In recent years mixed fermentation saisons have become a hot trend among American craft breweries. These beers combine the dry, yeast driven character of a classic saison with the tart, funky character that comes from bacteria and Brettanomyces yeast. Jackie O’s Pockets of Sunlight is a beer is made in this vein.
It’s never wise to sleep on Jackie O’s sour beers, but when Pocket of Sunlight was rated #3 in a field of 116 saisons in a Paste Blind Taste Test it caught my attention. I always find blind taste tests enlightening, you can even check out the saison blind taste test I organized a few years ago, but in terms of scale Paste has elevated the blind taste test to a new level. In this particular tasting, Pockets of Sunlight finished ahead of highly respected saisons from breweries such as Brasserie Dupont, Allagash, Ommegang, de Garde, and Hill Farmstead. Let’s have a closer look at what turned the heads of the tasters at Paste.
- Brewery: Jackie O’s (Athens, OH)
- Style: Saison
- ABV: 6.5%
- Price: $10.99 for a 16.9 oz bottle
Here’s how the Jackie O’s describes the beer on the bottle:
Pockets of Sunlight is a saison brewed with honey, coriander, and lemon verbena. Fermented with a mixed culture of classic saison strains, wild yeast, and bacteria. Post fermentation, the beer was conditioned in stainless steel for 6 weeks with its primary mixed culture. A third and final fermentation completed this beer in the bottle. Pockets of Sunlight is a radiant saison full of crisp energy. Please cool before opening and pour with care leaving the sediment in the bottle.
Looking at the bottle before opening I can see a thin layer of yeast has settled out on the bottom. I make a note to take care not to rouse the yeast while pouring. On popping the cap foam immediately starts snaking out of the bottle, not a gusher but obviously the aforementioned yeast have been hard at work. The beer pours pale golden, beautifully bright with great clarity. True to its name the beer shimmers invitingly in the warm rays of the setting summer sun. Waves of CO2 bubbles cascade toward the surface creating two fingers of delicate white head, albeit one that recedes back to a scrim fairly quickly. The nose is tart, lemon citrusy, with a soft funkiness reminiscent of freshly cut hay that has been left out in the rain. Notes of classic saison yeastiness lurk in the background. Each sip starts out with a grainy pilsner malt base, then ups the ante with a layer of tart, freshly squeezed lemons. The farmyard Brett funk that is unmistakable in the aroma is pretty subtle in the taste, just enough at the margins to add complexity. There is a touch of underlying spiciness, but it’s hard for me to distinguish it as coming from the saison yeast, or the coriander, or perhaps something else. The mouthfeel is light bodied, with enough carbonation to impart a light prickly feel on your tongue. The finish is clean, crisp, and very dry, all of which leave you wanting another sip.
Pockets of Sunlight is über refreshing, tart but not full on sour, bursting with lemon-leaning fruitiness. It’s approachable enough for newbies to the world of sour beers, but there’s enough funky complexity around the edges to engage aficionados. Not surprisingly the honey has completely fermented out, and while its presence may have impacted the flavor profile I wouldn’t have known it was part of the recipe if the bottle didn’t say so. In contrast, the lemon verbena is prominent, yet masterfully integrated with the rest of the ingredients. The combination of lemon, balanced acidity, and Brett funk invites comparisons with Cantillon Gueuze, a beer I was fortunate enough to try on a recent trip to Japan. An even better comparison would be to another of my Athens favorites, Little Fish’s barrel aged saison, Sunfish, which coincidentally is also made with honey. No need to travel across the globe or wait in long lines to get world class mixed fermentation saisons, there are some classics being made right down the road in Athens.
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.