Spon – Methode Gueuze
Jester King Brewery
Before creating his brewery’s first gueuze-style ale, Jester King head brewer Jeff Stuffings agonized over what, exactly, to call it. Normally this isn’t such a big deal for brewers—pretty much anything with an abundance of hops, for instance, can be called “IPA” without beer folk batting an eye—but it’s a bit different with the wild ales of Belgium. Many American brewers have a deep and abiding reverence for these beers, refusing to even put similar beers they make stateside in the same category. An excerpt from Jester King’s website explains it like this:
“We knew we would not claim that it was an authentic ‘lambic’ or ‘gueuze.’ Our beer was made in Texas. Lambic and gueuze come from Brussels and the Pajottenland. End of story. We make no claim of authenticity whatsoever when it comes to ‘lambic’ or ‘gueuze.’ Our beer is NOT ‘lambic’ or ‘gueuze.’” tweet
In the end, Stuffings settled on “Methode Gueuze,” a designation that references the brewing and fermentation process without claiming to be a “true” gueuze, much in the way some winemakers use the label “Méthode Champenoise” for their sparkling vino.
But dammit if Spon – Methode Gueuze doesn’t taste like pure Belgium. The funk-for-days nose brims with authenticity: Tart lemon juice, wet hay, vanilla custard, fresh-split oak, sweet verbena, pear skin and peach syrup meet the underside of a horse saddle. Even more lemon emerges on that palate, though there’s less acidic burn than one would imagine, then rhubarb and dry vanilla bean fade as oaky tannins bite. It’s outrageously vibrant, complex and accurate to this hard-to-replicate style, which might be why Jean Van Roy of Brasserie Cantillon told Stuffings his blend “deserves even more to be called ‘Lambic’ or ‘Gueuze’ than a lot of fake Belgian Gueuze.”
A good number of wood-aged beers would kill for the oak character in this cider made with Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, Jonagold and Granny Smith apples in Austin, Texas. The barrels provide notes of scored vanilla beans, lemon cream pie and egg custard to accent bright fruit, cloves and champagne minerality, and while apple skin tannins grip the tongue after each sip, the 9% ABV is nowhere to be found.
Hill Farmstead Brewery
What can one say about a Hill Farmstead saison that hasn’t already been mentioned in countless glowing reviews? We could tell you, for instance, that Arthur first caught our eye with its bright yellow hue that seemed to glow like neon and it craggy eggshell-colored head that seems like it would last all afternoon. We could wax poetic about its compact bouquet of saltine crackers, lemon zest, white pepper and dry pear skin, or sing the praises of its clean, bright tartness that animates flavors of peppercorns and lemongrass. We could even go so far as to say that Arthur’s about as perfect as an acidic American-made saison can be.
But you’ve probably heard it all before. Moving on.
Southbound Brewing Co.
A 100-percent Brettanomyces-fermented, Mosaic-, Motueka- and Rakau-dry-hopped imperial red ale isn’t something we ever thought we wanted or needed, but Southbound managed to tame that motley crew and guide this ship right to Port Delicious. In the nose, a rich caramel and toffee character provides the deck for overripe orange, pineapple, lime and grass. The sip leans hoppy at first, with mint and tangerine flavors mingling with the core of mown grass, lime peel and caramel squares, but the finish is all Brettanomyces, pineapple-heavy but also quite dry.
Cellar West Artisan Ales
Speaking of classic-tasting American interpretations of Belgian styles: Have you met Westfield? Boulder, Colorado-based Cellar West Makes this “modern take on the classic Saison style” with a variety of malts (including wheat, oats and rye), oak, wild yeast and and Pekko hops, which have a peppery, herbal character that shows up in the sunflower-hued beer in a big way. Dry hay, pear skin, peppercorns, parsley and a hint of garlic powder mix in the nose, and the flavor replicates the blend beautifully, with an additional a soft fruity lift and enough crackery malt character to balance. The finish is quite dry, with mild ground spice astringency. One complaint: carbonation is a little low, but we’ll let it slide since the flavor is so spot-on.