Reviewed: pFriem Flanders-Style Blonde
Official description: Every batch of pFriem Flanders Blonde spends eighteen months in an oak barrel where it inherits the flavors and aromas of the Pinot Noir that was once aged in the very same cask. Now overflowing with notes of green apple, hints of lemon zest and a spritzy finish, this ale is definitely ready for a glass of its very own. Malt: Gambrinus Canadian Pilsner, Rahr Old World Pilsner, Simpsons Flaked Barley, Weyermann Carafoam, Weyermann Acidulated. Hops: Tettnang. Yeast: Belgian Ale, Brettanomyces, Lactic Bacteria Culture. Wood: French Oak. 7.1% ABV, 9 IBUs.
pFriem Family Brewers – pFriem Flanders-Style Blonde Ale – 375mL bottle served in wine stemware – 7.1% ABV
Consider this a companion review to two other phenomenal winter release sours from pFriem, their Flanders Red Kriek and Oud Bruin. Flanders is famous for its dark sours as well as its lambic. I was scratching my head when I first saw the label “Flanders Blonde”. From my short stint working at a brewery in Flanders, a Flanders Blonde sounds like a non-sour beer to me. The quintessential Flanders Blonde, in my opinion, is Westvleteren Blonde, a Trappist ale which does have some Brettanomyces character, but it is not even remotely sour and certainly not barrel-aged. Even in Flanders, sours are the exception to the rule being more expensive to produce and with a smaller clientele. Setting aside Flemish lambic producers like Drie Fonteinen or Oud Beersel, I can’t think of a Flemish brewery that makes a barrel-aged sour blonde. Take De Dolle, Westvleteren, Westmalle, St Bernardus, Het Anker, Duvel, et al; none produce a sour blonde that I know of. De Struise may have produced a sour blonde at one time, but it is not part of their regular lineup. I’m still perplexed to what the name is referring to, but let’s see how it turned out.
The cork on this one comes off with relative ease and a powerful pop is a good sign of proper bottle conditioning. Into the glass, pFriem’s Flanders Blonde is sparkling, pale golden in color with a little bit of haze even when electing not to pour in the yeast sediment that has settled at the bottom of the bottle. Bright white foam erupts to make this look closer to a proper saison.
Aroma-wise, pFriem’s Flanders Blonde Ale is immediately impressive with buttery oak barrel front and center along with bright pineapple, brioche, raspberry, and Granny Smith apple. Hefty carbonation takes control of the mouthfeel with bubbles dancing around the palate. Buttery oak again is center stage for the swallow along with a sweeter, raspberry-like Pinot Noir character. Overall sourness is nicely mitigated to a 2/10 level while sweetness is closer to a 5/10 – stats unheard of for a barrel-aged sour. There’s an oiliness and filling character to this beer that is also unusual for a sour. In every way I can think of, this beer is the perfect example of a modern saison.
pFriem’s Flanders Blonde brings you super high carbonation, very low sourness, outstanding bright fruitiness, and hardly any alcohol character. It’s refreshing, complex, and gives you so much barrel character with very little funk or acidity. Because of these characteristics, I can’t help but think of this beer as a saison. It has all the hallmarks of the modern interpretation of saison from today’s most well-regarded breweries. Besides the nomenclature, this beer is outrageously impressive and perhaps the most original of pFriem’s winter sour releases. If you love sour blondes or barrel-aged saisons, I highly urge you to seek this one out.
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