Side Project / 2nd Shift Brewing P.A.R.K.A.S.

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Whenever I was assigned a group project in high school, college, or grad school, I was always the first student with their hand raised to ask the question, “Is it all right if I work by myself?”  I dreaded group work more than Superman dreaded Kyptonite, more than republicans dreading rational thought, and more than Hillary Clinton dreads incoming emails.  I never liked relying on somebody else unless because I always felt I’d be the one to elevate the other person… type A and arrogant, I know… but I hated it.  To put faith into somebody else when my name was attached to it was always a struggle for me, however for Corey King of Side Project Brewing, it’s no big thang.  He teamed up with 2nd Shift Brewing out of IMG_3652Missouri to craft a beer creatively named P.A.R.K.A.S. (puppies and rainbows kittens and shit).  That said, I wonder if my glass full of liquid is the pot of gold at then end of this bottle.  Time to run them numbers…

Appearance:  A cloudy golden color that gave off a white head.  The froth disappeared almost immediately and there was no lacing to be seen in the Charente stemware.  Really digging the color of the brew – perfectly authentic to a wood aged saison.

Smell:  White wine, granny smith apples, lemon, lime, oak, minerality, and lactic greek yogurt.  This smells more sour than I expected, but no complaints about that from me; it gives off a very similar scent to Casey Saison.  Can’t wait to dive into it!

Taste:  A luscious lactic sourness on first sip that immediately gave me memories of Lady in the Woods by Cisco.  It has that same Chobani yogurt tartness going on and tricks you into thinking the body is creamier than it is; tIMG_3663he lactic presence in here is prominent and stings the sides of the tongue.  Once the palate gets used to the sourness from the acidity, the brew opens up like presents under the tree.  The first flavor I identified once I became acclimated to the brew was the yeast in here.  It has a very typical Belgian saison taste and reminds me of what I tasted in the saison from Casey.  The yeast is much more prominent than I would have thought, but it brings some balance to the beer giving off some clove, banana, and rock candy equalizing the tartness… well at least it attempts to equalize the sour.  A light oak character is picked up on well after you swallow leaving a dry, tannic character that coaxes you back into the glass.

The dryness of the beer isn’t surprising since it’s a barrel aged sour, but for how light and delicate this tastes, an ABV of 6.2% may raise some eyebrows.  While it’s not over the top, its slightly above average for barrel aged saisons and goes completely undetected in the taste.  The mouthfeel is light to mediIMG_3653um bodied – the sweetness of the saison bumps it up a little but it sure is an easy drinker.  The carbonation is right in the wheelhouse of many saisons with fine, crisp bubbles.

Overall:  This is a very well conceived beer.  Cory King and the folks at 2nd Shift likely passed kindergarten with flying colors; you can tell they worked well with one another and were more than willing to listen and share ideas.  To quote the late Steve Jobs, “It just works.”  The balance between saison and sour is executed with precision in P.A.R.K.A.S. and I admire its simplicity.  No fruit, no double barreling, no spices… just a great wine aged farmhouse.  I have to give these two breweries an A.  The beer is really impressive and demonstrates teamwork better than the 2003 Ohio State football team.

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OEC Brewing Tempus

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We all have moments that make us a little nostalgic – sentimental memories that take us back to a simpler time.  Grammy’s homemade pancakes, Huffy bikes, pasta dinners 3 generations strong, and Pogs.  Yea… Pogs.  I remember when hanging with your friends and sippin’ on Capri Suns arguing over which slammer to use was the most stressful part of the day.  Life was a bit more elementary.  Often, when we reflect to the era most historians classify as “back-in-the-day” we appreciate the unembellished and luddite-like lives we once had.  Now too frequently we find ourselves bogged down by missed calls, hoards of emails, and one too many notifications stagnantly waiting for us on our locked screens.

IMG_1887Those simpler days seem pretty utopian at times, and OEC brewing embraces that.  Rather than fuss and fuddle with new aged brewing techniques and bean counting widgets, OEC throws it back to focus on how life used to be.  Specializing in old world ales, they let nature run its course with the liquid they ferment as it’s exposed to wild Connecticut yeast strands and rustic coopered barrels.  One such offering that fits this category is Tempus – a rustic sour saison more yeoman than Thomas Jefferson’s values.  Let’s hand calculate those numbers…

Appearance:  Dark orange with some sediment and a white head.  The head didn’t last too long and there was no lacing to be found on my teku.

Smell:  Brett, orange oil, sour, wheat, apples, lime zest, gentle oak, and spearmint.  I’m not picking up any of the saison type of yeast – no pepper or bready smells from the brew.

