Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Brett Saison with Fantome Dregs - Tasting Notes

Saison with Fantome dregs
Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Saison / Wild Ale
Brewed: 2.10.2013

Bottled On: 7.4.2013
ABV: 4.8%

Back in February, I brewed two saisons on consecutive days with identical recipes. Both saisons received a pitch from a vigorous starter of White Labs Saison II. But for the real fun, I also pitched cultured dregs from a bottle of Fantome to one carboy, while the other got cultured dregs from some Hill Farmstead farmhouse beers, Juicy and Clara. My goal was to end up with a funky, slightly acidic saison that — unlike a full blown sour ale with a complete mix of bugs — would finish up by the summer. They did, and now that they've spent a couple months in the bottle, here are the results. (Hill Farmstead version posted here).

Appearance: Pours with a light thin head; great clarity from months of settling. Straw gold, very slight touch of amber. Decent retention for the level of carbonation, which, like the Hill Farmstead version, is too low for the style.

Aroma: The aroma here is pretty on par with a 'standard' Brett saison, but minus the yeasty phenolic character that I personally am not a huge fan of, and was thus hoping to avoid. This is sweet dewy morning sunshine drenching a field, man. And fruit. Dank, funky fruit is coming from the saison yeast and Brett working in tandem — Saison II is a more fruity than peppery, as I was expecting, but the real character was produced by the Fantome dregs anyway.  To be clear, this is not the funkiest of the funks, and the Brett character here is of reserved sort, actually reminding me a bit of my recent 100% Brett brews with Custersianus and Claussenai. This does not have that aged, horsey Brett smell, and instead still seems rather bright and lively.

And while it's unlikely that I could be smelling one measly ounce of Citra hops in this beer after yeast had so much time to work on it, still... sometimes I could swear I get that dank tropical Citra character. My gut instinct was that Citra would be the perfect pairing for this yeast profile, and I'm happy to report that was a good guess.

Flavor: This version is quite dry and tart, though definitely not to the point of being sour, as with the Hill Farmstead version. While the body is actually surprisingly full and slick — much more so than its sibling, which had an identical grain bill — it's got a nice tart snap at the finish, a dryness that doesn't quite reach into actual acidity. With some sweetness in the mid-palate, and ripe fruitiness throughout, it's quite refreshing. That fruit must, again, be coming from the saison yeast / Brett combo, and immediately makes me think of pear, followed by lemony citrus and white grape. Given how rich and vibrant this tastes, it's not the usual sort of farmhouse, and fortunately, the intriguing slick sweet note never clashes with the tart funk.

Mouthfeel: Slick, almost too full for the style. Still finishes very dry and tart, though. Could definitely use more carbonation, but it's still pleasant enough where it's at.

Fantome dregs Petite SaisonOverall Impressions: When prepping for these batches, my main point of curiosity was the actual microbial composition of Fantome and the Hill beers I harvested dregs from. Fantome is one of the great mysteries remaining in the beer world, with brewmaster Dany Prignon keeping his secrets close. Fantome, at its best and funkiest, simply tastes like nothing else. Much of that mystery character must come from the yeast, I figured — so how close would my saison get to that wild weirdness?

Well, interestingly, this half of White Mana pretty much tastes nothing like Fantome. That's not a knock on this beer, however. Though I prefer the Hill Farmstead version, this batch is still one of my recent favorites; there's not much I could find to complain about it other than the carbonation, and I mainly prefer the Hill version for its more developed acidity. Nonetheless, I can't help but wonder where the weirdness of Fantome is coming from, if not these yeast. Will some of that character emerge over time, as I let these bottles age?

Online, it's rumored that Fantome is blended with a small portion of lambic after fermentation, with sources citing emails from brewer Dany Prignon himself. If true, this would almost certainly result in a beer brewed with Fantome dregs eventually becoming lambic-like itself — you only need to let a few bugs in for that whole game to kick off. Based on my experience, I would say this particular rumor seems unlikely, though maybe it varies from beer to beer, or batch to batch. Fantome has never tasted particularly sour to me — more just tart and weird as hell — and throughout the brewing process, I saw no evidence that there was anything at work other than saison yeast and Brettanomyces. Even then, this strain of Brett doesn't seem to be super aggressive, though I can credit it for the pleasant-but-subtle acidity that arose.

I will almost certainly be brewing with both dregs again, and given what I've learned, I will probably keep this one as the faster ferment — maybe pitching dual saison strains in addition to the dregs, and targeting a lower OG  — and then hitting it with a bigger Citra dry hop, to really shape that sunshine into a lazer of fruity dankwaves.

The recipe and initial notes for this batch can be found here.


  1. Question for you regarding the use of Fantome dregs.... Did the beer ever get "sick"? I ask b/c this spring I fermented a lower alcohol saison solely with the dregs from a bottle of Fantome that I cultured/grew up. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary with the beer and after 3 months, I bottle conditioned. It's now been several months since I bottled and every bottle I've tried is still "sick". The level of snottiness has gone down since the 1st bottle I tried but it's a pain to crack a beer only to find out that it's thick and viscous. Ever have any issues like this?

    1. Great question. You hear that about Fantome fairly often, and I'm assuming because there's a large pediococcus presence in his brews. I only brewed two beers with Fantome dregs, and they never had this issue, nor did they really get very tart, so I'm guessing I didn't get a very aggressive culture of anything from that particular bottle.

      I did have that happen very recently with a sort of spontaneous sour that's only a month into fermentation. Over time, as long as Brett is present, it should theoretically clean up. I'll post more about that brew soon, though; I'm very curious how it develops myself.

      I wonder if perhaps you just didn't get a Brett culture from your dregs harvest? It seems weird that it only developed once bottled, but hopefully it should clean up over time, I would honestly probably just set it aside for 6 months, if you can, or at least don't sample them too frequently until it's (hopefully) improved.


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