To Øl - Sans Frontière

To Øl - Sans Frontière

Beer Club featured in Rare Beer Club


Strong Hoppy Brett Pale Ale



Alcohol by Volume:


To Øl - Sans Frontière

  • ABV:

  • Serving Temperature:

    40-45° F
  • Suggested Glassware:

    Tulip, Chalice or Oversized Wine Glass
To Øl Sans Frontière is quite an interesting beer—made with an eye toward producing an authentic Belgian beer, but also a nod to dialing things up and stirring the pot—so, here we have what some might call a Belgian IPA, with its out of the ordinary quantity of hops. But that would be oversimplifying things. It’s really a Belgian ale that’s been hopped and dryhopped with continental European hops and re-fermented in the bottle with brettanomyces. It’s also got rock candy, which is a sort of a spin on the more traditional use of candi sugar. What presents in the glass is a gorgeous thing of beauty—showcasing an attractive coppery glow beneath a massively rocky beige head. Close inspection of the larger bubbles in the head reveals a kaleidoscopic display of colors, courtesy of all those hop oils. On the nose, expect lots of clean hoppy notes—mainly leaning toward citrus, with that characteristically refined, somehow disciplined quality of noble, continental European hops. No, this is not an out of control hop demon that will destroy your palate, though they have managed to coax a bit of pine from the Euro hops (which might give you an idea of how much they had to add). A peppery, spicy yeastiness from the Belgian influences works nicely with the hops to give impressions of savory herbs (think rosemary). While young, the Brett character remains subtle, only suggesting a bit of tartness. But this will grow considerably as the beer matures in the bottle. Caramel, butterscotch and orange marmalade also come to mind while sniffing this very alluring beer. On the palate, we got a firmly bitter character, with the grains actually coming through amidst the extremely earthy hop profile. Look for notes of citrus rind and mint and the slightest hint of vinyl. Bitterness is high when young, but this will grace out as tart begins to take over when the Brett grows up over time. We’re tasting it very fresh, and right now, the interplay between bitter and tart/sour is just starting to take shape, with bitter the definitive winner at this early stage. That being said, there is a gentle sourness mid-to-late in the finish, which actually helps to reset the palate a bit for your next sip. We also picked up quite a bit of alcohol in the flavor, like what we’d expect in an 8-9% ABV beer. What seems to be happening is the deep hoppiness is pulling the alcohol out quite a bit, sharpening it, making this feel like a bigger beer than it really is—which is perfectly fine by us—it’s nice having the feel of a bigger beer that isn’t actually too huge to have more than one or two of. As it fades out with lingering citrus peel notes and minty, earthy hop notes, it ends up giving a satisfying warming in the belly, as though all that coppery sunshine it gives off in the glass has taken up residence in our insides. Yum.

While we generally suggest you enjoy highly hopped beers as soon as possible since the full bouquet of hoppy qualities will fade relatively quickly, this beer has also been bottle-conditioned with Brettanomyces, and that crazy-ass wild bug is going to continue working on the brew for quite some time. As it matures, funky tartness will come up in the mix, while hoppiness declines—all atop a quality Belgian beer base, so it’s quite likely that after a year plus in the bottle, you’ll be drinking a very different beer. But that’s just it—this is beer sans frontière—meaning borderless, or no limits—forget the roadmap, let it ride, and check in on it every 6-9 months or so and enjoy the journey. Ah, how time travel broadens the mind…

We should mention that this beer is brand new to the United States—and we’ve snatched up all but 30 cases that are going to be split by Chicago, California, and New York—so our members will be hoarding the vast majority of the nation’s supply of this very tasty brew. You greedy animals you!

The Gypsies are Coming! The Gypsies are Coming!!

And we should be happy about it. For a long time in the craft beer industry, the concept of “brewery-less” brewers was one that made many uncomfortable. The idea of “contract brewing” is often misunderstood and confused with what has become a new model for producing beer that has resulted in huge strides in the better beer movement. Typically, contract brewing is the term applied to beers that are brewed at a brewery owned by someone other than the “brewer” cited on the label—so, you give someone else your recipes, and they make the beer for you. This happened a lot in the 1990s, in many cases when beer marketing companies decided to ride the wave of the craft beer boom at that time, concocting a less than stellar product, outsourcing it, and shoving it to market as quickly as possible. All too often, those beers were not great—be it formulation or simply a remote-based disconnectedness from quality control. But there are other cases of contract brewing that serve as wonderful arrangements—such as when a brewery cannot keep up with demand and decides to have some of their beer brewed at an already established location to supplement their own production. The Boston Beer Company (makers of Samuel Adams) has relied on this approach for many years with phenomenal success, and we don’t think of them as sell-outs or somehow “half-assing” it…

So there seems to be less resistance to the idea if you at least have your own brewery where you are making some of your beers. But starting a brewery is a massive capital investment, and some entrepreneurs (usually homebrewers making beer in their kitchens) are looking to get their creativity into the game without all the crushing debt that stainless steel carries. So a number of brewers do not have their own breweries these days—and they’ve done great things for beer. Some have lovingly taken on the title of “gypsy brewers”, as they hop from place to place when making their brews. Is this the coming of the “gypsy apocalypse?” If it is, bring it on, because the beers coming out of this model have been some of the most important beers to hit the scene in the past 5-6 years.

Widely regarded as the grandfather of gypsy brewing (though he’s still a pretty young guy), Danish brewer Mikkel Bjergsø of Mikkeller fame has made a name for himself and better beer around the world—all without a brewery to call his own since going pro in 2006. Just a year earlier, Mikkel was teaching at a college in Denmark. Two of his students, Tobias Emil Jensen and Tore Gynther were chatting him up about the fact that most Danish breweries were producing lackluster beers, focusing almost exclusively on a century of tradition rather than newfound creativity and expression. The three of them agreed that the only way to get beer of the quality and caliber they sought would be to brew it themselves—basically the identical conversation had by so many brewers, be they from the 1970s, 80s, 90s, or these days, in markets where good beer is scarce. And rather than just talk about it, they hatched a plan. Soon they were allowed to borrow the school’s kitchen during the off hours, where they began to brew. This meant that most of the brews were made between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am on weekdays, which resulted in some hard school days for the two pupils as well as their teacher, but the hunt for quality and potent beers had begun, and a concept of never compromises that quality was founded.

The experiment had important results. The following year, Mikkel started Mikkeller, which has garnered worldwide global acclaim, while Tobias and Tore continued to craft brew privately for the next four years. In 2010, they believed that they, and their recipes, were ready, and founded To Øl (Danish for “Two Beers”). Word spread fast and as Mikkel heard his old students’ plans, he insisted on making a collaborative brew between Mikkeller and To Øl, which became the first beer released by To Øl – Overall IIPA. Ever since then To Øl has continued to brew beers that push the boundaries of beers. To quote Hannibal from the A-Team, we love it when a plan comes together…

Their approach remains to always use the best raw materials, never make compromises with taste, and not to follow fashion or certain styles. Basically, to always have an open mind. And part of that open mind could be applied to understanding that they do not have their own brewery. In fact, they do much of their brewing at Belgium’s De Proef Brouwerij (where Mikkeller brews a number of their beers, in fact). It’s enabled them to focus just on the beer, and remain nimble and agile. In just about two years of operation, they’ve gained critical acclaim within the craft beer scene, and have put out an impressive number of beers—one of which, called Sans Frontière (meaning without borders or roughly, “no limits”)—we’re featuring for our members this month. Quite a fitting title for Danish brewers producing beers at a Belgian brewery. Enjoy!

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