As you develop an expertise in beer and hone your tasting skills, the one thing you’ll learn is to always trust your judgment over someone trying to sell you something.
But we all make mistakes from time to time. This review is a story of one of those times.
It was late summer 2015, and I had wandered into Parker Pie Company in northern Vermont.
After some great pizza and a couple of draught pints of delicious Hill Farmstead beer (Edward and George, if you’re wondering), I wandered over to the package store side of the building to purchase something nice for the road.
I told the kid behind the register I was looking for something unique. Looking back, I should have been more specific.
I walked out that day with a bottle of Fantome DMD — a “Cascadian dark ale,” which is just a fancy name for an American black ale. (You’ll sometimes hear these referred to as “black IPAs” as well.)
Fast-forward to our recent tasting. The beer garnered attention before we even opened it, because underneath the bottle cap was a wine cork. And caked inside the bottle was an inordinate amount of sediment.
Open uncorking — and despite careful handling — the carbonation exploded from the bottle as if we triggered a chemical reaction.
As we quickly filled the tasting glasses, our panelists marveled over the energetic carbonation and generous, lingering head produced by this brew.
Picture a Fourth of July fireworks display where they set off the grand finale first, because DMD’s initial impression was more impressive than anything to follow.
In fact, things got downright…weird.
Despite the nice head, DMD’s appearance is somewhat off-putting. It’s opaque and dark brown…a shade of brown that our panelists noted as intriguing, but as the same time, not particularly appetizing. Weird, right?
Let me explain it this way: it’s kind of like looking at a chocolate soda. It’s chocolate! And it’s soda! But at the same time…it’s chocolate soda.
The confusion continued on smell. Our panelists looked at each other in bewilderment, noting aromas of clay, dirt, peat and even vinegar.
Things got more complex on taste. The panel rated it only slightly above middle-of-the-road, with its tastes of earthy, roasted malt, and traces of coffee and a Belgian funk that one panelist described as a “dishrag” funk.
Mouthfeel proved to be the downfall of DMD in our ratings. Panelists noted the intense amount of suspended clay-like sediment sucked the moisture from their mouths as they drank it.
“Very confusing,” one panelist noted. “Not a bad brew, but I disliked it a LOT.”
See? I told you it was going to get weird.
Aftertaste was judged as ashy and earthy, with some bitterness. But the panel felt the sediment made the beer gritty and almost chewy — causing them to lose interest in drinking much of it.
That muddiness, and its mouth-drying effect limited drinkability to only average, with one panelist noting, “It seems like a lot of work to get through the glass.”
So while Fantome DMD isn’t a bad product, it is a strange, perplexing brew that will challenge most of your senses.
For me, though, it most challenged my faith in the judgment of that kid that sold it to me, and made me realize I should trust my own judgment, first.
(Appearance 7.43, Smell 6.29, Taste 17.29, Aftertaste 12.57, Drinkability 15.43)