With a couple of months passing since our last meeting, this weekend was time for another informal bottle share. Here's what we popped open.
First up was one of my contributions, Dark White from Brasserie Fantôme. There's something appealingly mysterious about Fantôme - the bizarre, amateurish branding somehow draws me in, for one thing. There's the use of unusual ingredients - dandelions, for example, or a green tea which produces a beer that looks like a mad scientist's potion. The brewery's reputation is intriguingly patchy, too - Fantôme have their fanatic followers, but even these seem happy to use adjectives like "rough" and "dirty" to describe the beers. Those who are less keen seem to suggest that brewer Dany Prignon carelessly throws together his recipes with little thought as to what works and what doesn't.
Personally, this is my first taste of Fantôme - billed as a saison with spices, it appears to be brewed with black pepper. It pours a murky orange, possibly as a result of spending time in a suitcase as my Dad and brother brought it home from Brussels for me - it's had plenty of time to settle since, and there were no noticeable pieces of sediment floating around, but few pictures online look anything like as soupy as mine. The substantial white head is lively and fluffy and it has a strong nose of boiled orange sweets and farmyard funk. There are more oranges in the taste, along with oregano and pepper. The addition of pepper is deftly judged - it could easily be overdone, but rather than washing out the other flavours, it accentuates that classic saison dryness, combining with a lingering, zesty fruitiness in a quenching, bitter finish. Carbonation is surprisingly low here - I often think of brisk carbonation as a key feature in a saison, but this is a defining example of the style even without the bracing fizz. It's beautiful, and I'll be seeking out more Fantôme on the strength of Dark White.
Next was Samuel Smith's Yorkshire Stingo, a strong ale aged in oak casks that, if anything, seems to drink beyond it's 8% ABV. It's almost still, and we're not able to produce much of a head on our glasses, both factors contributing to the spirit-like nature of the beer - it does, at times, feel like something that should be sipped in small measures from a chunky tumbler. There's lots of treacle and toffee going on, along with raisins, some faint vanilla and an oaky depth from the barrel. Though it isn't as viscous or sticky as beers like this can be, the booziness is a little overwhelming - although bottle conditioned for a year before release, I'd be interested to see if another couple of years might pull it together.
Partizan Huff followed. A mysterious beer in that the label gives no indication as to style or any other information beyond the eye-popping 14% ABV. It is, in fact, a recreation of a particular ale brewed at Winchester College, which you can read more about here. Although a government laboratory analysed the beer, giving Partizan some guidelines as to what they hoped to achieve, I doubt the historical huff would have tasted much like this. Amongst others, a saison yeast has been used to simulate the original beer's dryness. The resulting character is strongly Belgian, not unlike the Fantôme saison, or leaning towards a strong tripel. The stated aim to highlight hop aroma whilst keeping bitterness low is certainly achieved, and there's an earthy hop background complimenting the flavours of candied orange peel and candy floss. Tasty as it is, it's a little hot, and would probably be more enjoyable at about half its strength.
I also had a chance to taste Beavertown and Evil Twin's XXX, an 'imperial mild' which I recently included in a round-up of bottled milds. Having written fairly exhaustively about it there, I won't repeat myself, but the beer's character has changed in the month or so since I tried it - the zesty grapefruit flavours from the hops have died down a lot, and we're firmly in barley wine territory now. It's still enjoyable, but I preferred it first time round.
Whilst the others shared a Kernel export porter and something from Innis and Gunn which was apparently reduced to pennies in a supermarket, I switched to water and concentrated on banishing an attack of hiccups. Another successful bottle share - though I'll be eating a more substantial meal before we start next time.