Reviewed: Jester King SPON Muscat 2017
Product description: A blend of one year old 100% spontaneously fermented beer refermented with Muscat grapes. For SPON, we make beer inextricably linked to our time, place & people by harnessing the microflora, climate, and ecology of the Texas Hill Country. We add Texas-gorwn grains to the mash, gnarly old hops from our barn to the boil, chill and inoculate the wort with native microflora in our coolship, 100% spontaneously ferment the beer in oak barrels, referment with Texas fruit, and naturally condition the beer in the bottle. 6.1% ABV. More about this beer here.
Jester King Brewery – Jester King SPON Muscat 2017 – 375mL served in wine stemware – 6.1% ABV
Muscat grape lambic is exceedingly rare. The only one I know I’ve had in the past is Cantillon Vigneronne as well as the one-off Reed Gueuze Muscat, available to those hardcore lambic lovers who make the pilgrimage to Akkurat in Stockholm, Sweden. And I’m talking about lambic and not just Muscat grape sours because Jester King’s SPON Muscat really is a lambic in every way but geography. Just check out the highly-involved product description above for details on how it was made.
SPON Muscat looks the part as well with a green, punted 375mL bottle with a wine cork and oversized cap on top, which is the exact format for Cantillon lambic. The cork comes out easily and there is barely a pop once pried out. Into wine stemware, SPON Muscat is a hazy, glowing gold in color with a smaller layer of densely packed, white foam that persists for almost 30 minutes as a protective layer atop the beer. Silty sediment layers on the bottom of the bottle show this is truly bottle refermented, which among others things adds softer carbonation vs forced carbonation. This is a living beer that doesn’t cut any corners.
The aroma gives you a vibrant mix of white grapefruit, pineapple, nectarine, starfruit, and dripping ripe strawberry. Saltwater, wet dough, and lime blossom honey couple with the fruit juices to give you an incredibly complex mix that I can’t do justice in words. There’s also a touch of savoriness to the aroma that I can’t quite describe. It’s slightly smokey and definitely salty with a phenolic note and almost tennis ball aroma you get with Reisling grapes.
Dig in and this beer is jaw-droppingly good. I really can’t believe what I’m tasting. SPON Muscat takes a world classic like Cantillon Vigneronne and has somehow softened up the edges and redirected the focus from acid to tannin. Overall acidity is shockingly low, 4/10 overall, which allows you to really enjoy the beer in large gulps with no trepidation. Carbonation is lively and effervescent, but also soft and really allows the flavors to dance around in the mouth. This is extremely well-balanced with a mix of citric and lactic acid but also tons of leathery character I’m guessing from the grape skins and barrel tannins. The complex mix of fruits in the aroma is back in the body, but everything is mellowed out to create a very elegant hybrid of white wine and lambic with better structure than perhaps any sour I’ve had in recent memory. That fruitiness lasts for only a few seconds, though, as this beer moves through the palate at lightning speed. A mouth-watering, salty flavor is at the very front followed by a creamy, coating lactic character in the mid-palate along with touches of buttery oak barrel. There’s a quick acid sting in the finish and then it’s gone. Because the beer is so quenching and the experience so quick, it demands immediate subsequent gulps.
SPON Muscat is foremost an elegant beer that should be paired with a Michelin-star dinner, but I’d prefer it be on tap at a sporting event and chugged like Gatorade. The acid level is amazingly gentle – much more subdued than Belgian lambic and way more subdued than most American sours. It’s a beer that demands to be downed in large, post-workout gulps; but also one that needs to be savored since this is a rarity and comes only in this tiny format. It also is possibly the best American sour I’ve ever tried. I thought Jester King’s Sacred Vessel (review forthcoming) was more in-your-face amazing, but SPON Muscat is subtler and more refined. On any given day, I would take this over just about any beer that exists. It’s refreshing to the max and the acidity is balanced in a way only a handful of breweries have accomplished. In this way, SPON Muscat reminds me of some of my favorite funky saisons from producers like Forest & Main, Hill Farmstead, and Upright. What it lacks versus Belgian geuze is intense aromas and flavors such as wet leather saddle, musty basement, and sharper grapefruit-like acidity. SPON Muscat is a young lambic, though, and shows incredible refinement already. To call it world-class is an understatement. This is world-beating and should be on the must-try list for any sour ale enthusiast. I confidently place this is my personal Top 50 list.
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