Category Archives: Saison

Harpoon Saison Rouge Forte


rating_verygood77 points

It wasn’t long ago some of our panelists found themselves on the patio of Harpoon’s Windsor, Vermont, brewery, sipping a “pilot” brew of barrel-aged Czernobog. That insanely-good brew inspired our open letter to Harpoon, begging them to bottle it.

harpoonsaisonrougeforteWell, Harpoon is at it again, this time with their take on a red saison — the Saison Rouge Forte.

After consuming one tulip-shaped glass in Windsor, we were impressed enough to purchase a growler for the panel to review.

And we’re proud to offer an exclusive first look of this pilot series offering.

As the beer pours out into the glass, you can immediately throw everything you thought about saisons right out the window.

Looking for a pale, hazy yellow saison with pronounced Belgian funk? Look elsewhere. Harpoon has put its own signature stamp on this one.

Our panelists marveled at its red-amber color — well-filtered with only the slightest haze, generous carbonation, and a foamy head that sticks to the glass.

The smell of this saison has, of course, a generous malt character and a touch of a Belgian sourness to it. But what really hits you is the familiar pine scent of hops common to stronger ales. While the panel wasn’t expecting such a notable hop character, it certainly appreciated it.

Taste is where the panel was somewhat divided. All our panelists enjoyed the complexity and full-bodied heartiness of the beer. Overtones of fruit (which some noted as cherry) and scotch were evident.

What split the panel was the mouthfeel. Saison Rouge Forte has a syrupy, almost-medicinal mouthfeel to it. Some of us found it very pleasing. But others felt it was reminiscent of cough syrup, of which they could tire quickly.

Aftertaste was rated fairly well, with some panelists noting fruity esters that give it a scotch-like finish — a bit of a mild burn, a slight medicinal character, and a wonderful chest-warming feeling.

And, of course, there’s a nice ABV of 8.9% to thank for some of that.

Drinkability was decent, though the detractors on the panel commented that the beer’s full body and syrupy mouthfeel would impact their ability to drink more than one. Those that rated it higher felt it was a sipper that could be enjoyed slowly.

Overall, Harpoon Saison Rouge Forte is a solid and interesting take on a saison. And with the previous success of the barrel-aged Czernobog, we’re always eager to see what’s on the tarmac for Harpoon’s pilot series.

(Appearance 8.33, Smell 8.5, Taste 22.17, Aftertaste 16.33, Drinkability 21.17)

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Mystic Table Beer

rating_good63 points

Hop in my DeLorean, pop on some Huey Lewis, and let’s go back in time.  No, not to 1955.  We’re going back to a time when clean drinking water was a luxury unavailable to most .

So, you may ask, how was one able to stay hydrated in these days of yore?  Apparently by drinking beer…but not just any beer — a style known as “table beer.”


Table beer was often served as a substitute for water, whether it be at the table with a meal or in the fields while working.  To me, substituting beer for water conjures up images of mass inebriation, and a thankfulness that this practice took place before automobiles became the main mode of transportation.

Apparently, though, table beer traditionally has an extremely light alcohol by volume.  How light?  Let’s just say 1% ABV wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.  As you can imagine, such a light brew would offer some of the same hydrating qualities of water.

But today, clean drinking water is an everyday reality for the majority of us.  We drink beer for the flavorful experience it offers — not to sustain our lives.  This leads to the question, “What type of flavor experience can modern table beers offer in order to compete with other types of beer? ” Based on our tasting of Mystic Table Beer, not much of one.

After it was poured, Table Beer’s appearance was unanimously described as lemonde-ish and was deemed neither offensive nor appealing.

The smell was able to elicit stronger reactions.  All the panelists noted citrus in the aroma, with the majority finding the smell pleasant.  Two panelists, however, agreed that the smell was musty, and thus unappealing.

Shockingly the most common word used to describe Table Beer’s taste was “light.”  Though no one on the panel found the taste to be bad, it wasn’t found to be all that good either.  One panelist noted a little bit of sweetness, and another felt there were hints of sour vinegar yeast.  The majority, though, thought the beer just tasted watery.

Aftertaste brought out a mild bitterness, but it was so fleeting it would be easy to miss.

