The line between good and great is a hazy one. In this industry, the combination of several factors could impact your overall decision on one thing. For example, you might love a particular brewery, but then you are handed a new beer, and while it is noticeably not up to quality, you give it a good review. You could also love one of their beers, and think that the cuisine at a brewpub is the best thing you have had, even though you see them opening up aluminum cans and sticking it in the microwave. We want great, but will settle for good, hoping that things improve, but that it not always the case and doesn’t help all parties involved.
The line between great and spectacular is more defined. You are more picky. You come up with a checklist of things that make something great, and start rolling through them. You are hesitant when things are a little too good to be true, and sometimes make a huge deal out of a minute observation, giving it a flaw to bring such a lofty experience back down to earth.
The later paragraph is what I have been pondering for sometime with my experience with Fine Creek Brewing. We reviewed a beer of theirs last fall and fell in love with it, putting it in our Beers of the Year for 2017-2018, and the caveat that I needed to go experience the brewery. It is a bit of a hike, but the trek reminds me of searching for Virginia Wineries in the early 2000s. The destination was part of the fun. And while I could go on for hours about the cabins, the Mill, or the food, it is the beer that really had me amazed. It’s not just the quality but the breadth of quality. From the Helles Lager and Pilsner, to White IPA and Sour NE IPA, to the 13% Barrel Aged Dark Beers, there was little to zip that you could pick on, top to bottom. You don’t run across quality like this often, not just in Virginia, but anywhere. But what beer to review? I could jam our 2018-2019 BotY list with just about anything from Fine Creek, but as a Virginian, there really was one clear pick.
Biere de Miel, Fine Creek Brewing Company (Powhatan, VA)
Biere de Miel, 6.0% ABV
Presentation: A tuleped stout glass? A punted saison glass? Either way, it was unique (to me), but seemed appropriate.
Appearance: Straw gold to dark golden rod, whitish head that did not sit long, but also was just about 1 finger from the top.
Aroma: Wheat/meal and slight earth/funk, but a solid honey sweetness
Taste: I’ll admit, I had to look this one up. I thought that Biere de Miel was a play on the classic style Biere de Garde, a Northern French refreshing saison. And I was half right. Like most beer styles in the Northern France/Belgium region, the style dates back to the 1880, but only reintroduced to market about 20 years ago, the name literally means ‘honey beer’. So your baseline is honey saison. But it is so, so much more than that, because of one key ingredient. They did not just go out and get any honey, nor did they just go out and get local honey, they got AR’s. For you outside of the 804 area code, AR’s Hot Southern Honey is a regional staple, and blends local honey and peppers to really give a low, late burn. Now to the beer. You get that little bit of damp earth and cereal front like you would expect with a saison, but the honey quickly dashes that and balances it out without weighing it down. This beer is light and refreshing. Then you get the heat. It’s not much and it isn’t compounding, but a solid 10 seconds later, it’s on the back of your tongue, slightly down your throat. Just kinda saying “Hey. What’s up?” You can’t help but smirk.
ABV/IBU Mouthfeel: As mentioned before, it is light and super balanced. The honey is there to fight the funk, but doesn’t overpower. It is noticeably a sweeter saison, but just slightly. There is some heat on this one, but again that is a late, low heat, more chipotle than cayenne (heat wise). ABV is not super noticeable (probably cause your mouth is busy elsewhere), and like most beer in this style, hops are for balance.
Overall: Where to start. Making beer is good. Most people do it and it is a labor of love, regardless of result. Reaching down and pulling out a rarely used style, and nailing it, is great. Every beer I tried was great. I even tried a beer I would usually not try, and I loved it. But this beer, putting your personal, regional mark on it is something that you seldom see. I can count on one hand the number of beers that would fit into this category. So then comes the question how do you rate it? Passion and fanboy aside, it is a remarkable base beer with a perfect blend on AR’s. You won’t find this anywhere else, AND IT IS AT THE BREWERY RIGHT NOW! Experence this beer, but also everything else about this place. Get there early, post up with friends, and start where ever you would like. Unbelievable.