Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales - Los Vivos y Los Muertos
- ABV: 4.2%
- Serving Temperature: 51–57° F
- Suggested Glassware: Tulip, Goblet
There are only a handful of breweries that, when we think back over the dozens of offerings we’ve had from them over the years, have been basically perfect. Not perfect like everything is the best in the world (we’ve yet to find a brewery where everything is the best in the world, though we’ll keep looking)—but perfect in the sense that everything’s good, always. And for all of the on-point Jolly Pumpkin beers we’ve enjoyed over the years, this one’s a standout.
Los Vivos y Los Muertos is mouthwatering from the pour. It’s a deep golden orange, hazed like a saison should be, with a billowing white head filling up the remainder of the glass: tall, with tiny bubbles and resilient froth. This looks how you’d want a beer to look: like someone put a great deal of care into it. Even that first whiff of the aroma suggests this is more than a simple rustic saison: there are deep stone-fruit notes (of peach and plum), the vigorous citrus of a lime wedge, all mingled within an expansive Brettiness and yeast character: light tropical fruits, pepper, sourdough bread, a hint of cheese. That dry pepper seems to just float atop an integrated core. This is nicely dry, despite any sweetness suggested by the above descriptors.
From the packaging to the mouthfeel to the finish, one can tell that a lot went into this. The texture is simply perfect: medium body with a light viscosity, prickly carbonation underneath and a nice firm edge from the oak tannins. The peppery phenolics add a fair bit of bitterness here as well, overall giving this what would generally be described as a “rustic” feel in saisons and that’s here tempered by the beer’s slight viscosity and roundness. It invites you to drink.
You wouldn’t describe this as a malty beer. There’s some maltiness, sure—some caramelized sugars and cereal—but those rounded qualities come through as underneath notes. Even the hop bitterness plays a larger role here, offering mineral and pine-like qualities, the latter note matching perfectly alongside the actual lime additions. A soft degree of tannins and peppery bitterness contribute as well, helping to slice through the central malts and plush esters from the yeast. It’s those latter notes that unfold after the initial wave of bitterness breaks: rounder notes of dough and fresh bread, vanilla hints gravitating toward the tannins, ripe peaches and pear. Finally, a juicy drop of lime near the finish. (And the pumpkin? It quietly fermented.)
Overall, this is a pretty fantastic Brett-influenced saison with lime (if we can say that without, you know, sounding weird), that kaffir-lime-leaf quality offering a nice jolt to the mid-palate. Given who made this, we’d expect this to age gracefully for at least a few years. Just keep an eye on it to ensure it’s not losing its current vitality. The flexibility of saisons will help this to pair alongside a whole lot of things: try Los Vivos y Los Muertos with herb-crusted chicken or a funky washed-rind cheese. Its lime notes should offer some versatility with Thai dishes.
This month we’re proud to bring you a very special one-off beer brewed exclusively for members of The Rare Beer Club by one of our favorite breweries, Jolly Pumpkin, and its founder and brewer, our friend Ron Jeffries. This is the third Jolly Pumpkin exclusive that we’ve had the pleasure of featuring in recent years, the others being Bière de Goord in 2010 and Lúpulo de Hielo in 2011, both really superb efforts. Los Vivos y Los Muertos is yet another standout brew, and – brewed as a pumpkin lime saison – it certainly represents the creativity Jolly Pumpkin is known for. Now, Ron might manage to squirrel a couple cases away to sell at his brewpubs, but outside of that, this is a beer that is being released solely to members of The Rare Beer Club. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Approaching the nondescript structure that houses the Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales brewery, you might think the place looks more like a defunct paper products warehouse than a world class brewery. But step inside and not only will you find shiny brewing equipment, you’ll encounter row upon row of wooden barrels in which beer of various ages, blends and funk-levels is maturing. The brewery performs barrel aging on all of its beers. The time, labor and expense required to age every ounce of beer they make in traditional wooden barrels, is, some would say, madness. But it’s what breeds their awesome array of truly distinctive beers. Well, that and open fermentation, meaning the yeast are left to work their magic in a container that’s left wide open—instead of being inside a closed stainless steel tank. This means that any wild yeast floating about in the air can get into the beer and apply a bit of their own “natural funk” to the flavor of the beer. Talk about personalization—the combination of open fermentation and barrel aging is not only artisanal brewing, it’s an additional element of the art of brewing that has largely disappeared from the craft. Sure, barrel aging has become increasingly popular among craft brewers and beer geeks, but as a proportion of the overall amount of beer produced in the US, few people are doing it, and fewer do it as well as Jolly Pumpkin. JP takes it a step further by even fermenting its beers in wood before aging them in cask. A risky process when it comes to consistency and quality control, but founder and brewer Ron Jeffries somehow manages to pull it off.
Ron runs Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales along with wife, Laurie, and son Daemon. They’ve been a family brewery since 2004, and an international sensation since shortly thereafter. Check out www.jollypumpkin.com for more information about this impressive little brewery from Michigan, including what’s behind their unusual name.
Personally speaking, Jolly Pumpkin was my inlet to sour beers. It takes effort to project one’s taste buds back to when a Belgian lambic, or German Berliner weisse, or Flemish brown ales were, well, madness. I don’t do gradual particularly well, as a person. When I first attempted to sample a smoked beer, for example, it was through the certainty of Schlenkerla’s Märzen. Of my first sour beer experience, I’ll say this: Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek isn’t a gateway beer.
It can take some time to adjust to certain styles: that was one of the early lessons. It made it a challenge, if just slightly, to empathize with how someone drinking those things with a native palate (or with a conditioned tongue, let’s say) might find a strange, special pleasure in them.
Ron Jeffries’ sour beers at Jolly Pumpkin were among the first to make real sense to me. The puckering, sometimes-salty sharpness of certain lambics wasn’t there, at least not in the same measures. (To be clear: I have elsewhere stated that I’d fill my garage with lambic if finances allowed.) There was juicy Brett, mouthwatering acidity, sure—but in things like Bam Bière, a lean, spicy core and grassy notes from dry hopping underpinned that curious sourness. Or in La Roja: ripe cherries and oak. Years later, I’m still getting friends loving sour beers through bottles of Bam, and still looking forward to Jeffries’ releases as things that make great sense.
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