Drinkability seemed to divide the panel into two groups.  In one group were those that found the beer to be an easy drinker because it was so inoffensive and light.  In the other group were those that wondered why even bother drinking Table Beer because it was so…well…inoffensive and light.

At 4.3% ABV, Mystic’s offering is high in alcohol content for traditional table beer standards.  To be honest, going any lower would probably turn this brew into cloudy water.  Based on the panel’s experience, we can’t really see the appeal to readily consuming Table Beer.  As one panelist put it, “I love what they are doing with the historical perspective. It just doesn’t hold up to today’s beer expectations.”

So be happy we live in the modern world where we can expect our water to be clean and drinkable and our beer to be flavorful and enjoyable.

(Appearance 5, Smell 6.33, Taste 19.83, Aftertaste 12.5, Drinkability 18.83)

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Southern Tier Sonnet

rating_verygood75 points

A sonnet is a style of poetry that presents a single thought over 14 lines.  Most likely there’s been a sonnet or two written about beer.  Though, Southern Tier’s choice to use the poetry style as a name for their “super” saison perplexed our wild card panel just a bit.

sonnetWe’d like to think the brewery was hoping to inspire the creation of thoughtful literary works based on this offering.  So you may ask, “Is Sonnet a creative beer meant to inspire the drinker? ”

Well, the beer was brewed as part of Southern Tier’s limited run Belgian Series that experiments with atypical brewing ingredients.  The unusual ingredient found in this Sonnet? Lemongrass.

Starting to feel inspired?  Neither were we.

Sonnet appears the typical golden color, however, entrancing carbonation makes the beer’s appearance stand out.  One panelist was so amazed by the swirling show of carbonation, they nicknamed it Beernado™ (trademark pending).  Talk about creative thinking!

The aroma seemed to have a little bit of the Belgian funk, described as “musty basement. ” Scents of lemon and citronella were also noted, as well as banana.  These flavors created a taste that was described as sweet.  Panelists were pleased that the Belgian funk and usual sourness that can accompany saisons didn’t present in the taste.

Aftertaste turned slightly bitter for some.  Others on the panel enjoyed the lingering taste of lemongrass.

Drinkability was rated well, though some felt Sonnet might lose its appeal as one drank.  A panelist felt the beer may pair well with meals containing saffron or garlic.  Southern Tier recommends serving Sonnet with “pasta with garlic aioli, steamed mussels, and tangy cheeses.”

Strangely specific, but we’ll take their word for it.

After all that, Southern Tier Sonnet rated as an overall “Very Good” beer.  Is it a high enough rating to inspire a work of literary genius?  You be the judge.

Sonnet Sonnet
(oh this already isn’t going  well)

Twas a Friday in late May,
And gathered was the panel.
Sonnet  poured with no delay,
As light danced from a candle.
In the glass an active note,
Swirling bubbles called “Beernado™!”
On Bob’s sheet ’tis what he wrote,
The beer appeared a tornado.
Banana, lemon, citronella
All found to be in the scent.
One said taste went pretty “wella,”
Except “well” was what he meant.
Aftertaste was slightly bitter,
Deemed a drinker not a spitter.

Ehhhhhhh, probably not what Southern Tier had in mind.

(Appearance 8.83, Smell 8, Taste 22, Aftertaste 14, Drinkability 21.83)

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Tasting Notes – Semi-Blind Wild Card


The second tasting of each month is a “wild card” tasting.  A panelist volunteers to supply all the beer, and has free reign to determine the beers, a theme, or any other idea.

For the March wild card, Jon decided to supply an eclectic mix of beers, connected by an interesting theme: the other panelists had to rate the beers before learning what they were tasting.  Welcome to The Basement Beer Tastings’ first semi-blind tasting.
(Panelists: Jon Graney, Mike Festi, Rick Czapla)

