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.
Twenty-four bucks? What was I doing last decade? I have only a few of these aged big bottles left. I gave up a long time ago on trying to keep the cellar up. One of the few beers left from the days of glory, the era of beer blog ad revenue. I was throwing around the cash like a madman. Pretending that I mattered like some current era communicator. Stan actually mocked me about this beer in particular. But that was back in the day when folk weren’t questioning the fleece. Or at least when 2000 brewers weren’t making something good and sour for half the price. You know, the 75 comments under that post from some pretty interesting names are all… pretty interesting – but it’s as if they thought we would all be drinking $60 beers by now. Really? How did that turn out? Market forces thought otherwise. Bulk fine craft FTW!
It’s 40º C out there. Seven week drought might end tomorrow. Worst summer for rain since 1888. Nutty. I just need a reasonably interesting beer. I just need it not to suck. I pulled it out of the cellar, stuck it in the fridge by the orange juice and the milk bags. [Canada. Go figure.] Hey… it doesn’t. It’s good. Still and a bit thick but in no sense off. Fresh with a lighter lingering finish than expected. The colour of aged varnished pine. An orange hue at the edge. On the nose, warm whisky sweet with autumn fruit, brown sugar and grain as well as a fresh Worchestershired yogurty hum. Pear and fig. The baked fruit crisp you dream of. The second half pint pour generates a lovely subdued tang when rinsed about the gums. Like 90% barley wine with maybe 10% old gueuze. Or less. Just a hint. And all those whispers of rich deep malty grain huskiness still there. Lovely.
Am I glad I spent $24 for this nine years ago? I’m sure I don’t care. Do you know how much I have spent on diapers and winter tires since then? It makes me want. And I just want a thick bacon sandwich. I have asked a child younger than this beer to bring me a chunk of the slab of Vermont cheddar we are working on. Fabulous. Rewarding. The espresso of a grain field. Big BAer love and deservedly so.
It is the first Friday of the month and that means it is the day of The Session. Rick Lyke named it this time and chose “The Brew Zoo” demanding we all drink beers with animals on the labels. I forgot this earlier in the week when I popped a Struis with an ostrich on the front. That would have been perfect. A real shoe in for most exotic. Now I have to drink that beer with a goat on it. Do you know how many beers have goats on them? Good lord. It’s about as many as Belgian beers with monks or elves…or German lagers showing lassies with costume malfunctions. Goats…jeesh.
So I will have to see where I go with this month’s choice or choices for reviewing after work. I have to think about this and get back to you. The photo above has nothing to do with it. I just felt guilty after promising reviews of the growlers I brought back from Grand River the other week – but plans got hijacked last Friday evening after work when BR and Paul from Kingston showed up. Click on the picture. They were that good.
The Actual Beastie In Question: Bam Bière by Jolly Pumpkin. I have never had this one before or anything by this brewer but, as far as I am concerned, the lack of hordes of folks making tiny batches of farmhouse ale thoughout the villages and hamlets of North America is one of the faults of the culture.
Plenty of BAer love but is it a saison or bière de garde? Just farmhouse ale we are told…hmmm… The brewer says:
An artisan farmhouse ale that is golden, naturally cloudy, bottle conditioned and dry hopped for a perfectly refreshing balance of spicy malts, hops and yeast.
It’s only 4.5% and, ok, I admit it – dogs are rarely in the zoo. But who cares? I didn’t pick the topic. And what do I think?
[Ed.: give him a moment, would you?]
Well, this one could do with a cage or maybe just a shorter leash. An explosion of froth out of the 10.00 USD 750 ml bottle leaving me scrambling for a number of glasses to collect it all in. It was worth the scramble. In the mouth, this is like a subdued cousin of Fantome – white pepper and cream of wheat but also lemony like a Belgian white. Straw ale under a massively rocky white meringue head. Hoppy with astringent dried out hops leaving a lavendar. Dry with under ripe strawberry. The nose reminds me of poached haddock with only white pepper that I had as a child but that should mean nothing to you. Fabulous. A cross between straight-up Fantome saison and Orval?
Orval. This is the nicest little bottle of ale in the hand. Shaped like a Perrier bottle in brown, decorated with a fish on a gold ring, it is the product of Trappist monks – one of the five (or is it six?) real Trappist ales going…well, except St. Sixtus of Westvleteren which you have to go yourself to the Abbey to buy.
If you want to know what Belgian hops are like, antique and dignified like brittle lace, this is a great beer to try. Rajotte says it is dry hopped for a month and its taste is primarily a play of wild twiggy herbal yeast and hop with only a supporting role for the malt. As a result, it has a fairly light body with a mouth filled with rustic flavour, thyme and lavander.
As with a good clovey southern German hefeweizen, a pork roast would do very well sitting in Orval for half a day before meeting the fire.