Le Trou du Diable – Dulcis Succubus

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Le Trou du Daible is one of a handful of premiere breweries out of Quebec, and Dulcis Succubus is a flagship beer from the brewery.  At least, that’s what I gather based on its astronomical price.  This price comes from the fact that it is barrel aged and it is produced with wild yeasts and spontaneous fermentation, all of which has been applied to a saison or farmhouse ale base.

Saisons with brettanomyces or other wild yeasts are one of my most adored beer styles.  There are a number of great examples out there, including Upright Brewing’s Saison du Blodget which I had quite recently.  Logsdon makes world-class examples of this style as well.  I prefer Dulcis Succubus to any of the aforementioned; it’s that good.

I think this comes largely from the barrel aging:  there is a good dose of oak flavour from beginning to end.  The nose is primarily fruit and some musty fruit skin:  apricot, pear, peach.  These are also present as flavours and combine with the big oak barrel character and a gueuze-like, complex yet gentle sourness.  The acidity of this beer is quite wonderful and is more significant than most saison-brett beers.  It’s a little dry thanks to the acidity and barrel character and wonderfully crisp from the saison side of things.

It has a high price of entry, but I truly believe if you like sour saisons, this is a must-try.

Brassneck – Stockholm Syndrome

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Saisons with brettanomyces are pretty hip these days, though I swear my love for them has nothing to do with their popularity.  Brettanomyces, henceforth referred to as ‘brett’ for ease of typing, is a rather funky member of the yeast family which gets along famously with the tart, spicy nature of the farmhouse ale.  Its function is two-fold: it adds character and complexity to the base saison, and it adds a funky sourness as well.

Four Winds Brewing recently released a brett-laden saison which was the first of the style in Vancouver.  It was very exciting.  It was also very good stuff—perhaps not quite on par with Logsdon, but a very good first effort.  Brassneck has now come through with their crack at the challenging but rewarding style.

To answer the burning question of how it turned out, I would say it turned out really quite well.  I wouldn’t place it in Logsdon territory either, but it’s got great balance and really pleasant flavour.  I took some notes, though I preface that my note-taking is not incredibly insightful stuff:

Appearance:  Densely opaque, pale tangerine with that characteristic fluffy white head that leaves plenty of lacing behind.

Smell:  I’m getting apple skins, hay, earth, and maybe some clove-forward spices.

Taste: Bready wheat and sweet grapefruit citrus dominate the first portion of the palate while the long, long finish is dominated by the characteristic earthy funk that brett leaves.  It is reminiscent of Logsdon’s Seizoen Bretta though I find the Brassneck version to come across slightly heavier or denser.

Mouthfeel:  Rich body, carbonation falls a little short of perfect but it’s by all means good.

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Four Winds Brewing Co. – Saison Brett

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It goes without saying that I was uncontrollably excited when I heard about an upcoming brettanomyces-laced farmhouse ale from Delta-based Four Winds Brewing.  I’ve already been hugely impressed with both their product and their priorities, as Four Winds has produced a good number of inventive and excellent beers with a particular focus on farmhouse style ales AND have been the second brewery in BC history to cork their beer.

I was even more excited when I heard very, very positive things about this beer.  I bought four bottles Friday, about an hour and a half after they hit the shelves at Brewery Creek (I got there as quick as I could).  I didn’t open the first bottle until tonight.  You can now chalk me up as another strong supporter of this beer.

It pours a hazy golden yellow with big puffy head.  I was hoping for nearly-uncontrollable head size off this beer and I got it.  It is a mark of a great craft saison.  Smell is of orange fruits like peach and apricot, lots of barn-straw, grass, some gentle spices, slight pepper, and wonderful brett character – not overly funky, just a great added depth of complexity to the yeast character.

Taste is much the same – it starts off as an already great, fairly malty saison and suddenly the brett breaks through with a healthy dose of straw and a damp and dirty moss-like quality… I realize that may not sound appealing, but trust me when I say I mean it in the best way possible.  Moves towards a dry oak finish after all that, with the brett still leaving its mark.

Carbonation and mouthfeel are spot-on for the style and do nothing but support the excellence of this beer.  I commend Four Winds for tackling such a difficult and fickle style so early into their existence; the fact that they hit it out of the park the first try is just icing on the cake.

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Logsdon – Seizoen

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Logsdon Farmhouse Ales are truly crafted in a farmhouse, located in rural Hood River, OR.  They are among the elite when it comes to saisons, a style rooted in tradition and country values but breathed new life in artful new twists of flavour and richness of content.  The saison is possibly my favourite style of beer.  It is typically wonderfully refreshing, with a simple enough core essence but takes well to a variety of flavour influences such as brettanomyces, herbs and spices, and a wide variety of fruit flavours.

A:  One of the great characteristics of a craft saison is the head: huge, puffy, an entity unto itself… and tasty.  Logsdon’s Seizoen is a perfect example – it’s aggressive to the point that great care needs to be taken to get anything but head, it’s got great structure and form and it lasts a long time.  The fluid is cloudy and golden-yellow, a nice and deep colour.