Tasting Notes

rating_verygoodSamuel Adams Harvest Saison . . . 73 points
The panel found this Belgian style pale ale to have good aromas of spice and orange with overtones of caramel. Carbonation was lively with an appealing color than was slightly more amber than a typical saison. While the flavor didn’t “wow” the panelists, they found it solid and tasty, with notes of clove and slight hoppiness. On panelist noted a similarity to Hoegaarden white ale. Aftertaste was dry and hoppy with notes of grapefruit, though a bit metallic. It’s light body and good carbonation makes it very drinkable.
(Appearance 7, Smell 8, Taste 22.67, Aftertaste 14, Drinkability 21.67)

rating_verygoodNight Shift Morph Rotating IPA . . . 72 points
Night Shift Brewing of Everett, Massachusetts offers a unique take on the American IPA. The recipe for its Morph Rotating IPA changes each time Night Shift brews it. The panel rated the Feb. 20, 2015 batch a mere seven days after canning. This fresh beer impressed most the panel with huge hops balanced with citrus overtones. As one panelist noted, “Welcome to Hoptown. Population? This beer.” The aroma begs you to drink it, and it’s light and tight carbonation is attractive as well. The notable hoppy aftertaste was smooth, but a bit grassy. The taste fades a bit the more you drink it, which affected overall drinkability to a degree.
(Appearance 7.67, Smell 9, Taste 21.67, Aftertaste 13.67, Drinkability 20.33)

rating_verygoodWeihenstephaner Hefeweissbier . . . 72 points
Hefeweissbier, or Hefeweizen, is a Bavarian unfiltered white beer, about as far from the Morph IPA as you can get. But, as you see, the panel enjoyed this smooth wheat beer nearly as much. Weihenstephaner traces its roots back to 768 and was licensed in 1040, which allows it to boast its claim of being the oldest brewery in the world. That much practice pays off, because the panel overall found the brew to be enjoyable. Pale in color and in an unremarkable bottle, the beer offered a citrusy, yeasty aroma. The beer was soft and velvety with hints of grapefruit and pear. While it was light and drinkable with a smooth, oaky aftertaste, the light body also caused the taste to fade a bit too quickly.
(Appearance 6.33, Smell 6.67, Taste 21.67, Aftertaste 13.33, Drinkability 23.67)

rating_goodStone Smoked Porter . . . 67 points
Luckily, the panel saved the Stone Brewing Company’s smoky concoction for last in the Wild Card tasting, because this beer had intense smokiness, like a campfire in a bottle. The light scent of smoke and coffee belies the intense flavor this porter dishes out. Pouring a deep reddish-black with a good head from a screen-printed bottle, the brew impressed. But “light smokiness” is an understatement on this beer. The panel noted that the charcoal bite and smoked intensity were prominent, but the panelists agreed they wanted to see a more balanced flavor. Drinkability was impacted as well, because the panel agreed that this is a one-and-done type beer…and one that would probably pair nicely with barbecue.
(Appearance 9.67, Smell 6, Taste 19, Aftertaste 16, Drinkability 16)

rating_goodLong Trail Stand Out . . . 65 points
New this season from Long Trail is an American pale ale they call Stand Out. It has an inviting night sky label and a foamy, soapy head when poured. It also features light cloudiness, a pale orange-brown color, and an a hoppy nose. But while it’s light and drinkable, the taste falls flat fast. The panel noted a burst of citrus flavor on first taste, but it seemed to lose taste quickly, leaving a bland aftertaste. The panelists agreed that it wasn’t a bad beer, it just didn’t live up to its namesake. One panelist noted, “If I was in a bar, I’d be looking for something else for my next round…though I wouldn’t be against having another.”
(Appearance 6, Smell 7.67, Taste 18.67, Aftertaste 11.67, Drinkability 21)

rating_goodBallast Point Sculpin . . . 60 points
Jon chose this West Coast IPA for his Wild Card, because it has been receiving a good deal of hype in the trade news. Winning a gold medal in competition, Sculpin is hopped at five separate stages of brewing. It garnered attention, so the panel gave it a shot in semi-blind tasting. The panel enjoyed its slightly cloudy amber color and nice head. The aroma was faint with light hoppiness and definite orange notes. The orange overtones were pronounced further on first taste, with a slight hop bite. But the panel expected a deeper taste for an IPA. It seemed to get less enjoyable as the panel drank it, which put drinkability at average. One panelist noted that previous experience with the same beer was enjoyable, so while the overall score is average, it might still be worth trying.

