A lot can happen to a brewery in 12 years, especially if they’re in the business of producing a dying style, in a dying beer region which is slowly being taken over by multinational, American-influenced corporations. Not that this scenario is in any way particular to Belgium, or even the Belgian regions known for producing Saison, but in the case of Brasserie a Vapeur, one of the oldest and well-known producers of Saison, it’s quite a statement that they’re still producing the same core of beers that they were as little as a decade ago. I was lucky enough to score a vintage bottle of the brewery’s famed “Ale with Spices,” also known as Folie. A beer that is notoriously unstable, inconsistent, and extremely delicious in its best examples, Folie is attractive to me. I have tried to get through two newer bottles of this beer, adorned as they are with a half naked woman and a stoned looking jester, with little success. One was so “light-struck” (the big boy name for SKUNKED) that I had a hard time finishing it, and the other was infected or something and spat out 3/4 of the bottle in foam form. I collected as much as I could and tried to drink it, but it was pretty ruined.
The 12 year old bottle of Folie I sampled was an entirely different story. A corked and capped big green bottle seems like it would have little chance of “making it” this far, but it did quite well. The cork was soaked and a bit disintegrated when I pulled it out, and immediately I knew I was in for something quite different from a “traditional” or should I say “modern-traditional” Saison, even a “spiced Saison” when I smelled it. The nose was closer to a lambic or American wild Ale than the spiciness and hoppiness associated with Saisons. The beer smelled acidic, a bit fruity, and had some of the more “farmy” qualities you would expect from a Saison as well. Basically, complex as hell and equally tasty. Drinking this was quite an experience — this beer was exceptionally dry and tasted very much like limes, but not as much in a burning citric way as a floral way, know what I’m saying? It poured a beautiful pale golden color with little head and maintained a nice amount of carbonation considering the age, but didn’t have the full bubbly profile you would expect from a Saison.
Purchasing and drinking this beer was an extremely rewarding experience, and I’ve noticed how many bars and shops around NYC carry vintage Vapeur bottles. I highly recommend picking any of these up. There’s some 1989 bottles floating around at bars for reasonable prices, and I’m dying to get my hands on one.