Hello Sour Beer Friends!
Winter is upon us on the east coast of the United States! This means that, in addition to a variety of tasty sour beers consumed over the holidays, my friends and I have taken the opportunity to open the last bottle in the Armand 4 Seasons series, Armand 4 Winter Gueuze. This is the final bottle in the set of four specialty gueuzes produced by Armand Debelder of the Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen. Each gueuze in this series has been a different blend, and each seemed to evoke characteristics of the season for which they were named. As we will shortly discuss, Armand 4 Winter was no exception to this rule!
The first bottle of the set, Armand 4 Lente, had flavors that focused on a bright, grassy, and hay-like funk, with subtle notes of kerosene or diesel fuel. This beer very much reminded us of the first time you fire up a lawnmower to cut the springtime grass. The next beer in the series, Armand 4 Zomer, was an earthier blend with notes of damp must and ozone. This gueuze reminded us of walking through a humid forest after a summertime thunderstorm. Armand’s autumn blend, Armand 4 Herfst, featured a more assertive hop profile than the other gueuzes in the series. The combination of both stale and some fresher noble hop character in addition to the blend’s musty and earthy Brettanomyces funk put us in mind of slightly damp fallen leaves, the type that are just beginning to break down in our yards each fall.
Unlike the other gueuzes from the series, we did not taste Armand 4 Winter side by side with another blend of Drie Fonteinen gueuze. This was partially due to the fact that our bottle of Armand 4 Winter poured nearly still. It is an unfortunate reality that any cork and caged beer that is stored for several years in a cellar has the potential to develop defects. In the case of this bottle, a dry cork allowed nearly all of the carbonation to slowly leak from the bottle. We were fortunate to find, however, that this loss of carbonation did not seem to coincide with an increase in vinegar character or other beer-ruining defects. While the product was intended to be fully carbonated, we gave this still version a chance and were pleasantly surprised with the flavors that the gueuze maintained.
The gueuze poured a deep copper color without the formation of any head. The first aromas that we noted were Brettanomyces characters of the goaty, barnyard animal variety. There were notes of lemon oil and light cocoa, along with cherry pie-like ester aromas. The gueuze smelled vinous and reminded us of the oak aromas detected in wine barrels. We also picked up some sweet smelling malt notes, such as those of Caramel or Munich malt. Lastly, we noticed further Brettanomyces characteristics that smelled like leather and wet dough.
When tasting Armand 4 Winter, we perceived that this gueuze was more balanced toward a sweet malt profile than the other gueuzes in the series. Brettanomyces flavors of hay and dried grass were very prominent in the blend. Additionally we picked up a musty barnyard funk reminiscent of sweat and horses. More subtly, there were notes of white glue, wildflowers, and floral perfume. We were happy to find that while the acidity of this blend was fairly low, it was still a nice clean lactic acidity without any detectable development of vinegar. Similarly to many of Drie Fonteinen’s gueuze blends, we picked up light metallic/copper notes in the water profile. While some of these characteristics may be related to the fact that the beer had gone flat, we did perceive richer and darker malt flavors in this blend. This gueuze was also significantly less tannic than other examples from the series and had little to no cheesy hop profile. While the beer had a light to medium body, it did not taste watery. Rather, this still gueuze had a mouthfeel similar to a dry white wine and was appropriately dry in the finish. Lastly, while the beer had the same alcohol content as the other gueuzes in the Armand 4 series (6% ABV), this blend did seem to drink a bit warmer, and tasted higher in alcohol than the other blends.
Keeping up with the tradition of the other Armand 4 Seasons gueuzes, this Winter blend did feel best suited for wintertime drinking. The beer’s slightly warmer alcohol presence combined with its softer, less tannic body and a sweeter malt profile gave this gueuze a sort of “winter warmer” character which we all found to be very pleasant and highly drinkable. While the bottles from this series have become increasingly hard to find over the past two years, they are all world-class gueuzes that should not be passed up if you are given the opportunity to try one or more of them. I personally will be saving all four empty bottles and their wooden collector’s case as both a decoration for my home and as a souvenir of the past year. 2014 has been a fantastic year for me and I have thoroughly enjoyed both creating and writing for this website. Even more, I have loved getting to know and corresponding with the growing number of readers who are enjoying the blog. I look forward to all of the delicious sour beers, interesting brewing questions, and chances to meet and talk to fellow sour beer fans that 2015 will bring!
Cheers and Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!
Matt “Dr. Lambic” Miller