S: There is wheat, straw, clove, pepper, and some peach and apricot fruitiness.

T:  Delectably smooth despite the huge carbonation, spicy and orange fruit flavours.

M: The high carbonation works great to add texture to the flavour.  Finishing a little dry, very nice.

O: While it lacks the complexity of the Seizoen Bretta, it is more refreshing also.  So while overall I prefer the Bretta, sometimes I would grab this first.  Both are awesome.

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Four Winds Brewing – Wildflower Saison

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Of all the incredible and exciting breweries that have opened their doors in the past couple years here in the lower mainland, none of them are quite as exciting to me as Four Winds.  It’s not because they are producing higher quality beers.  Yes, their beers as about as tasty as anyone’s in town but Four Winds would not be a clear winner on taste alone.  It’s because of the styles they are producing and the direction in which the brewery seems to be headed.

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Their first bottle release is corked.  Maybe to some it’s not a big deal, but to me it’s a huge deal.  Beyond the advantages of the cork (which, for a saison not meant to be aged, are debatable), it really indicates to me a set of priorities within the brewery that hit home for me.  Coming up soon is a barrel-aged saison with brettanomyces, and some time after that will be a black (or dark) sour.  From the cork onward, this is a lot of new ground for BC craft breweries.  I am terribly excited.

I visited the brewery a couple weeks ago, picking up a couple bottles of the above pictured Wildflower Saison, and I tasted all 8 beers that were on tap.  There was a standard saison (of which I brought home a 1L growler – it was really quite a good example of the style), this wildflower saison, an IPA, a white IPA, a pumpkin oatmeal ale, a sour cherry saison, and two others that aren’t springing to mind.  Every one of them was good – the white IPA stands out in my mind as it had a fantastic, big floral smell and was really tasty.  The wildflower saison was of a different batch than that which was bottled, and I was warned that the on-tap version was much more extreme on the floral qualities.  He wasn’t kidding – it tasted like a glass full of flower petals but it was really tasty.

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A friend found his bottle to be a little under-carbonated but mine poured with big head.  One thing I’ve noticed is there seems to be a lot of change from batch to batch – maybe that’s the one criticism that could be placed on the brewery at this time.  It seems though that despite the variation, each iteration is still quite delicious.

I found the standard saison to be full-bodied for the style with strong glove and spice notes (though not so much the pepper that’s commonly found in saisons).  The wildflower saison shares the same sort of malt character but pairs it with chamomile and rose petals.  It’s like a herbal tea meets a saison, but the saison is the dominant force.  In fact, the chamomile / flowery notes tend to show up in the back half of the palate.  The carbonation in my bottle is spot-on, with fine bubbles that crackle gently with each sip.

As soon as the barrel aged, brett-infused saison crops up I’ll be grabbing a few bottles and will report here.  I am quite pleased with this bottle; it did not disappoint.

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Propolis – Gardin

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Gardin is a farmhouse ale brewed with herbs, brewed by Propolis out of Washington.  Founded in mid-2012, they are pretty new to the scene and have not yet had the time to make much of a name for themselves outside WA – though I have a feeling that will change.  Far from inexpensive, Propolis instead puts their focus on brewing the very best beer they are capable of, uncompromising on what goes into it.

The smell is almost completely enveloped in fresh herbs – thyme is number one, rosemary second.  Maybe some coriander as well?  The herbs truly dominate, leaving very little else to notice.  The body of this beer is surprisingly full, with great malts breaking way for a strong hit of those same herbs along with a brisk peppery spice.  Truly unique and powerful, the quality that Propolis claims is evident.

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I wasn’t sure whether the ‘brewed with herbs’ note would mean a hint of herbs or a lot of herbs.  Let me assure you, it is a lot of herbs.  While the rosemary and thyme tastes are strong, they aren’t unwelcome because of the earthy, almost bitter quality that they offer.  It goes very well with the saison backbone.

I did notice while reading the beer care page on Propolis’ site that they recommend 6 to 24 months of cellar time for their beers.  These are bottle conditioned ales, but I was still surprised to see the recommendation of aging on a farmhouse ale – a style that is typically drank within 6 months of bottling.  Propolis joins several others in this new-school style of farmhouse ale though, with higher ABV’s (this comes in at 7.5%) and conditioned for maturation.  Reminds me of Logsdon, of which I have a couple bottles in the cellar with the intention of aging matter-of-fact!

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Brasserie Dupont – Saison Dupont

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Saison Dupont is commonly considered to be a benchmark saison, the standard in great saisons.  It is widely available and relatively inexpensive, yet exceeds many smaller batch saisons in taste and quality.  Brasserie Dupont is based out of Belgium, not surprisingly, and while the brewery does do a few other styles, farmhouse ales (under which the saison is categorized) is certainly their most well known and likely their core beer style.

Saison Dupont pours a rich straw gold with fluffy head which lasts very well.  The head has great retention and lacing.  The smell is herbal and spicy, with Belgian yeasts and some apple and banana fruitiness.  Taste follows suit for the most part – it’s a wonderfully balanced saison with gentle peppery spice, but each constituent flavour is delicate; there is no sharp edged notes here.

