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beer reviews Belgium bottled beer

Fantôme Saison and Brise-BonBons

Belgium’s not as handy for us now as when we lived in London so we have to rely on mail order beer deliveries for our fix.

At the end of last year, from different sources, we got hold of two bottles from cult brewery Fantôme, and decided to liven up a stormy weekday January night by tasting them in one session.

The last time we tried Fantôme Saison was at Cask in Pimlico in 2010.  Back then, we didn’t really get saison (here’s the moment where it began to click) and, anyway, as various people told us, Fantôme is notoriously variable. At any rate, as far as we can tell*, though we made it our beer of the week, we didn’t write about it at length, and don’t remember much about it.

Last night’s bottle did not look hopeful. Despite having sat on a shelf in the cool for a month, the minute we picked it up, yeast began to swirl about like flakes in a snow globe. On removing the crown cap, the cork made a break for freedom, firing itself into the ceiling, and about a third of the bottle (around £2.50’s-worth of beer) frothed away down the sink. The two glasses we  eventually managed to pour were murky in the extreme with several inches of what looked like washing up liquid foam on top. (Pictured, above.)

Boak’s first gut reaction on actually tasting it was a disgusted wrinkle of the nose, then, a pleasant surprise: a spontaneous and heartfelt, ‘Ooh, blimey — yes!’

It’s got a bit of banana in the aroma, along with some peachiness, and maybe something like lemongrass. Perhaps partly because of the mixed-in yeast, there was a slickness in the body which, along with the tropical fruit, brought to mind a smoothie or a glass of lemon barley water. The funk which others have noted did not overwhelm us but was certainly there, adding another layer of interest.

If it reminded us of any other beer, it would be the Magic Rock/Lervig Farmhouse IPA, or perhaps Wild Beer Co’s Ninkasi — and certainly not the style-benchmarking, rather decorous saison from Dupont.

Despite the gushing, we’d certainly buy it again on the strength of this excellent bottle.

* * *

If you want a glimpse into a certain mindset in Belgian brewing, the label of Brise-BonBons is the place to go. It is resolutely under-designed (comic sans, or similar) and downright confrontational:

Label from  Fantôme Brise-BonBons

The problem with a label like that is the expectation its hype sets up — a beer too bitter to enjoy! Yikes!

Fantôme Brise Bon-Bons in the glass.In fact, it’s rather well-behaved. It didn’t gush; it poured crystal clear, even after interrupting the process to fill the second glass; and seemed an altogether less intense beer than the bog standard saison.

The aroma was quite restrained, just faintly herbal, and there was something medicinal about the flavour — a suggestion of that fennel toothpaste they sell in whole food shops. The bitterness was long-lasting but not especially heavy-going, perhaps because it was balanced by a boiled sweet, Lucozade sugariness in the underlying beer.

So, likeable enough, but, really not terribly exciting. We’d probably prefer a bottle of a decent UK golden ale in its place, which would have the benefit of a coming without the hangover-inducing ABV.

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