Relic Hiver
1 22 oz bottle, $8?, 9% ABV

Purchased at the brewery, Plainville

hiverI couldn’t do it. But I can do this. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

Confused? Me too. Okay, let me back up… I couldn’t drink this beer. But I can write a negative review of my friend Mark’s winter 2013 offering, even though it’s negative. At least I think I can.

I take a measure of pride in my honest reviews of every museum and trail and waterfall and book I read about Connecticut. And beer. I’ve had no qualms or hesitations giving poor reviews of various Connecticut beers, so why should I hesitate when I have a personal friendship with the brewery owner?

Even when it’s a one-man nanobrewery and that one man is a great guy doing some really creative and interesting things in Plainville? And when I use “creative and interesting,” I’m saying that in truth and not as some code for “I don’t really like lavender in my beer.”

Even though I do not like lavender in my beer.

Anyway, no use dawdling. My bottle of Hiver (that’s “winter” in French, which as I understand it, is required for me to write) was ripe with butyric acid (that’s chemistry for “vomity”).

Now, I had the Hiver on tap at the brewery and it was fine. “Celebrate the season with this food friendly French-Style Saison,” sayeth the bottle. (A numbered bottle, no less, with mine being #208 out of the 800 produced.) Crazy high ABV for a saison at 9%, but that’s what we do these days. No issues there.

It had a spice and a citrus quality to it that was reminiscent of Saison DuPont – a beer that I love. I was excited. There was a bit of that yeastiness in the background (wholly unoffensive), but not being familiar with the spelt malt Mark used, I chalked it up to that and bought my bottle.

Relic Says:

Brewed with Pale, Munich & Spelt malt, this Bierre de Provision uses lemony hops and earthy spiciness to tie together a complex and interesting drink for your holiday gathering.

800px-Butyric-acid-3D-ballsMark is clear about a few things. One is that with his lighter beers, he urges people to drink them shortly after purchase. I don’t want to speak for him, but all his beers are bottle conditioned and unfiltered and – wait, so is Saison DuPont. Regardless, that’s sort of one of his mantras.

It’s not like Mark bangs out DIPAs or highly hopped ales where drinking fresh is paramount. So I’ve always been a little confused by this, but I can think of a bunch of perfectly legit reasons – like how about, “drink it now, so you’ll buy more of my stuff sooner.” That works for me.

Unfortunately I waited on the Hiver for about a month. I guess I missed the window of freshness because as I’ve mentioned, it had a bacterial infection. The vomit aroma was overpowering. Yet, I still drank a swig of the beer. And oddly, it actually tasted pretty good. The spice and fruit was still there, with a touch of sour creeping in. (I say that as a good thing.) But the smell? I couldn’t get past it.

Not even for a little bit.

Butyric acid is a fairly common off-flavor formed in beer as a result of the growth of contaminant bacteria during the beer production process. It happens. And when we’re talking about a tiny one-man operation, reality dictates that it’ll happen more often than perhaps a larger brewery. (Just Google “beer smells like vomit” and you’ll get a billion home brewing forums addressing the issue.)

I thought about yammering on about how butyric acid is formed and how it is actually used as a flavoring chemical in foods you enjoy, but nah. As this is my first negative review of a friend’s life’s work and passion, I just want to get it over with.

If you have a bottle of Hiver (props again for a sweet label), let it sit. Just leave it alone until Christmas 2014 or so. Chances are that you might have a pretty darn awesome sour. What I’m saying is that the Hiver was a pretty decent saison at bottling (a B grade I’d say) and might be an A after some aging/souring. But in between? I can only grade it as I had it. Even if I did something wrong in waiting 4-6 weeks on the bottle somehow.

Yeah, beer is weird like that.

Overall Rating: F
Rating vs. Similar style: F

Relic Brewing
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