There is good reason this is considered the benchmark saison – it is extremely easy drinking and has a pleasing balance of flavours.  There isn’t anything unusual or especially interesting going on, but that’s the point – it’s like a baseline where you can explore from. 

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Epic Brewing – Sour Apple Saison

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Epic Brewing is an outfit hailing from Salt Lake City, Utah.  I was able to procure a couple bottles from Oregon including this sour apple saison, one of their “Exponential Series” according to the bottle – this is the highest in a set of three series: Classic, Elevated, and Exponential.  The Exponential Series is Epic’s unique and interesting small-batch concoctions, from smoked porters to unique Belgian ales and everything in between.  The Sour Apple Saison is a big, big saison at 8.1%.  This is Release #26, a piece of information I was happy to see on the bottle – and big kudos to Epic for putting the information of each release on the website!   Release #26 was brewed on June 20th and bottled July 12th 2013.

The beer pours, as you can see, a crystal clear straw yellow – like an unsherried single malt whisky that’s been spared caramel colouring.  The head is rather puffy.  The smell is rather sublime, featuring heavy clove, green apple, maybe a hint of cinnamon.  Taste follows suit pretty well with clove, cinnamon, and apple, the apple carrying a strong acidic tartness as advertised.  This tart apple sticks around well through the finish, coming up with a bit of vinegar at the end.  There is a spiciness at the finish too, like fresh ginger.  It’s not puckeringly sour, but not far off.  The body is crisp and light as a saison ought to be, and the sourness does not have any barnyard quality that may detract from its refreshing nature.  I like barnyard, but this beer does not need it.

There is definitely a level of novelty to this beer and with that I don’t think this is the kind of brew I’d reach for on a regular basis, but it’s really enjoyable and I’d drink one or two a year, for sure!  It is a thirst-quenching summer ale that carries the spice profile of a festive fall ale, making it great on a clear late summer’s day after then sun goes down.

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Driftwood Brewing – Farmhand saison

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If ever I was writing a beer review with a lot of first hand experience, well, this is it.  Farmhand has been a staple for me all year long, my go-to saison and the saison being my go-to summer ale.  You see, I can appreciate a good IPA but, and this is where most beer geeks would gasp, I’m not really a hops nut.  The fact I can appreciate the IPA I think allows me to post them up on the blog, but given the choice I’ll tend to take a saison first.  Partly, mind you, I think it’s because big hop-bombs mess with my stomach.

Part of the beauty of Farmhand is that it’s available at a number of watering holes around here on tap, and that’s a wonderful thing.  Most notably is The Union, which is only a handful of blocks away and is an awesome place to hang out – really good food, too.  It’s also easy to find and reasonably priced in bomber form at BCLs as well.

So – the beer pours a great copper with big head which settles out fairly quickly.  The smell is spicy, some tart apple, but mostly spice.  Really nice.  Taking a sip, it’s light but mouth coating, spicy and peppery, banana and apple thanks to the yeasts and malts.  Pepper sticks around long after everything else has gone.

It’s not really a thinker, but it’s wholly enjoyable and satisfying, extremely crisp and quenching.

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Logsdon Farmhouse Ales – Seizoen Bretta

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Logsdon is a brewery out of Hood River, Oregon that has an old world charm and method that is rarely seen outside of Belgium.  Specializing in farmhouse ales, Logsdon is indeed brewed on a small farm, a farm which grows hops and cherries used (though not exclusively) in their beers.  Logsdon has taken the farmhouse ale scene by storm, having only been brewing under the name since late 2011.  However, brewer David Logsdon has experience dating back to the mid-80s.   Found in big 750mL bottles for not insignificant prices, you get a pretty good feeling you’re investing in something special right off the bat.  Maybe it’s the waxed cap or the classy labelling, the USDA organic logo or the rather steep price tag, or it could be that the beer nerd working at the liquor store was gushing on about how excellent it is.

This stuff needs to be poured slowly – the head explodes as soon as the liquid hits the glass.  It’s not a particularly dense head and does settle out after a couple short minutes.  The smell is of apricot, citrus, and orange – some yeasty funk that reminds me of old wood, but not gym socks.  The taste… this is a unique brew.  The brettanomyces yeast come into full effect once you take a sip, creating a very complex and dry saison.  It is a little musty, which to some extent prevents it from being refreshing, but instead creates an interesting world of slightly sour citrus and orange fruit, delicates spices, earthy hops, and gentle, bready malts.  It is 8.0% ABV which is about as high of a number as you’ll see on a farmhouse ale, but the alcohol does not make itself known at any point along the way other than to perhaps offer a boost to some of the other flavours.

This isn’t a saison that is trying to fit in with the pale ales.  This is a saison that is proud of what it is and proud of its heritage, and aims to achieve its full potential as a true farmhouse ale.  If you are a farmhouse ale fan (or even if you’re not), and want to taste a truly master crafted expression of the style, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales is about as good as you’ll find.

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