Taste:  I get a lot of funk from the brett and typical brett flavors like orange oil, dry citrus, and granny smiths.  These flavors jumped out at first, then several other notes shine through.  The malt base in here adds some caramel and biscuity notes that I really wouldn’t have IMG_1908expected out of saison.  I don’t want to overplay how much these flavors come out, but they help quell the funk of the brett to round things out a bit.  The brew is very noticeably tart but after your first glass, it’s easy getting used to.  Once the tart flavors fall a off a little, you begin to pick up more of those typical saison qualities – more yeasty, more bready.  The oak remains trapped in the beer for me and I don’t get much of it in the flavor, outside of maybe some bitter tannins.  The finish on Tempus is a bit odd to me as parts are sweet and parts are very dry.  The sides of your tongue get a super dry finish that’s short and to the point, but the rest of my palate got a bready, more sweet finish.  It was very unique and something that distinguishes itself from any other barrel aged saison.

The carbonation on Tempus was great, especially since it’s a bottle conditioned, barrel aged saison from nearly a year ago.  The ABV was only 5.5% but I felt it after the first glass, it was more present than any other 5.5% brew I’ve ever had.  The beer was drinkable, but I took my time with it.  The first glass went down like water, but once the sour faded it was nursed a little bit more… not necessarily a bad thing though.

Overall:  Tempus was nice.  I haven’t had any barrel aged saison with this many transitions and this depth of flavor.  Jacques Cousteau would approve.  Batch 2 of this brew is more “saisony” than that of 3, and it showed once your first pour was in your stomach.  Well balanced flavors and the perfect amount of funk give Tempus an A-.  This is one old world beer that’s anything but simple.

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Epic Brewing Elder Brett: Saison Brett Golden Ale

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When somebody describes something as “epic” there is usually hype and disappointment to follow.  Epic Brewing Company, from Colorado, has put a lot of pressure on itself to create some epic beers.  For this particular libation, they reached out to their neighbors, Crooked Stave Brewing, to create a funky saison collaboration.  As the name would suggest, this farmhouse was doused with copious portions of everybody’s favorite wild yeast strand, brettanomyces to funkify the liquid.  If that wasn’t enough, it was housed in oak wine barrels to add a little more curiosity to the brew.  Will this beer live up to the brewer’s name?  Time to run then numbers…

Appearance:  This beer didn’t pour as hazy as I expected it to.  It had a little yeast floating around in it, but it was fairly clean with a white head that vanished quickly.  Very mild lacing as I drank.

IMG_1879Smell:  Lemon, lime, distinct bitter brett character, orange oils, sour, and a little oak.  I get some fruitiness from the aroma – green apples and sour grapes come through as the wine barrel aspect is given away here.

Taste:  First sip was sweeter than expected – you still get a mild tartness, however the grain and alcohol sweetness really cuts through the brett and barrel.  Some saisons I’ve had are a touch heavier in body, and it would appear that this one fits that mold.  My buddy Cody and I have homebrewed a couple of saisons together and I can identify sugary banana yeasty flavors from this as we could with our saison.  There is also a caramel toffee flavor that I can pick up on either coming from the malt, yeast, or alcohol (or all three).  The brett does a great job to instill its funk on the saison, but it’s not overly bitter or assertive like many other brett forward beers I’ve had.  There isn’t a ton of orange oily bitterness brett typically has.  Even the barrels this brew was aged in add distinct flavors – sour grapes from the wine allow this beer to have a touch more puckering than non-barrel aged brett beers.  Other fruit flavors emerge like apples and pears.  The finish isn’t overly dry and has a nice balance between sweet and tart… very unique beer, but you have to really pay attention to identify that.

IMG_1885The ABV in Elder Brett is again very high for a saison coming in at 9.1%.  It’s almost less of a saison and more of a barrel aged Belgian Strong.  The alcohol thickens up the body to a medium/full bodied beer and the carbonation is perfectly acceptable.  Since this saison has a fully body and inflated ABV, it’s not the most drinkable saison, but one shouldn’t have a tough time finishing 22 oz’s in a couple of hours.

Overall:  A distinctly different saison with flavors emerging from all elements.  Way more complex than other saisons I’ve had, but all those flavors coming together can make Epic’s offering seem a bit muddled.  The flavors work well, but there could be more harmony from start to finish.  At the end of the day, this beer was enjoyable and I’d give it a B+/A- overall.  I appreciate the uniqueness it has, but I don’t think I’d describe it as epic.

