Friday, June 23, 2006

Brise-BonBons & Printemps -- distinctive Wallonian ales from Fantome.

In 1998, the first of an ongoing series of European pub and brewery crawls found 16 friends and customers from Rich O’s on a chartered bus in Belgium – or more specifically, somewhere in the hills of the Ardennes in route from Namur to a tiny village called Soy, which as you might imagined is not pronounced like the Oriental sauce.

Soy is the home of artisanal brewer Dany Prignon’s Brasserie Fantome, and it was to be the first of two brewery visits I’d arranged that day, with the afternoon projected for a session at the Brasserie Achouffe, not far down the road near Houffalize.

Fantome proved to be a barn-like structure with a rustic tasting room built onto one side and a cobbled together brewing system to the rear, incorporating an eclectic vision of zymurgy and good times, and presided over by the always gracious and slyly humorous Dany, who didn’t let language differences stand in the way of explanations, anecdotes and copious samples of his work afterward.

Many of us fell in love with the Fantome ethos on that day, and Dany’s ever changing line of innovative ales has been among my favorites ever since. Fantome’s importer, Shelton Brothers, is top of the line, and although I fumbled on the current shipment and forgot to order the brewery’s flagship Saison, a case each of Fantome ale still made it into New Albany.

Fantôme Printemps is a special seasonal springtime ale that varies in design from year to year. As of this writing, I’ve not had the chance to sample, although I recall it to be lighter and more effervescent than Saison.

Fantôme Brise-BonBons is a relatively new creation, and Dan Shelton’s description is hilarious:

With joy, and a little bit of mischief, Fantôme brewer Dany Prignon dedicates this very bitter beer to all of the many varieties of brise-bonbons - literally, ball-breakers - in the world. Specifically, this beer is meant for wise-guys, braggarts, pains-in-the-ass, muck-rakers, trouble-makers, know-it-alls, stuffed-shirts, blow-hards, and bores, as well as nut-cracking, wind-bag, prattling-on, self-appointed experts on every-thing, and nose-in-the-air snobs, convinced they can do anything better than you.

Dany intended to make a beer too bitter for a normal person to enjoy. The problem is, everyone loves it! Guess we're all just a bunch of brises-bonbons sometimes.

Several of us popped a bottle of Brise-BonBons today, and while not completely over the top in terms of the magic cone, it is well-hopped by Belgian standards and joyously in the stylistic range inhabited by Urthel Hop-It, Houblon Chouffe, De Ranke XX Bitter and Poperings Hommel. Happily, the trademark Fantome funkiness is present -- a streak of sourness, an herbal balance, and a fruity note that you can't quite account for.

Both these special Fantome ales are stocked and priced at the Public House, and by tomorrow I’ll probably have them up on the blackboard for all to see.

For more information, visit the Fantome brewery page at the Shelton Brothers web site.

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