(Appearance 8, Smell 5.67, Taste 18, Aftertaste 13, Drinkability 15.67)

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Tasting Notes – “Home of the Hall” Wild Card


For his Wild Card tasting, Jan. 23, panelist Mike Festi chose a theme of “Home of the Hall” beers — a selection of offerings from Brewery Ommegang of Cooperstown, N.Y.

When your brewery is located in the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, you’d may as well swing for the fences. But, as our panelists learned, when you swing for home runs, sometimes you also strike out.
Panelists: Jon Graney, Mike Festi, Rick Czapla, Bob Bowden, Amy Graney

Tasting Notes

Ommegang Rare Vos . . . 71 points
All five of the tasted Ommegang beers featured corks instead of bottle caps. And popping the cork on this bottle-conditioned, Belgian-style amber ale revealed big carbonation. This impressed some of the panel, but others found it too “fizzy.” The citrus notes of grapefruit were pleasing, but the aftertaste was a bit acidic. However, it was a fun and interesting beer, albeit a one-and-done type of brew…not an all-night drinker.
(Appearance 7.5, Smell 6.5, Taste 22, Aftertaste, 12.75, Drinkability 21.75)

Ommegang Tripel Perfection . . . 69 points
Our panelists found this cloudy Belgian ale to be a nearly identical experience to the Rare Vos, with the same champagne-like carbonation. Overtones of licorice were pronounced, with some of the panel finding it made the taste too sharp. But the ale left a smooth, pleasant aftertaste and a desire to drink more.
(Appearance 5.75, Smell 6.5, Taste 21, Aftertaste, 14.25, Drinkability 21.75)

Ommegang Three Philosophers . . . 60 points
What’s the difference between a “quadrupel” and a “tripel?” Not much. Double, triple and quadruple are loosely-used terms to generally describe the alcohol strength of the ale. Quadruple is mostly reserved for ales with 10% or higher ABV, though this one clocked in at 9.7%. So don’t bother worrying if an ale is a triple or a quadruple; go by taste. And this one was interesting, with a strong taste of caramel and butterscotch, with light notes of cherry. Some of the panelists, including Amy who joined the panel for two of the beers, found the maltiness too sweet. The consensus was that while it was decent, you could only enjoy one glass before tiring of it.
(Appearance 7.4, Smell 7, Taste 18, Aftertaste, 12.4, Drinkability 15.8)

Ommegang Upside Brown . . . 53 points
This limited edition — and pricey — brown ale was easily the most divisive among the panel, but one thing is clear. Ommegang boldy swung for the fences on this “farmhouse” ale. It’s thick. It’s smoky. It has sediment in it that neither floats nor sinks. It even has pineapple in it. You’re either going to love this beer or despise it. Amy again joined the panel for this beer, and that proved to be a saving grace, because two panelists liked it, and three tanked it. The consensus was that it’s musty, cheesy, sour, moldy, funky and stale. (Even Ommegang admits it has a “farmyard funk” to it.) But while most the panel disliked it intensely, the other two panelist found the oaky, smoky, musky taste a rich, bold and well-balanced experience. Unlike the other offerings, this one’s gold label is printed right on the bottle. The verdict? It’s a unique brew you may love, but if you buy one and hate it…don’t say we didn’t warn you.
(Appearance 8, Smell 5.8, Taste 14.2, Aftertaste, 11.2, Drinkability 14.2)

Ommegang Hennepin . . . 43 points
In general, the panelists found Ommegang’s offerings to be generally well-crafted and of good quality. The Hennepin saison was the exception. Our panel had a hard time finding good things to say about this pale ale. Saison, French for “season,” is a general term for refreshing pale ales — sometimes with the addition of spices — and a high yeast character. This one fit the bill, but it had a drab pale yellow color, and a faint aroma of ginger and citrus. It’s brewed with coriander, ginger and orange peel, but upon tasting, the panelists found it displeasing, leading one panelist to liken it to smoked meat. Ginger overtones were notable, but overwhelmed with yeast, leaving a metallic aftertaste, flat and unsatisfying. While the panel unanimously panned it, one panelist went so far as to sum up, “Not great…let’s move on.”
(Appearance 5.25, Smell 5.25, Taste 11.5, Aftertaste, 11, Drinkability 10.25)

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