Barrel Aged Saison

Thomas Hooker Barrel Aged Saison 2012
One 22 oz bottle, $17.99, 7.1% ABV

Stupidly purchased at Harvey’s, West Hartford
(Bottle #1155 Batch 690 12-17-12)

bigbottleI just wrote “stupidly” purchased at Harvey’s above because I paid two dollars more for this there than I would have at pretty much any other store. I don’t care about two dollars, but when I have another store in my hometown, which uses the same letters in its name as Harvey’s save for one but with a much better selection (that would be HarveST), well, I’m stupid.

Enough about that. But Harvey’s IS the closest store to me and Harvest is halfway across town and… Okay, okay. Who cares.

Such distraction from the real story here: Thomas Hooker Brewing is branching out and dipping their toes into a higher end craft brew world, starting with what they call their Connecticut Barrel Series. I first heard about this way back in the late summer of 2012, after reading some reports about the universally despised Mohegan Brew Fest down at the casino.

(Universally despised by everyone, that is, except a few floggers who got free tickets and went and reported such gems as ““The Saison is a Belgian-style farmhouse ale and reminded me of a barleywine. Excellent subtle caramel flavor that impressed me with its complexity!” because they heard it was going to be aged in wine barrels and conflated something that hadn’t even happed yet with the beer they tasted to a style that has the word wine in it, which has nothing in the world to do with actual wine. Folks, that’s the state of flogging these days. Sigh.)

I tried the plain ol’ saison at a Hooker Open House back in November and was surprised by its lack of depth and flavor and everything else I want from a Belgian farmhouse ale. But I talked with Mike the head brewer and he assured me that I’d be very pleased once it comes out of the barrels. I also told Mike that Hooker needs to brew the Old Marley again soon and he said he’d love to, but…

But nothin’! They are brewing it right now in early 2013. I like to think it is all because of me – it’s been YEARS since they brewed a batch of Old Marley.

So here we are in January 2013. The saison is out of the barrels and into the bottles. And into the stores and into my mouth.

Hooker says:

Belgian style ale brewed with peppercorn and aged in wine barrels.

barrelSaison is a style with very humble beginnings as a table beer brewed in the farmhouses of Wallonia, the French speaking region of southern Belgium. A saison is brewed using more hops than other Belgian styles, making it a very durable beer. Traditionally brewed in spring, it was meant to last through the summer and autumn.

We brew our Saison with traditional, continenal ingredients using a sour mash of Weyermann floor-malted Bohemian Pilsner Malt, Wheat and Toasted Wheat. We finish with a healthy addition of Czech Saaz hops, dry hopped with our proprietary blend of Estate Hops (CT grown in our New Hartford Hopyard) and spiced with a light touch of black peppercorns. We then ferment it with a renowned Saison yeast, which ads subtle hints of bubble gum, clove and fruity esters to the aroma and flavor.

We partnered with wineries on the CT Wine Trail to source an assortment of wine barrels from Chamard, Hopkins and Jonathan Edwards Wineries. Each type of barrel contributes its own flavor and aroma, which blends to create a truly unique Saison.

Celebrate Connecticut by enjoying all of the beers in our Connecticut Barrel Series Collaboration.

A true “cellaring” beer, our Saison will delight as a fresh bottle and will develop new flavors, aromas and complexity as it ages.

Wow. Hooker says a lot. And that was just from the back of their bottle. I do wish they pinpointed what type of wine was kept in the barrels that were used. Are there different tastes to these first saisons depending upon which barrel your bottle was from? Or will the 2nd in the Connecticut Wine Barrel series be from the 2nd winery? I have no idea.

And that bothered me. So I wrote Curt an email asking him.

Here’s your answer:

“We worked VERY hard on this one. We used all white wine barrels… I believe all were Chardonnay, but there may have been a one or 2 others… but definitely all white.

[The wineries were] all great partners who we will be working with more in the future.

The barrels were all blended back together… mainly because we needed a certain level in our Brite tank for carbonation.”

By the way, you need to check out the pictures of the whole hop-to-bottle process, including the one from Hooker’s site here – the hop harvest from New Hartford!

The bottle I enjoyed was VERY wine-forward. If you don’t like the family of “winey beers,” you will not like this. The bottled saison is vastly different from any of the stuff Hooker has been doling out at tastings and festivals, trust me. The barrel aged stuff is fruity, complex, tingly and full of the wine flavors some of us enjoy.

Surprisingly, there was no oak at all to this which made me very happy. I hate oak in wine and really, really hate oak in beer. I didn’t really taste the peppercorns either, but I’ve never tasted them in any beer I’ve had with them. I don’t know how they aged this in (assuredly) oak barrels but I didn’t taste oak. Thank goodness.

I really liked this beer. The wine notes mellowed over the course of the hours I drank the bottle and the fruitiness of the yeast came more to the fore. I was hoping for a bigger ABV pop (it was a Friday night), but that’s not a real complaint.

I absolutely love the whole idea behind this series. First, it’s great that Hooker is getting a bit riskier with their offerings and second, partnering with Connecticut wineries? Super cool. Hooker partnered with local chocolatier Munsons on their choco-stout, so I’m really digging the direction Curt and our friends at Hooker are going. Maybe they’ll partner with CTMQ on something in the future.

At 18 bucks, I’ll be the first to say that it’s not really worth is. At 16? Probably, especially if you cellar it, as I’d think this beer will really rock in a year or so.

Overall Rating: A-
Rating vs. Similar style: A

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