Style: Farmhouse / Wild Ale
Bottled On: 7.4.2013
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. (Fantome 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 its sibling, is definitely too low.
Aroma: Less aroma-focused than the Fantome version; this one has less funk and more fruit. I get a sweet floral character, and mellow fruits like grape, melon, maybe even raspberry. The Brett drops some funky dank grapefruit, reminiscent of my 100% Brett C beer. There's none of the Citra aroma left in this one. The aroma is on the fainter side, but I find it very unique and captivating.
Flavor: Much more tart than the Fantome version, with firm acidity running throughout. This is what I would describe as "succulent" — just dripping with tart, sour fruit character. There's funk here, there's mild barnyard, there's maybe just a smidgeon of that saison yeast profile left. Farmhouse beer, for sure, but nothing like the saisons most American brewers are making. As the beer warms (it took about half an hour before I noticed this) and the tartness grew more 'zing', that flavor takes on an almost raspberry-ish character. Maybe it's some weird synaptic illusion created by the pairing of such juicy tartness with a mild mid-palate note of sweetness; maybe my brain is just firing its cylinders haphazardly; who knows. The tricky, slick fruitiness of this one, combined with a well-mannered sourness, makes it quite a difficult beer to describe, but also one of the most refreshingly delicious I've had in while. Some more carbonation would push that drinkability even higher.
Mouthfeel: Slick, rich, very tart finish that lingers very pleasantly. If I could point to any flaw here, it's that there's not nearly enough carbonation for the style, though it's pleasant enough where it's at. I just hate seeing a saison look still after sitting for a while in my glass; knowing now that there was no chance of further fermentation and bottle bombs, I'd definitely carb much higher next time.
Overall Impressions: When prepping for these batches, my main point of curiosity was the actual microbial content of Fantome and the Hill beers I'd harvested from. The Hill beers were quite aggressive in forming a pellicle, and based on the flavor profile of the original beers, I was fairly confident that contained some bacteria in addition to Brett. While I'm still relying on observational evidence, the results would seem to support this theory. This batch soured quite quickly based on my monthly tastings, and has a depth of acidity that I don't think Brett could have achieved on its own. It'll be interesting to see how these age, and if the Brett becomes any more barnyard and aromatic over time.
If you couldn't tell, I really love this one. In fact, I love both versions, but the slightly amped-up sourness and acidity completely sell the Hill Farmstead version for me; it's exactly what I was hoping would come out of the experiment. So refreshing and complex, ripe with unique fruity funky; not so sour that I couldn't drink a couple pints of it back to back. It actually may be a contender for Favorite Bear Flavored Batch So Far, and already imagining a dozen fun things to use with this yeast blend in the future. Green Mana, Blue Mana, Red Mana, Black Mana, anyone?
The recipe and initial notes for this batch can be found here.