Before I get into this, I need to tell you that my drinking has spiralled out of control. Which is to say that I am, in fact, already breaking into the cases of Belgian witbier (aka bière blanche, if you're dealing with the Frenchy sort of Belgium), which is the next thing I want to write about, and I am even starting to attack the oatmeal stout, which is, like, three styles ahead. And I am just now sitting down to write about the Belgian fruited lambic and saison. And I still have one bottle of raspberry lambic in my basement.
Also, I recently discovered gin and tonic. Seriously losing focus here, and I am pretty sure it is not because my eyes are crossing.
So let me just knock this bit out, and then I can get on with the witbier in peace.
Belgian saison is where my opinions and the opinions of Garrett Oliver, author of The Brewmaster's Table, part company. He is really into them. They are "one of the world's most refreshing and enigmatic beer styles," "light, brisk, refreshing, and sustaining," "some of Belgium's most exciting beers," "truly glorious and endlessly interesting," and "[w]ith food... beyond versatile... virtually invincible."
The style is interesting in that they are traditional farmhouse ales, unfiltered and artisanal, and varying from bottle to bottle. As Belgian beers are wont to do, they carry flavors of spices and citrus peel. They often are sold in Champagne-style bottles complete with cork -- so they might be a fun alternative to expensive French bubbly for your next celebration.
But I don't know -- our bottle of Saison Dupont failed to impress either me or Mark. Maybe I just got a bad bottle, or maybe I didn't match it well, or maybe Mr. Oliver just set up my expectations too high. I just remember finding it kind of boring, and it wasn't cheap either. The people at Beer Advocate like it fine, so maybe I should give it another chance. I almost feel embarrassed saying that I didn't like the stuff, at least not at the $11 price point.
Fortunately for my perception of Belgium, the next bottle we tried was also from Belgium and not boring in the least. It left me wondering aloud, "This? This counts as a beer? Impossible!"
What left me so incredulous was Brouwerij Lindemans Framboise. This is a sweet fruited lambic beer. Lambics are not always fruited, by the way; they are a traditional style that is fermented with wild yeast and bacteria, sort of like old-fashioned sourdough bread. I don't know what they taste like, I still haven't had any plain lambic yet. I have not seen any in the beer store.
But I did see the Lindemans Framboise, and carried it home along with some kriek. The fruited lambics get a secondary fermentation on cherries or raspberries -- sometimes whole fruit, sometimes purée or juice. Oliver writes, "The result was a stronger, transformed beverage that sat squarely on the border between wine and beer."
We poured the framboise into champagne flutes and admired its beautiful rosy color. It tasted jammy and sweet and tart at the same time. It tasted kind of crazy, to be frank. Soda-pop, with an alcoholic kick.
I think I would rather have it than almost any dessert wine that I can afford to buy regularly (I have had luxurious ports and eisweins and muscats and the like, sure, but I think of them as special-occasion wines, not something to keep always on hand). The book says it goes well with cheesecake, and I had managed to procure some for the occasion -- indeed it did. On another occasion we tried the kriek. It was also fruity, tart and sweet.
I would recommend trying one of these to anyone. They are just so over-the-top -- and they don't taste very much like beer. They taste more like sweet bubbly fruity wine. I don't want to think too much about whether it proves that I don't know much about beer, that I liked this frothy sweet stuff. I bet it isn't for everyone. But you won't know until you try it.
I still have one bottle left to try, of an American kriek -- Wisconsin brewery New Glarus's Wisconsin Belgian Red, which proclaims that each 750 mL bottle contains one pound of Montmorency cherries. I am waiting for an evening in which we can kill a bottle without regretting it in the morning.