Brasserie Fantôme - Pissenlit
Serving Temperature:45–52° F
Suggested Glassware:Tulip, Teku, Goblet, or Chardonnay Glass
Dany almost never gives up the ingredients list to Fantôme releases, but at least we can say for sure that the brewery’s Pissenlit features dandelions prominently. Each spring, Dany and his team head out into the fields surrounding the brewery to pick fresh bushels of dandelions for this year’s batch (pissenlit is French for ‘dandelion’). To prep the flowers for brewing, the yellow tops are removed and dried in the sun, before being soaked in water for a few days. A secret blend of malts and hops are added into this dandelion “tea”, and the final result is one of our very favorite of the charistmatic, elusive beers of Brasserie Fantôme.
Fantôme’s Pissenlit pours a bright, though well-hazed, golden-amber color, almost orange at times, capped by solid off-white foam with nice retention and strong lacing along the edges. The charismatic Fantôme yeast character is present immediately: vibrant citrus and fruit, lots of pepper and doughiness, and subtle acidity and funk. For Rare Beer Club members familiar with the beers of Brasserie Fantôme, you know what we’re talking about. There’s solid levels of carbonation here, lifting the texture of this delicious farmhouse saison, and that firm core structure of hay and citrus and subtle sourdough funk sets the foundation for this beer. With a little more time in the glass, one catches the subtle earthiness of that dandelion addition: an herbal bit of flair that goes great with the rustic expressions of the rest. Lots of white pepper and fruity esters, with everything leading to a crispy and firmly dry finish. A delicious saison.
Pissenlit will continue to develop further funk and tartness with some cellaring time, though that impact from the dandelions will be most present early on. For food pairings: the combo of citrus, herbs, and pepper have us looking to lamb kabobs or a grilled pork chop.
There is a fermentation-friendly phantasm at work in one brewery in Soy, Belgium. Thankfully this ghost doesn’t have any malicious intent, though she can get a bit wild when she decides to spike the brewer’s recipes with a blend of secret herbs and spices. And she plays other tricks, like ensuring that the same beer is often radically different from batch to batch… She’s even been known to convert stout to a Belgian strong dark ale. More of a prankster than poltergeist, her mischief is accented by her supernatural talent for creating some truly haunting spiced farmhouse beers. More evidence of her non-demonic demeanor is that she plays well with others, permitting human pal Dany Prignon to take most of the credit for these world class, award-winning beers (in exchange, of course, for having the brewery named after her).
Brasserie Fantôme (the Phantom Brewery) has come to represent unabashed creative freedom of expression, and earned itself a reputation for being, well, borderline insane. Between the ghost stories, the ‘spirited’ behavior of Monsieur Prignon, the wild variation from beer to beer, being exceptionally guarded about what spices have been used in the recipes, or experimenting to the point of acute eccentricity (mushroom beer anyone?), you can maybe understand why some people think there may be a madman involved. Hey, you know what they say, behind every good madman there’s… a phantom.
Wait, we may have screwed that up… you get the idea. But it’s not really the reputation for zany flare that has made Fantôme’s beers highly sought after—it’s the beer. Their namesake beer, Fantôme Saison, a golden brew of 8% alcohol by volume, was rated a perfect 10 in “The Beers of Wallonia,” a worthwhile read penned by authors John Woods and Keith Rigley. The brewer (either Dany or the phantom) uses local ingredients and herbs, such as dandelions found growing outside the brewery—as is the case for this month’s featured offering—spicing their numerous farmhouse ale variants with such skill and panache that people have been taking notice since the brewery was founded in 1988.
But it’s easy to throw a bunch of spice in a beer. Making it taste good, however, and bringing out the best elements of an unusual spice without crushing the beer’s natural flavors or spooking the yeast into catatonia—that’s the real magic and mystique in the Fantôme beers. To boot, these are some of the most freshly fruity beers found in Belgium—how “they” do it we really don’t know—it really is almost paranormal. Another odd conundrum is the fact that their beers aren’t particularly well known, even within Belgium. But for those who have had the pleasure (or occasionally, the peril) of tasting Fantôme’s concoctions, the experience is not soon forgotten. And that’s another reason the name is quite apropos; Fantôme’s beers are very difficult to track down, materializing only rarely. When we recently had the chance to capture the elusive Fantôme, we suited up like Ghostbusters, donned our proton packs, and zapped as much of the stuff as we could into our ghost traps. It’s a risky business, but our members are worth it. To find out more information about the brewery, brush up on your French and head over to www.fantome.be.
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