“Hey, what are you doing? Come on over to the Pig and join us for a couple beers.”
I love those kind of nights. Spontaneous, unexpected, and sure to involve some really interesting beers.
I trekked over to St. Paul, and walked in to a sparsely-filled bar. A few pockets of late night drinkers stationed about the room, quiet conversations, and an idle bartender working through the day’s crossword puzzle. The kind of mood you’d expect on a weekday night.
I spotted my three friends in the back, and by the multitude of empty glasses, snifters and chalices on the wooden table I knew they’d already lit into some good stuff throughout the evening. I sat down, and was offered the last few sips of Cantillon Kriek, a lambic that puckered my mouth with its cherry tartness. Pretty good, but not what I was in the mood for.
I perused the formidable beer menu, scanning the fantastic list of Belgians and other craft beers the Muddy Pig is known for offering. After some discussion, we decided to order North Coast’s Le Merle, a Belgian saison, and Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor, a Belgian IPA.
Le Merle sparked some heated discussion and debate at the table. All of us were very familiar with the style, but were coming at it from different perspectives. Admittedly, I was caught up in comparing it to Ommegang Hennepin or Boulevard’s Smokestack Series, two of the best saisons I’ve ever enjoyed (and not made in Belgium!). But Le Merle was a very different kind of ale. Starts off like most saisons with a yeasty, musty farmhouse quality. But unlike my definition of what makes a good saison, finished too dry, almost like champagne with its highly carbonated puckering. I get that saisons are crisp, refreshing and often sour. But this was something different. This is where we spent most of our time debating the merits of Le Merle, and after it was all said and done, I was convinced that it was in fact a very good saison. One that has expanded my horizons a bit, even if it wasn’t sweet enough for my taste.
Next up was Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor. When one thinks IPA, at least here in the U.S., your mind automatically wanders to everything BIG…huge floral hops, overpowering citrus and lasting bitterness. Hopsinjoor was much more reserved, a very different interpretation of the style. And I really liked it. You get the standard yeasty Belgian aroma up front, with some nice fruit and hops peppered in. This is what I’d call a “sophisticated” IPA with its measured balance of sweet malt and delicate use of hops. In some ways, reminded me of Poperings Hommel Bier, another fantastic Belgian IPA that I enjoyed at the Muddy Pig’s Belgian Beer Festival held earlier this year.
To cap off the night, we decided to order Deus from Brouwerij Bosteels, one of the most unique Belgians I’ve had the pleasure of trying. Deus is a Biere de Champagne, according to Beer Advocate one of the newest Belgian styles that is quickly gaining popularity as a cross-over teetering between a traditional champagne (undergoing “remuage” and “degorgement” where yeast is extracted from the fermented beer) and more traditional Belgian styles such as a saison or tripel.
Highly carbonated, poured with a beautiful puffy white cloud head. Lacked a real strong yeast character in the nose, but there was some there. Fantastic floral notes, smells like a midsummer flower or herb garden. Tasted very much like a tart apple with pepper and other spices mixed in, that typical “barnyard” or funky quality experienced in many saisons. Finishes very dry, like a champagne, with a surprising bit of lingering sweetness. Quite an interesting beer. I’d like to get my hands on some other examples of this style.