we even have use the nickname Swee Apado around the house, given we eat so much of it. So what is wrong?
Clouded vintage gold ale under a lacing fine white head. On the nose, it is classic saison in the Dupont style. Not the DuPont one, if you know what I mean. Backing it up is the dirt-tang of sweet potato. In the mouth, immediately dry and twiggy herbal with an very pronounced opening of flavours in the swallow followed by a long long hot herbal finish that resolves into the squash. The vegetable elements hide, show, hide then show.
I worry that my problem is this beer is cleverer than I am. Rustic and elegant. I can personally only claim the first. In my mind, I am searching for a place to put the beer. Pigeon hole it. I want to have it with spurting hot venison sausages. In a coconut curry. Or pork shoulder roasted on a bed of parsnips. I want a balancing fattiness. But is that fair to the beer in itself? Yeats spoke about loving something, someone for herself alone. I have never claimed to be all that nuanced in my tastes but this may well be suggesting, strongly, that I revisit my limitations. I don’t like to not get the point of something this good.
So… I consulted Keats and his poem Ode to Autumn. The subtitle asked me to, no? And this explains everything. This is not the autumn of mists and mellow fruitfulness in the glass. That’s the autumn of back to school. A month ago. This beer speaks to a later point – the brittle leaf pile, warm welcome corduroys. Early sunsets and chilly walks back up Cobourg Road to get to college, to happy hour. Soccer practice with freezing knees. Remembrance Day and singing “Abide with Me” down at the Grand Parade.
We are not there yet. Here the leaves are still on the tree and I am picking cherry tomatoes off the vine a month after the equinox. I mowed today. Soon it will be six months to May. Four to March. This will be a short winter if autumn still is a ways off yet.
Is that not the most repetitive title to a post yet? I wonder if New Glarus is in New Glarus County…or maybe Wisconsin county. Anyway, this is simply an incredible beer. Stan and Daria brought it to us when they visited this summer. Once upon a time, I had a small old farmhouse and it was near a small cottage owned by another branch of the family. We had pin cherries, black cherries and choke (or is it choak?) cherries as well as juneberries and other bush fruit we planted over the years. Small bush fruit in the cherry family is the best – all relating to but not being defined by that toothpaste, cough drop or pie filling flavour that gets associated with the word “cherry” these days. This beer reminds me of the complexity of those natural flavours.
The beer is pie in a glass. Insanely fresh tart cherry backed by a cream of wheat richness. It pours cloudy reddish amber, like lightly oxidized fruit. Snow white froth and foam on top. Bright and cheery from the effervescent carbonation. Meaty fruit in the mouth with tangy acidity and that aroma which evokes the whole of the plant, the twigginess, the almondy scent you get when you peel new bark. It’s almost ammonia sharp but not. Is that brett? It is like with Orval, that dry lavender aspect. Is this a creation of hopping that moves the cherry from meaty and sweet to something more like scent of an orchard? Dandy. Not quite sour but in the neighbourhood. Makes me want to plan a trip to the other end of the Great Lakes.
I threw a couple of these ounces into twice as much a Burton Bridge porter just to see. Good but something of a waste. BAers love it. Is this the best fruit beer ever?
I shared with one to the shock and dismay of my guests two years ago but I’ve grown up so much since then I thought I would revisit it to see what I thought. Back then I use the word poo which seemed to tick off a crank. Apparently some who write “barnyard” have never been in a barnyard. Let’s see how this goes today when it’s just me and the glass and a sticker on top saying I spent nine bucks for the 375 ml of the 2006 bottling.
Pop. There it is. Gravenstein apple and beef cattle holding structure. You will have to excuse me as I grew up in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia and actually recognize the scents. Yet they are not repulsive. Not at all. Rather they are evocative this time. It looks lovely – pouring a clear deep blush – the colour of rosé wine, with a fleeting white foam that disappears after a few seconds. In the mouth there is less harshness than I recall even with the strident acidity. I must be weakening.
In the first sip, there is that green apple acid, a general fruit berry thing that I can associate with cherry if I think about the idea of a mouthful of under ripe pin cherries grown on the unrelenting North Atlantic brushland. There is also a little cheesy, yogurty rich funky tang that needles at you a bit but is overshadowed by the snap of the sour. More than anything it reminds me of the austere dryness of the wine I made with my own vines and my own hands back in 2003. As I get into it, though, I get the sweet fresh cherry layer. It opens up ever so grudgingly. My teeth feel slightly stripped of enamel but with a fruit note in the mix of dissolving calcium.
What can I say? If it were not for the specific acidity that mimics one under ripe variety of Maritime Canadian apple that happened to grow where I grew, I would not know what to make of this stuff. A theory of fruit preservation put in stark action? BAers still approve but I am still disappointed with my understanding of why I need that much acid in my body.