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Fantôme Saison

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When my brother and I were little, we had a Casper the Friendly Ghost nightlight in our bedroom… nothing better to ward away a terrifying boogieman than a lit up, smiling goblin .  It was almost as intimidating as the effeminate ghost adorning the label of Fantôme’s Saison… just look at those lashes.  In fact, I think Casper and Fantôme’s ghost would make a great couple, though I’m not sure if that long distance relationship would work.  There would also be a language barrier too seeing that she’s from Belgium.  The relationship between those two may seem like a pipe dream, but let’s see if this ghostly saison works for me… time for them numbers.

IMG_1854Appearance:  A yellow orange and super cloudy from all the left over yeasties in here.  The head was white and left the glass pretty quickly.

Smell:  Cantaloupe, honeydew melon, New York City air, funk, and orange juice.  A really scattered smelling beer, but one that is intriguing for sure.

Taste:  Tart and sour initially with massive kick of cantaloupe and melon.  This is one strange saison… I get no traditional banana, bready, or yeasty characteristics that almost all saisons have, but instead I get fruit, sour, and a ton of mustiness.  Reporting a smell of “New York City air” is new for me, but it tastes like there is some mild pollution in the beer – it’s not horrible, just strange, especially seeing that this brew is produced 5,000 miles away from Beijing.  That might be by design and part of the funk, but it’s odd.  After you get used to the first glass that off flavor vanishes and more tart and melon flavors spring from the brew.  For having those sweeter flavors, the beer finishes extremely dry, which is typical of most saisons.  The yeast has a funky, grassy character to it, but it works in this brew.  I was surprised to find how thick this beer was though.IMG_1856

The mouthfeel was on the heavier side as the beer seemed to be pretty viscus, however it tasted light because of the fruity sourness.  I’ve never had a heavy saison, so this offering from Fantôme continues to be a first for me (and one of contradictions).  The ABV was also unique for the style at a whopping 8%, which would give some DIPAs a run for their money.  The carbonation was lively and a lot of small bubbles pricked your tongue.

Overall:  Upon drinking this, you can tell that this is was what a saison tasted like during feudal times in Europe.  Funky, tart, a bit odd, somewhat muddled, but all part of the charm of what a saison is.  The unpredictability and variance from brewery to brewery is what I love about saisons.  I was surprised with how sour Fantôme’s was, and I was also taken back by the melon flavors.  The strange funk threw me off, but it still earns a solid B+ from me.  This is a beer that I think Casper would find too odd for his liking, even if he is a friendly ghost.

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Casey Saison

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What’s better than a saison that’s light, zesty, and a little funky?  A saison that’s light, zesty, funky, and wine barrel aged.  Enter Casey Brewing & Barreling.  A small operation located Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Casey is quickly making a name for itself in the beer world by creating intriguing saisons, spontaneously fermented beers, and fruited wild ales.  Brewed with only local ingredients, their saison is fermented in open oak vessels with two different bacterias and a saison yeast.  It’s then transferred over to oak barrels where it matures until it’s tartly perfect.  Enough talk, and more drinking – let’s run them numbers…

IMG_1809Appearance:  A shimmering gold color that’s very hazy leaving a small white head that vanished quickly.  This brew got hazier and hazier as I continued to pour it from the 750mL bottle.

Smell:  Lemon and lime zest, yeast, and sourdough bread are the three most prominent flavors coming off the teku.  It also smells very clean and tight, especially considering this was a open fermented barrel aged saison.  A faint presence of oak rounds things out.

Taste:  Just incredible.  Much more tart that I was expecting, but that’s a great thing in my book.  Huge notes of lemon and lime dominate the sour flavor of the brew and it just bursts all over the palate in a very clean and orderly way.  Every element in this saison has its solo and nobody is competing for stage time in this brew.  The flavors stand out individually, but come together better than The Beatles.  After the sour launch, things start to mellow a bit and more of the classic saison flavors emerge from the beer like that of yeast, pepper, and coriander.  As the bottle neared its end, more of the yeasty flavors seem to come out (obviously since the yeast bed was packed on the bottom of the bottle) making it more of a saison than a sour.  The wIMG_1804ater used to brew this beer must be high quality Rocky Mountain H20 as it’s thirst quenching and packed with minerals.  I think this helps to contribute to the clean smell found in the aroma and also makes the beer very drinkable.  The brew finished with a touch of mustiness from the oak, but I’d say it was by design and wouldn’t consider it an off flavor of the beer.

The body on Casey’s saison is light and thin.  This is typical of most saisons, however the fact that this is barrel aged and tart only helps highlight the lightness of the beer.  Additionally, there is only 5.5% alcohol by volume in this making it borderline sessionable.  The beer was well carbonated and fit right in that Goldilocks range for a saison.

