Thursday, 3 November 2016


Picked up from my local supermarket during a beer festival that they had the cheek to spring on me at the end of the summer and on the cusp of autumn, this little saison was a must-have and try. It is raining, I've had to unplug the EV early (it's fine, I got the charge I wanted, but I like getting extra) and I am avoiding doing actual work (like always). It's time in the dark of the evening whilst candles burn in the salt rock holders by the new fireplace (well, I say new, it's been a couple of months now) to have something a bit different. This different is Ilkley Brewery's Siberia, a rhubarb saison in a funky looking bottle.

There's not a lot I can add to that description so if that intrigues you then you can continue beyond the line break into the sunlit uplands of ale review. Alternatively you can find yourself a darkened room in which to recover from my murdering of the mother tongue. Would you like to know more?

This had been stored for a while under the stairs where I keep my stouts and aging bottles and it was when I had to don a coat to go out into the rain that I thought, why the hell not? It opened with a mighty snick - so the same noise but there was more of it. Quite a whisp of carbon dioxide slunk in the neck of the bottle, disturbed slightly by the passage of air from the door. It poured well, fizzing like a soft drink and making the kind of noise that I associate with cola from a cheap bottle. Slightly cloudy with a greenish red tinge - like rhubarb actually - and a very quick fizz of a head that was gone very swiftly indeed. A dull aroma, not sharp nor malty, hangs over the liquid. A bit like sweetened rhubarb I suppose but for the fact that there isn't a sweetness to it. I recognise it but I just can't place it. It sits, devoid of bubbles now, immobile and waiting. Have I left this one too long?

Bitter on the tongue at first, there are bubbles there after all but none too active, and then rolling into a slight hint of malt and a quick bite of citrus but don't try to grasp that because it is gone quickly too like the mist in the morning on the way into work. Or the clear windscreen on the car as the slight moisture in the air continually condenses when you're not looking. Not enough to keep the wipers going but too much to rely entirely on manually setting them to go every now and then. It barely touches the sides of the mouth, not quite filling the whole taste but curiously leaving no gaps either, before rapidly diminishing toward the back of the throat. A delicate bitterness remains, drying and arid, as it exits stage left and leaves the centre to be recast and reclaimed. The overall feel is hard to place, there's a definite edge to it all but nothing so sharp and obvious as a knife or lemon twist, equally there are hints of something yeasty and malty that never quite fully materialise, leaving just that odd sesnation of bitterness.

I can see why this has rhubarb in the title. From the colour to the aroma to the odd taste of the first mouthful, it's hard to imagine a better way to encapsulate it. As only my second saison I'm not sure what to expect of this type of brew, and am reminded of the over sour offering from Kernel at the Beer Festival in Leeds (click this link for more). On the subsequent tastes it retains that strange edge that isn't an edge with the bitterness that isn't all that bitter. The 5.9% ABV is on the high end, methinks, but is surprisingly not a huge player in the either the flavour or the feeling. I'm not sure what to make of this, I'll be honest, it works well given the weather, the dip in temperatures and the fact that I'm rather tired but, at the same time, it lacks the insanity and individuality that I prize in my odder ales. That cloudy aspect has me all confused too because I can't smell or taste the yeast nor is there obvious sediment.

However, the bottle has some answers. Sure enough there has been rhubarb added, explaining that tinge to the brew, but there's also vanilla and orange peel - which explains the familiar scent that I couldn't place (being mainly vanilla) and the strange sort of mouthfeel from the combination of the two. I suspect that the peel gives it the slightly sweet sensation, without actually being sweet, and the vanilla dulls the rhubarb so that the bitterness remains without being sour. I can't decide if I like this one or not, it's a good strength and it has an interesting aspect to it but, at the same time, it's not enough to make me turn my head. It's almost as though there's too much being tried here, maybe they could have ditched the vanilla or added more rhubarb or something. I don't know. Glad I bought it in, lad I tried it but uncertain if I shall be buying more.

Enjoy this at the end of a stodgy meal, maybe a Lancashire hot-pot, that involves something big like mashed potato. You can augment with some pickled onions, the big ones, and mixed pickle too if you like. Make sure you have a pudding lined up, something savoury rather than sweet, and then settle in to have this pint. No conversation nor company required, this one is big enough to provide all that you need and strong enough to hold its own against the powers of potato. Depart satisfied but confused.

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