While saisons are a great beer any time of year (for example it’s my go to Thanksgiving dinner beer), there’s no season like summer for a saison. After all they were historically brewed in the cooler months for consumption during the summer. Quoting from The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth (Workman Publishing, 2015):
“Rustic ales (aka saisons) recall an earlier age in brewing, when beer had the character of fresh grain, spicy hops, and tart, wild yeasts. They were brewed to quench the thirsts of working men, not pacify them, and they needed to be light and refreshing.”
So in the third installment of my summer beer review series we take a look at Barrel Aged Saison du Poisson by Little Fish Brewing in Athens, Ohio.
Little Fish Brewing has been in operation for a little over a year. They made news in the spring at the 2016 World Beer Cup where their entry, Barrel Aged Woodthrush, beat out 41 other beers to win gold in the Belgian and French-style Ale category. It’s impressive for an upstart of a brewery to make an impact like that with a barrel aged beer, a style that usually takes years to perfect. So my expectations are pretty high for the barrel aged version of their flagship farmhouse ale. Lofty enough to shell out $14 for a 750 mL bottle.
- Brewery: Little Fish (Athens, OH)
- Style: Saison
- ABV: 6.25%
- Price: $13.99 for a 750 mL bottle
The non-barrel aged version of this beer, which to the best of my knowledge is not packaged, is brewed with organic spelt and barley. This more refined version is created by aging the base beer in oak wine barrels. The bottle I’m reviewing today was bottled on April 1, 2016 and thus is about 4.5 months old. The label description is as follows:
We love to brew and drink Saison du Poisson (pronounced “say-ZON due pwah-SON) because it embraces two of our main missions: to brew tasty, Belgian-style farmhouse ales and to do so using local and sustainable ingredients. This golden colored farmhouse ale is brewed with the finest organic barley malt and organic Ohio spelt. After fermentation we age it in oak barrels with select strains of wild yeast develop complexity and dryness. Then we dry-hop it with Crystal hops before bottle conditioning.
Golden yellow and hazy to the eye, but visually the head is a what sets this beer apart. It’s not so much the volume but the consistency that gets your attention—simultaneously dense and creamy, whiter than a cup of frothed milk, and not going anywhere in a hurry. Just like waffles, pomme frites, and bureaucrats, the nose is 100% Belgian—very yeast forward with fruity esters and spicy phenolics on a sweet, grainy pilsner malt base. At this point I’m thinking this is going to taste like a respectable, but very standard saison. Then I take a drink that completely defies my expectations. I was expecting something fruity and spicy with a little bit of residual of malty sweetness, but instead the beer is dry, vinous and tart, not full on sour but definitely tart. The oak barrels and wild yeasts have not only helped to dry out the beer, they have added earthy, woody complexity. There is a faint fruitiness in the background that I can’t quite describe. The mouthfeel is dry and effervescent with waves of prickly carbonation that tickle the tongue and leaving you wanting another dirnk.
I’ve been impressed with Little Fish every time I’ve tried one of their beers and this one is no different. The oak barrel aging transforms what is a very solid saison into an elegant, refined beer that is still approachable. It’s tart but not too sour; complex without too much barnyard funk; sophisticated yet easy drinking. The complexity and the price tag would steer you to drink this over a nice dinner or when celebrating a special occasion with friends, but it’s so damn drinkable that you could easily indulge yourself while lounging by the pool. This is a beer that will age well, so if you can afford it pick up two bottles, one to drink and one to cellar. If you have a sweet spot for wild ales from the likes of Russian River or Jolly Pumpkin I’m confident you’ll dig Little Fish’s barrel aged line of beers. In the (almost) words of 1960’s era psychedelic folk rocker Donovan, it must be the season of the fish.
Rating scale: 10 = perfection, 9 = excellent, one of the top beers in the world, 8 = very good, one of the top beers in its style category, 7 = good, a solid beer I’m happy to be drinking, 6 = average, not bad but not something I’m likely to buy again, 5 = below average, 3-4 = poor, should be avoided, 1-2 drainpour.