Overall:  My first beer from Casey has left me with a good taste in my mouth.  Light and tart with very traditional elements of a saison coming through, Casey makes a damn good beer with its flagship ale.  This beer would be perfect for a relaxing afternoon in 80 degree weather and would make you a lot of friends while enjoying it.  I’d have to give it an A.  There’s not much keeping back the + here, other than the fact that its nearly impossible to find.  Well done Casey.

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Logsdon Farmhouse Ales Seizoen

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April showers brings May saisons.  That’s the saying right?  I’ve always associated the peppery, lemon, yeasty, and honey characteristics of saisons to the flavors of spring.  Nothing beats sitting on the deck watching the trees come into bloom better than a crisp glass of suds.  Spring is my favorite season and is also the quarter of the year where I pay homage to one of the most antiquated beer styles.  What makes a saison so great is how it can vary from batch to batch, but more so from brewery to brewery.  Allagash and Northcoast keep theirs traditional while Boulevard and DuPont embrace the farmhouse funk and house character saisons were originally intended to have.  I’m interested to see where Logsdon falls on this continuum, but if I were a betting man, I think their organic brew coated with a beeswax seal leads me to believe it falls into the latter category.  Let’s get into this…

IMG_1785Appearance:  Ok… so when I pried the cap off of this saison, beer immediately came screaming out like I was trying to champagne fight somebody.  It went everywhere.  When the mess was cleaned up, I only had about half of my 750ml left in the bottle for a sample.  When I poured what was left, it gave off a grapefruit juice orange color.  This brew was thick – no light penetrated the glass whatsoever.  This was the most dense saison I’ve ever poured, more so than Saison DuPont.  A white head retained itself fairly well but left no lace as I drank.

Smell:  Huge white wine aroma, grapes, lactic acid, lemon zest, yeast, and orange.  This smells amazing… and since this was a faucet gusher, so does my entire office.

Taste:  Honestly, the first thing that I noticed in this beer was the booze.  It was insane how apparent it was… like rubbing alcohol and vodka mixed together.  Clearly, I think maybe a little too much bottle fermentation was going on with this one, but it was properly cellared since the time I bought it.  I did however drag things out with this guy since I’m drinking it only a month before it suggested best by date.  That said, once you get used to the booze wave, this is actually one hell of a saison.  A lot of lemon is going on in here as white wine vinous flavors.  It has a subtle amount of tartness to it and really not a significant of stereotypical yeasty flavors from a saison.  The yeast isn’t bready or heavy, but has an awesome house charaIMG_1766cter.  Bits of other fruits come out like apples, pears, lemons, and under ripened nectarine – it really encompasses all of the flavors of an orchard.  The flavors in here are terrific.

So clearly, the carbonation is active in this beer – a bunch of tiny bubbles that tingle the tongue, however I don’t mind a bit more activity in a saison.  The ABV is an impressive 7.5% and while I got a ton of booze at first, I must say it dropped off a lot as I drank.  It was light and body and was fairly drinkable, again, once my palate got used to the booze in here.

Overall:  This saison screams spring.  The flavors are on point and are reminiscent of a true farmhouse ale.  Tartness and the fruitiness make for an phenomenal combination and the booze mellows out as you drink.  The one obvious knock on this beer was it’s near bottle shattering carbonation that has my whole office smelling like spring beer… which isn’t an awful thing.  When push comes to shove, Logsdon scores an A- with this brew.  It’s something that I would pick up again for the start of spring, only I’d open it outside next time around.

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Jolly Pumpkin Bam Bière

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So after I spilled a beer on my old MacBook Pro (while typing a Beer Chatter I’ll have you know – hard drive can be seen in the above picture at the bottom right) I’m back in the game and I’m here to do a 7 part series on one of my favorite breweries, Jolly Pumpkin out of Dexter, Michigan.  Honestly, I found this brewing co. by accident after I bought what I thought was a pumpkin ale last fall.  I mean, this wasn’t just any Pumpkin Ale… this was a Jolly Pumpkin Ale!  Well, come to find out Jolly Pumpkin is the brewery, and a farmhouse ale named Bam Bière was what I got.  [Pause for reader to remissness the days of Sublime.]  I was more disappointed than a Jets fan in December.  Needless to say, all I wanted to do was stash this away and immediately head out to grab some Punkin.

