Today we had an opportunity to sample a couple of foreign beers that you don’t see around here so often – the Pissenlit by the Belgian brewer Fantôme and the Farmer’s Reserve Strawberry from the Northern California brewer Almanac. This was our first experience with either brewer, and both of these are limited beers so we were pretty excited about being able to try them.
Almanac Farmer’s Reserve Strawberry
Package: 375mL bottle
Pour – Beautiful strawberry blonde, very flat, looks like grapefruit juice!
Aroma – Sour, yeast, and strawberries of course as well. Funk, as it warms up it there’s a whiff of popcorn.
Flavor – Berries initially, then grapefruit. Transforms into fizzy tartness with a sour finish
Almanac is a relatively new (est. 2010) client brewer based in San Francisco. Most of their beer is brewed at Hermitage in San Jose. I hadn’t heard of them until I saw them in the bottle shop recently – apparently this is the first time they’ve been imported in Japan – but when I looked them up they had a great reputation for sour beers (which we also love). In accordance with Northern California organic hipster principles they are aiming to create something very local with what they call farm-to-barrel, where they brew beer with locally-sourced fruit to make distinctly Northern Californian beer. Their website even uses the word terroir!
They actually have a line of beer called Farm To Barrel, which this Farmer’s Reserve Strawberry is part of. Beers in this series are barrel-aged, and the Farmer’s Reserve Strawberry is aged in wine barrels with strawberries sourced from Santa Cruz and continues to mature in the bottle as well. A more complete description of the beer can be found here on their website.
This beer has both a wonderful appearance and wonderful aroma – appearance-wise, it’s a beautiful strawberry color that looks a lot like grapefruit juice, which is not so common for beer. In terms of the aroma, it’s quite a complex aroma that of course includes the strawberries, but also has a distinct yeast and funk to it that eventually turns into a popcorn-like smell.
The flavor of the beer is also interesting – while the finish is sour, the beer for the most part is best described as tart rather than overwhelmingly sour (although we do also love overwhelmingly sour beers). The grapefruit flavor really stands out here (is this what you get when you cross strawberries and wine?), and with the sour finish it makes for a fantastic drinking experience.
I found this beer at Deguchiya, which is a nice little bottle shop in Naka-Meguro that focuses mostly on wine but also has some Japanese and American craft beer. They don’t necessarily have a wide range of breweries on hand, but the stuff they do have is generally quite interesting. They did also have the Almanac IPA and Dolores Saison when I bought this one, and I am definitely going to pick up anything of theirs that I can – the Farmer’s Reserve Strawberry is a very very nice beer, so keep your eyes out for anything Almanac!
Package: 750mL bottle
Pour – Very foamy, dark amber. take a while to settle down
Aroma – Caramel, sweet, when it warms up there is a distinct floral smell (is that the dandelion?)
Flavor – Sweet, quite spicy on the finish, caramel maltiness like a Belgian strong ale, alcohol warmth
Fantôme is, of course, one of the superstar modern Belgian breweries, and they focus heavily on saisons. They are not too widely distributed in Japan, so as huge saison fans we were quite excited to have the opportunity to try one of their beers. This particular one incorporates dandelions, which is certainly an unusual beer ingredient. It’s also great how beer can teach you language – Pissenlit is French for dandelion, and it means “piss your bed” – I didn’t know this but apparently
dandelions are a diuretic.
In terms of beer, not having tasted actual dandelions before, I didn’t really know what to expect. It turns out that the dandelion is quite subtle – it’s hard to detect in the flavor, but there is a distinct trace of dandelion in the aroma, especially as it warms up. In terms of taste, the most prominent aspect is a caramel maltiness that I normally associate with Belgian strong ales (which I suppose this is at 8%). It doesn’t really have the yeastiness that accompanies saisons like Dupont, but nonetheless the sweetness here is well-balanced and it makes for a quite drinkable beer even at 8%.
I would love to try the regular Fantôme saison to be able to compare with this dandelion saison. This beer was purchased at Pigalle, a wonderful little European craft beer bar in Sangenjaya which also serves as a European craft beer bottle shop. We’ll do a proper review of the bar on this site as well, but it should be noted that this is the place to go to for European craft beer in Tokyo – you’ll find all kinds of stuff that is hard to get a hold of elsewhere in Tokyo. In the meantime if we find anything else by them we’ll definitely be trying them as well.