Say what you want about Devils Backbone for cashing out, selling out, or buying in, but their 2017 Adventure Pack, featuring collaborations with five major Virginia breweries, was genius. RVA aside, you almost could not have picked a better representation of some of the better brewers throughout the Commonwealth. True to form, many of the collaborations are fairly specific to each brewery’s style – Mad Fox, which goes heavy on English/Irish styles, did a Dry Irish Stout, for instance. This was not one I would have expected. When I think of Three Notch’d, it starts with Hydraulion, Ghost of the 43rd, Biggie S’Mores, or some other well executed, more mainstream style. And Devils Backbone has a corner on some of the better German beers around. So a Brett Saison? GTFO, as the kids used to say.
Crystall Brett, Three Notch’d (Charlottesville) and Devils Backbone (Lexington)
Farmhouse Ale, 5.5% ABV, 26 IBUs
Presentation: Bottle pour into IPA glass.
Appearance: Rusty with goldenrod inflections, more similar to an Amber Lager than a Saison/Farmhouse Ale. Aerated head without any lattice.
Taste: Faint apricot on the nose. A very mild tartness from the Brettanomyces is balanced out with crisp green apples, similar to the finish from a steel-aged Chardonnay but without any other white grape influences. This is distinctive because Brett is sometimes found in that very wine (as well as Sauvignon Blanc and some heavy French reds), and in too much abundance can spoil a wine. If you’ve ever had a wine that tasted like someone put a dirty penny on your tongue, blame the Brett! Here though, it’s a very low dosage that more than meets its match with the Crystal Hops, which lend that green, semi-sweet fruitiness to the mix.
Mouth Feel: A bit of zest emblematic of the yeast conditioning itself in the bottle.
Overall: Suffice to say, I did not go into this beer expecting to like it nearly this much. It’s a beer I would have expected from neither of these breweries. The name is a bit misleading, as Brett isn’t entirely uncommon in Saisons; then again, if they just labeled it that way would it still pique your interest the same way? I had fun sipping on this one out on my porch on a pleasantly cool evening. It is just that – a sipping beer that doesn’t reward large swigs from the glass. While we’re a bit removed from the Adventure Pack’s release, a beer like this is a reminder to not pigeonhole a brewery just because you’re not accustomed to seeing them take a stylistic leap. A lot of tap rooms will have experimental beers flowing near constantly just for this reason: proof of concept. And that’s what makes revisiting breweries fun, regardless of whether they focus on flagships or a good rotation. We usually know what we’re going to get from bottles and cans, but every so often we need a reminder that what makes craft beer so fun is discovering something new that raises an eyebrow.