Saison

The Frederic Saga

Beverages often have stories to them, either of how they were made or about what inspired them. The story behind Oakshire Brewing‘s Frederic C. Noir is probably the longest and most varied I’ve ever come across. Practically a saga, even.

Here is the bottle description verbatim:

“Originally brewed for the 1st Anniversary of Eugene’s 16 Tons, “Frederic’s Lost Arm” was a collaboration with J-Tea International – a Saison made with Iron Goddess Green Oolong Tea. This farmhouse style ale was a tribute to the French writer Frederic Sauser who lost dominant arm in WWI before learning to write with his other hand. We laid the beer to slumber for two years with Brettanomyces Clausenii, a wild yeast evoking fruity aromas and earthy, funky flavors. Fred is light, crisp, and fruity with mild herbal noes and a pineapple-like finish. See what time has done for Frederic C. Noir! Cheers to three years of prosperity at 16 Tons!”

A year ago, I had the pleasure of sampling Frederic’s Lost Arm. (Man, that sounds wrong out of context.) Josh Chamberlain of J-TEA was the one who gave me the heads up. That batch had been aged in a gin barrel for several months, resulting in a very juniper-laden and sour ale that I adored. I didn’t get much of an oolong taste from it, but my nose was clogged at the time. Any gentle presence would’ve been lost on me.

J-TEA Josh – again – alerted the social mediasphere of a sequel to that batch. Yes, the beer had a damn sequel. How does that happen?! It was the remainder of the Lost Arm batch, but this time – aged in a Pinot Noir barrel for two years. I’m no stranger to wine barrel-aged beers. Many have graced my palate, but this was my first wine barrel-aged tea-beer. That combined both of my favorite pursuits – barrel-aged beers and tea-beers. The only downside…it was only available in Eugene. Two friggin’ hours away from my neck o’ the woods.

I mulled over the idea of a road trip for several days. Eventually, I almost gave up – telling myself, Eh, they probably ran out by now. Then a small part of me urged my fingers to the keyboard. I decided to contact 16 Tons via Twitter to see if they had any more Frederic left. By some small miracle, they did.

I was on the road to Eugene two days later.

My first stop was to visit the source for the oolong used for the beer – J-Tea International. While there, I was able to meet, pick the brain of, and sample the wares of the owner himself – Josh. He also informed me that the oolong used for the Frederics was a Four Seasons greener-style oolong from Taiwan. Not sure if this contradicts the “Iron Goddess” claim on the Frederic C. Noir bottle or if there was some confusion on my part. Taiwan does produce a Ti Guan Yin variant in the Muzha region. Eh, whatever.

The next stop was one of two locations that 16 Tons manages. For those that’ve never heard of it, it’s basically the specialty beer store(s?) in Eugene. Their reputation is well-earned. They carried many beers I hadn’t heard of (yet), and had several barrel-aged options on tap. After buying my precious bottle of Frederic, I was lucky enough to sample a wine barrel-aged beer produced by a monastery in Sweden. Absolutely wonderful way to pit stop.

In a display of profound patience for someone like me, I didn’t actually tear into this bottle until a week or so later. I wanted to do it in a more public setting than my usual tasting pattern (i.e. alone, in front of my computer). The perfect opportunity came in the form of a themeless party at a friend’s house in Camas. Yes, I know, Camas and I have some shaky history, but sometimes it’s well worth the risk. I may have been the only one drinking that early, but at least I was among friends. Still counts.

When I uncorked it, I braced myself for fizz. Nothing happened for a ten seconds. Then I pressed my nose to the bottle to get a good whiff. That’s when it happened…

A geyser of foam exploded up my nostrils. Luckily, it was a wonderful aroma that invaded my nose – sour, corky, and fruity. The liquor itself poured smoothly, and its color was a crisp, spring green with minimal head. It almost looked like a white wine.

And it kind of tasted like wine. The front was all Pinot – slightly astringent and kind of grapy – but the rest was a Belgian sour to the core. The finish was where I detected a bit of the oolong used for the beer’s water base. The herbaceous quality on the aftertaste was Formosan to a “tea”. I sipped this over the course of two hours while at the Camas party.