Greg had the power for today’s version of The Session for August and he picked fruit beer as the topic. To be utterly fair, if you are going to pick this topic, it has to be in August when all the world is plump with the results of all that “tra-la it’s May” of a few months ago.
It’s not like I am a stranger to the subject. I’ve posted a bunch of posts about fruit beer, whether sweet lambics, syruped experimentals from the Ottawa Valley, ranges from the Low Countries to ranges largely from North America. I know I was fascinated by the date dubbel from De Regenboog, I liked Floris Honey on a hot day, I am not entirely sure about Fruli but I hated Belhaven’s foul take. All in all, I think the Historic Ales of Scotland were the most interesting – including the seaweed one. And then there are my sour beer studies, trying to sort out some of the most severe confections there are.
But do I like fruit beer? I have no idea. So I am going to follow the posts today like the one from the great guys at Lost Abbey to pick up any threads or themes I see going and pop some sort of fruit beer later today.
Update From Amongst The Laundry: Heading out on holiday for a few days when you have kids starts and ends with laundry so we are a bit pinched for time here at beer blog HQ but we will suffer through with this evening with the help of a 750 ml of Kriek De Ranke, a traditional cherry lambic – qualifying this post for another entry in the sour beer studies as well as my entry for The Session. I picked this one up at Tully’s in Wells, Maine for 17 bucks, best before July 2006. The beer pours a light pink candy floor fine head over cloudy red cherry ale, the head resolving to thin foam. In the nose, more fruit than tart giving me hope that there is going to be some civility in the severity. The Beer Advocate gives this background on the beer:
De Ranke Kriek emulates the famed Oud Kriekenbier from the defunct Crombé brewery in Zottegem. De Ranke Kriek is a mixture of two blended soured pale ales and Girardin lambic, all steeped in whole fresh cherries from Poland and then aged for six months.
Did I mention I love Polish cherries, having worked there for four months? They are put to good use here. In the mouth, there is dry tart acid but also a good measure of true sludgy cherry fruitiness as well that works with some cream of wheatiness. On the swirl, a light cream aspect is added from the yeast, bracing up the body as well. This is quite a genial lambic or, according to the wrapper, “Belgian sour ale fermented with cherries with lambic added”, as there is plenty of the complexity – some of which is pleasant. Three others in the house for dinner tried it, did not screw up their faces yet declined another taste. That is pretty good for this style. Interestingly the paper wrapper says this brewery is a weekend working hobby for the brewery, something you might guess from their website. All 78 BAers love it.
Finally, I have a foothold in the world of dry lambics.
What better way to see in Canada Day weekend than sampling Belgian and northern French fruit beers. There is no rhyme or reason to the selection other than they are from within a couple of hundred kilometres of each other. Should this breaks rules it is because no one sent me the pamphlet with the rules.
Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic: On the nose there is fresh cow poo or another barnyard note, vinegar and unsweetened under-ripe gravenstein apple. Cloudy naturalized cloudy pink with white rim and foam. Stomach souringly strong acid, cheesey tang, dry pin cherry in the mouth. Vineous if your wine has gone off. Hard to say likeable but one is told this is a classic. MADD could use this as their centerpiece of a temperance campaign if they could get it to the teens soon enough. 97% of BAers say very nice things. Nicer things. Here is the brewery’s website and what it says about this beer.
La Choulette Framboise: beer the colour of wild strawberry jam, blush and straw, with white foam and rim. A note of the La Choulette’s tell tale potato peel under true if dry raspberry from the vine…if they grew on vines. Some sub-astringent drying hop and warming as would be expected at 7%. Less sour than the kriek above but still there, on the dry side. BAers who love dry fruit beer are all over this one. Here, too, is the brewery’s website.
Darbyste: From Brasserie de Blaugies. Cloudy caramel ale under white foam. Quite a tangy fig aroma. Still dry but not nearly so dry as the desiccating fluids above. Acidic, juicy, lightly astingent, green fruit and round richness. But dry though without vineousness. Some light butter biscuitiness. 5.8%. Not offensive, not a wowser. BAers say this. Here, again, is the brewery’s home page.
Lindeman Pomme Lambic: compared to the above, this is fluid Altoid. Green apple sweet and that is about it. Rich and quite accurate apple and not at all unpleasant but that is about it. BAers frown with 14% saying no. After the above three, however, it is something of a welcome break from all that austerity. Here is something approximating the brewery’s website.
More as I pour if the guests stick around as I open more of these sour things.…OK, so I am not the guy to tell you why you should try some of these stark traditional ales. But man these are dry and acidic. I need a Rolaid and I am sure glad I picked up some saisons to try so I can get my love back for the brewers of this region.