IMG_1820 - Version 2However, once the warmer months started to come around again, it crept back into my mind.  When one of my buddies decided to have a beer tasting at his house, I figured this would be the perfect beer to bring… mainly because I didn’t really want it (how generous I am, I know).  I had very low expectations of the brew thinking this was just just going to taste like yet another underwhelming yeasty white ale with artificial citrus.  In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend!”  In our taste test, I actually had this beer finishing in first place, ranking it ahead of both Pliny the Elder and Breakfast Stout. Time to run them numbers!

Appearance:  Beautiful golden color with a crisp white head.  Slightly cloudy and a head retention that maintained itself for quite some time.  Not expecting that with a farmhouse – off to a good start.

IMG_7407Smell: Barnyard funk, grapefruit, bitter orange, and one of my favorite little bacterias, brettanomyces.  (Since we are on such good terms, I’ll be referring to this miracle as Brett.)  Overall this brew smelled funky-funky-funky, so much so that  White Cherry could have easily come out with a sequel dedicated to Bam Bière.

Taste: The lightest detection of brett to begin, then immediately balances out to citrus – oranges, grapefruit, and lemon – which all make an appearance.  This dog is definitely funky, but not overly done.  I would say this is more complex Allagash’s Confluence or Evil Twin’s Ron and the Beast Ryan.  Those aforementioned beers were a one trick pony – all brett and nothing else; they tasted like drinking an orange peel.  Bam Bière is what a true “farmhouse ale” should be.  It has the barnyard brett, but transitions nicely into citrus then back to a tart (but not sour) finish.  As far as the hops in the brew, I really didn’t detect much of a direct presence, but honestly I’m happy about that as a farmhouse should highlight other flavors than hop bitterness.

IMG_7378All things considered, I was impressed by Jolly Pumpkin’s farmhouse.  I’ve had other ‘farmhouse ales’ that tasted just like a typical saison (Le Merele should not call itself a farmhouse) and often they were tremendously disappointing for they style in which I’d thought they’d be.  This brew definitely differentiates itself from the rest of the market – and in my opinion, great brews are memorable brews.  This is a memorable brew and I will continue to seek this Jack Russel out.

IMG_7374When to drink it?  Well, this beer would be perfect for a spring or summer day, or perhaps for a gathering that you might need to drive home from.  At only 4.5% ABV, this is the definition of a session beer.  I really can’t knock this beer too much for anything.  It is wonderfully inviting and incredibly refreshing.  If you live in Connecticut, you won’t find this in the state, but keep your eyes peeled for it in neighboring New York or Massachusetts.  The one problem might be its price for some – it’ll run you about 12 dollars per 750mL, however this truly is an artisan ale and actually is priced competitively for bottle conditioned brews with brett (say those last five words seven times fast…)

Overall:  This beer gets an A+.  Number one, it tastes awesome – number two, how can you not love a beer named after a dog that survives getting run over by a car?  That is one tough dog, and one beer that deserves its namesake.  Only Michael Vick would be disappointed with this one.

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Allagash Interlude

I tried Allagash Interlude on my brewery tour of Maine and remember it tasting a little funky, but decided to give it another shot from the bottle.  After a wonderful experience with Curieux, I decided that the ~20 dollar price tag was worth it (it was a pay day).  It was a unique experience, but the money could have been better spent.  Let’s do the numbers:

Appearance:  While I was pouring the beer, I was struck as to how loud the head sounded.  I know it’s a strange thing to notice, but it was something that stood out.  Certainly not positive nor negative.  Back to the beer, the head was off white, and not very thick.  The beer also poured cloudy, and was an amber/orange color.  There was also a bit of sediment floating around in the beer, not shocking as you could even see it in the dark bottle.

Smell:  First thing that came into my head: salty kiwi.  Have I ever had salty kiwi before?  no, but I know what the beachy/salty smell is and I know what kiwi is. I also got some toasted hops, grape, citrus, slight Skittle smell, wheat

Taste: Odd taste.  Wheaty up front, but the bitterness from the hops hits all over your tongue.  Also, bitterness could be from the tannins in the wine barrels.  A little bit of that wild yeast comes in with the wheaty taste upfront. Finishes much like a rich red wine.  a little back of the throat burn going down, not very surprising at 9.5% ABV.  Gets better as you drink, but the bitterness to me is the star of the show.  Bitter in a red wine way, not bitter in an IPA way.  There is a little funk in this beer, much like a pungent blue cheese.  Not incredibly drinkable, long pauses between sips, but to be fair, this brew is not meant to funnel or to be drunk while mowing the lawn.  Lightly Carbonated.

Overall: C+/B-  Appreciate the creativity and boldness of wild yeast, but doesn’t deliver on taste.