I departed early to make a second stop at a karaoke bar to meet some other friends. Somehow, someway, I thought it a bright idea to sing a bluegrass song whilst amidst the hipsterati of Northeast Portland. That was met with ironic stares. I giggled awkwardly on the inside.

I blame Frederic.

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Monday, May 13th, 2013 Beverage Blog 4 Comments

Soba Up, Buckwheat! You’ve Had too Much Oolong Beer!

Obviously, I’m still playing catch-up. This is a flashback to late-January. I assure you, though, it’s totally worth it. Well, if you like tea in your beer. Moving along…

Tea and beer are my two favorite beverages in the world. Yes, the entire world. Both are also extremely habitual and have a lot of history to them. As a result, becoming geekily obsessed with the minutiae surrounding either drink is an obvious conclusion. So, what happens when I learn that both have been – somehow/someway – combined?

Answer: Geek overload.

I have tried several examples where tea and alcohol have been combined. In some cases, it was merely scented teas – either smoked or aged in a barrel – but on the other end of the spectrum are the alcoholic drinks that use tea leaves as an ingredient. My favorites of those, to date, have been an Earl Grey/tangerine zest ale and a jasmine green tea mead. I had yet to run into a brewery that found a creative use for oolong, though.

In the Fall, a friend brought to my attention that Oakshire Brewing out of Eugene, OR. had done just that. Alas, I was a whole week behind the times. The stuff had long since been drunk dry. Fast-forward to January: The purveyor of J-Tea – the pivotal “J” himself – brought to my attention that it wasn’t all done yet. In fact, the beer in question had a second go-around left. Better still? It was a gin-barrel-aged, Belgian-style saison that was brewed with Taiwanese greener-style oolong as an ingredient. An oolong provided by “J”.

Josh Chamberlain brewing oolong in a keg!

Josh Chamberlain brewing oolong in a keg!

My brain exploded.

The tasting itself was being held at a cheese bar in Southeast Portland, and – as luck would have it – it was also one of my days off. Only one small snag, though. I was still sick from the second round of “Le Plague”. I didn’t care; this was worth leaving quarantine.

I was able to form a mini-posse with two other friends to make the trip. Matt Van Wyk – Oakshire’s brewmaster himself – was also on-hand to answer any questions about the brew itself. (And pick his brain, I did.) The name of it was completely awesome: Frederic’s Lost Arm. I couldn’t tell ya what it meant, though.

The brew itself? Needless to say, it was superb. The Oakshire folks know how to brew a damn good beer, and this was no exception. It was strong on the juniper note toward the front, followed by the sour Belgian-ish-ness in the middle. The aftertaste was both sweet and bitey. The only disadvantage was, there was no sign of oolong to be found. I guess all the cask-conditioning willowed away any punch the green Formosa could deliver. No surprise there. Taiwanese oolongs can be on the gentle side. However, if I tried – even through my clogged state – I could remember a bit of a honey-like texture to it.

Short answer: “Dayamn”.

*****

On a completely unrelated night that same week, I finally tore into a sample that was sent my way by fellow writer/blogger, Jo Johnson. She had seen mention of soba-cha on my “Tea WANT!” list and decided to impart some to me. I knew it wasn’t a rare tea to come by, but I was extremely grateful that she beat me to the punch.

For those who don’t know, “soba” simply means “buckwheat” in Japanese. I don’t know much about the grain other than the name being applied to idiots. That said, when I took a whiff of the stuff, I was greeted by a pungently nut-sweet aroma that could rival rooibos in its delivery.

Alas, the taste didn’t quite reflect the aroma’s sweetness, imparting a nutty brew that reminded me of rice, barley, and sweetened peanuts. While surprised with the change in profile, I still rather enjoyed it. The little granules held up to a boiled-water/five-minute brew-up with surprising sturdiness, and it was a far cry better than some rice-laden teas I’ve tried. (Yes, I’m talking to you genmaicha.)

Speaking of genmaicha…recently, I had an epiphany to one day try this blended with a kabusecha-style tamaryokucha (heavily-shaded, curly green tea from Kumomoto) and maybe a dash of Nishio-grown matcha. Maybe I’ll give it a try soon and record the results…but that’s a subject for another schizoid rambling.

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Monday, March 26th, 2012 Beverage Blog, Steep Stories 2 Comments

I work for tea money.

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