My last foray into American brews salvaged what was becoming a dubious relationship. Don’t get me wrong, and contrary to a historic Canadian disdain for the brewing ability of our southern brethren, a disdain tied as much to our own Canadian inferiority complex as it is to a pre-craft-brewing era, I have had many a great American brew and there is no question, the USA knows its stuff. It’s just that of late I wasn’t getting much proof of this.
But a few weeks ago, I was walking through the specialty section of the LCBO’s beer selection, a selection akin to their “vintages” section for wine, and I came across among the most beautifully labeled 4-pack of beer. I mean truly, stare at one of these labels and the finery and craft is amazing. Even at $13 for the four of them, a wee bit dear for certain, I was compelled to purchase them and hold them in wait for a sampling … a sampling that happened tonight.
So I took out a bottle of “Hennepin,” named after the first European to lay eyes upon Niagara Falls, which weighs in at an impressive 7.7% ABV but which looks like a petite blonde lass in glass. Both of these are true characteristics of the Belgian-inspired “saison” beer, a beer that has its origins as summer brew produced at, you guessed it, Belgian farmhouses.
I followed the pouring instructions to a tee: “Pour slowly so as to not disturb the yeast sediment, but with enough vigor to create a luxurious head and release the rich bouquet.” In other words, they’re say this is bottled “sur lies” … and given not many North Americans outside of Quebec are doing this, I was immediately intrigued. I had the picture set up perfectly, lots of head and the fall of “lees” washing through the perfectly clear waters of the beer (to demonstrate why you have to follow the instructions), but in that instance, the reinserted memory card in my camera failed and so I didn’t capture the picture I wanted. However, failed picture or not, the label was bang on in the description that this poured with “champagne-like effervescence.” Indeed, you could hear the bubbling and fizzing as it was pouring. Brilliant.
As for the flavour, again, I can’t do better justice than the label itself, so why pretend to do more: “Farmhouse Saison Ale Brewed with Grains of Paradise, Coriander, Ginger, Sweet Orange Peel – hearty, rustic, golden ale, hoppy and crisp.” It’s one thing to put your ingredients on your label, but it’s quite another when they each come through in a perfect balance of flavours. Brewery Ommegang, located in Cooperstown, claims their “ales are incomparable – yielding unique flavours and aromas, inspired by deep insight into Belgian brewing, yet infused with Ommegang’s spirit of creativity, each ale offers perfect balance and pure drinking pleasure.” Again, they know what they’re talking about except in one regard. Even without reading the label, in one with sniff of the bouquet plus one sip and you’re instantly reminded of a beer that compares very well with Hennepin … and it happens to be one of the most famous Belgian beers in the world and one of my favourite winter beers before they were bought out by Interbrew and then the behemoth Anheuser-Busch: Leffe Brune.
If you don’t like a ‘spiced’ beer, you’re not likely to like this one, but if you like subtle spices and are ready to enjoy an aperitif of a brew, this is going to wow you. As the label foretells, the coriander, ginger and orange predominate, the coriander especially, but there is definitely clove, molasses and even some nutmeg in there too. Indeed, I’m curious what this would taste like served hot after an afternoon of skiing. I dare say, if there is a brew out there that is any more perfect in doing what they have sought out to do, well, I need to taste it because I can’t imagine better. The flavours in this are divine and linger long after the beer is drunk keeping you warm and happy in the process. The effervescent bubbles do fade fast, like in a champagne and leave a clean glass with no lacing at all. The mouthfeel, is gorgeous only made better by the superb diacetyls that leave a lovely creamy aftertaste.
Truly, as Halloween nears and as we sit but a few days away from our first hard frost and officially hit “freezing” temperatures, I say dump the too trendy pumpkin ales that are everywhere now and instead reach for this and prepare to be blown away. And, yes, I did just give this beer 96 points out of a 100 – it really is that good!
Stats: Farmhouse Ale 7.7% ABV. Cooperstown, New York.
Colour: Light gold of watered-down honey; sur lies.
Mouth Feel: Effervescent bubbles that die quickly; excellent crisp and creamy finish..
Purchased: Quebec (e.g. LCBO)
Pairings: Chicken tacos or, as the label describes, Asian cuisine.