Wednesday, August 11, 2010

O'So Picnic Ants

From the website regarding the Picnic Ants: "Picnic Ants is an Imperial Saison fermented extremely warm with Belgian yeast. 12 oz. bottles; 7.2 % ABV, 4 packs. ABV: 7.1%"

The website isn't particularly helpful. It tells you that the beer is a "saison", that it's "imperial", that it's "fermented extremely warm", and that it uses "Belgian yeast". If you don't know what a saison is, what it means to be imperial, what "extremely warm" means, or the significance of "Belgian yeast" you would have no idea what was in this bottle. And, not to pick, nits ... errr ... ants, I suppose ... but the website says "4 packs" but I purchased mine in a six pack.

Let's start with the "Belgian yeast" and "extremely warm" because knowing those will tell you, as you'll see, much more than "saison" or "imperial" will. As we all know beer can roughly be divided, at the genus level, into lagers and ales. As a general rule of thumb, though not in any absolute sense, to be sure, ales are fermented at "warm" temperatures and lagers are fermented at "cold" temperatures. This is true for a variety of reasons that are largely irrelevant for now. Suffice to say, "warm" typically means temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees farenheit, while "cold" typically means temperatures between 32 and 50 degrees farenheit.

Beer yeast is very temperature dependent. Just like some people are winter people and some delusional, sadistic bastards like hot and muggy, some yeast prefers to work at cooler temperatures, while other yeast likes to work at warmer temperatures. Cold-temperature yeast will often refuse to work at warmer temperatures and may even die if the temperatures climb too high, while others will simply refuse to do anything if the temperature is too cold. And, some, at sufficiently high temperatures will go into overload and work extremely fast.

What does it mean for yeast to work fast or slow? Well, excuse the non-sciency part of this explanation, but this is how it works, more or less, in my head. >Yeast convert sugars into alcohol. [ed note: you do remember that malting barley makes sugars available, soaking the malted barley gets the sugars into water, thus creating "wort"? Of course you do.] In this process, the yeast can sometimes produce, as a byproduct, various esthers that contribute unique flavor and aroma components to beer. Again, as a general rule, the faster the yeast works, the more esthers that will be produced. Thus, ale yeasts tend to do this much more readily than lager yeasts.

As an ale yeast, yeasts from Belgium tend to work in the upper-end of the temperature range, and tend to work very quickly and efficiently. Thus Belgian yeasts tend to produce a lot of esthers and create dry (little residual sugar) beer. So, when you hear "Belgian" or "Belgian yeast" you know that the beer can, and probably will, have complex flavors generated not just by malt and hops, but by esthers produced by the yeast during fermentation. These tend to be, though are not always, bright, fruity, sometimes lemony, sometimes sour-ish, sometimes astringent, flavors. [ed note: with hefeweizen yeast, this produces the banana flavors common in that style of beer]

So, if you hear "extremely warm" and "Belgian yeast" you now know that this is a shorthand for "yeast-produced esthers that will contribute significant complex fruity and alcoholic flavor and aroma".

Oh. If you want to know about Saisons, check out the BJCP Style 16c. And "imperial" means "big", which, really, for a style with typical deviations from 4.5% to 8%, 7% doesn't really make it all that "imperial", just "strong".

O'So Picnic Ants Saison
BA (C+). RB (86).
Appearance: golden and hazy with a thin wispy white head; active carbonation in a stemmed pilsner glass; looks summery for a 7% ABV beer
Aroma: surprisingly strong malt forward aroma with lemon and coriander; a slight licorice-like aroma on the back
Flavor: almost white-wine-like; dry and melon-y bright; some strong alcohol on the finish; a slight oak-y astringency; subdued flavor
Body: very, very dry with little malt sweetness, finishes clean with lemon and pepper in the end;
Drinkability: very nice and clean with some strong aromas, the flavor is subdued and dry making it dangerously possible to drink too many
Summary: saisons, as a style, are all over the map; while this one is on one end of the map, tending more towards the light flavored, with the emphasis of flavor in the yeast-produced esthers, the malt flavors stay out of the way and hops add some nice floweriness, but are otherwise muted; when I first had this beer a few years ago, I had been less than impressed, but this year's batch is far more pleasing and enjoyable and I look forward to this recipe evolving and perfecting


  1. Hey Jeff - the website is woefully out of date (the label is for the bombers which predated the 4pak plan).
    This years is higher in abv than 7% (i think) since it is much drier than last year. It's also a hell of a lot more drinkable in a frightening way since I tend to not slow down as I have the second or third one. Keep me away from the power tools!
    FWIW-when this was released in June(?) it outsold Spotted cow in many places for the first month or so. It has slowed down, but has been a great beer the last couple of days with high temps and humidity.
    It's also been interesting to compare this to the NG unplugged imp saison from last summer. O'so is actually a touch spicier on the finish and not as heavy on the tongue. The NG peaked, imo, sometime in april/may.

  2. Fun, unique 1/4 the way to a lambic. They use Wyeast 3711.


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