Abbaye Saint Bon-Chien Grand Cru (2014) – Frenchy Sparkling Wine (Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes)

Style: Wild Ale aged in French Sparkling Wine Barrels

11.0% ABV

Ingredients: Swiss mountains’ spring water, barley malts,sugar, hop, yest.

From: Jura, Switzerland

Brewery’s Note: “Ale Matured in Oak Barrel. Hand bottled,
with prise de mousse. This Grand Cru’s complexity will increase with age. Abbey
Saint Bon-Chien Grand Cru is sometimes available when we come across wonderful
barrels and in barrels or Rum Vin Jaune … we’ll let you juice when there next
time.” *Last part is a Google translation*

Importer’s Note on regular Bon-Chien: “Boldly treading the
boundary between port, wine and beer, l’Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien is a unique
ale aged in wooden casks which have been used for several years before to age
Merlot, Merlot Cabernet, Whisky and then Grappa. It manages to merge into L’Abbaye
all the complex aromas of a vintage red wine along with the delicate harmony
and flavors of the wood and its former contents. This process requires close
monitoring of the beer’s evolution. The final version is blended from different
casks, to ensure optimal balance, complexity and enjoyment!/[Thus named in fond
memory of Bon-Chien, the late brewery cat, deceased in June 2005, whose antics
were very popular with brewery visitors]/Try it with pan-fried duck breast or
foie gras deglaced with Modena balsamic vinegar or with a high cocoa contents
dark chocolate.”

The beer pours out a ruddy copper and sits in the glass the
color of pale ruby. It looks like a paler port wine with a small head of creamy
white bubbles with mild retention. The beer remains remarkably clean in body,
yet with a nearly absolute opacity and a cloudiness that hints at the barrel
the beer was aged in. When splashed against the sides of the glass, the beer
leaves swift colonies of thin, amoebic bubbles that quickly drop to rejoin the
beer. Brief traces of oozy and alcoholic legs dilute the glass before dissolving
into the beer. On the nose, the beer is pungent from the moment the cap cracks.
Sour cherry leather blends with musty barrels, a touch of horse blanket, malic
green apple, and malt vinegar. From the regular Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien, this
beer smells mustier, with a touch more dark fruit character that hints at plums
and just a kiss of raisins. The funk on the nose is deep, wet, and wriggling,
which is superb. On the tongue, the beer is tart from the moment it touches the
tongue, mostly with acetic vinegar, though there is splashes of malic green apple,
and a decent chalky bite of lactic acid. Right behind the complex acidity of
the beer is a mellow, fruited sweetness that blossoms and wilts upon the tongue,
at times too much, but never awful. A musty earthiness oozes over the other two
tastes as the beer moves into the middle, and then turns pleasantly cheesy as
the beer finishes. Oak tannin bitters linger and balance throughout the sip,
rearing their knotted head highest during the. The balance is decidedly sweet,
but never really cloying, and quite complex. In flavor, the beer delivers tart
cherries, malt vinegar, red wine vinegar, green apples, and deep musty barrels
that turn to aged cheese rinds, perhaps with just a touch too much isovaleric
acid. This is a slow sipping dessert beer to revel in as it warms and evolves
upon the tongue. In the mouth, the beer is on the plus side in weight, but
decidedly clean, and crisp in mouthfeel, with a stickier finish. Carbonation is
effervescent with just a bit of bite helping to level things out. Honestly, I
wouldn’t mind seeing the carb raised a little, though it would certainly change
the nature of the beer. When the beer leaves, the mouth is left deceptively
neutral for the overall complexity that the beer delivers. The inner mouth is
slightly dry and astringent with tannic pucker, while the tongue wets with a mildly
phlegmy substance. Overall, the beer is decadent, rich and mysterious. I think
the isovaleric is a bit too much in the beer, which causes a heavier “old
cheese” character to develop on the palate over time, but it is by no means
awful. The beer is a pleasure to slowly sip, with plenty of potential for
pairing. BFM makes some damn fine beers, and Abbay de Saint Bon-Chien is there
masterpiece. This year’s Grand Cru, however, doesn’t seem to really step above
that decadent pinnacle. This is a great beer, don’t get me wrong. It is fully
worth the heavy price tag, but for what Bon-Chien is on its own, I was hoping
for a little bit more. Aging will surely add further complexity to this beer,
and I would be fascinated to see what sherry-like oxidation would do. In the
end, the folks at BFM are some BAMF.


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