Funky Buddha Veruca Snozzberry Gose

If you follow any part of the South Florida beer community on Instagram or Twitter, more than likely over the past couple weeks, you may have noticed pictures of these fun blue-labeled bottles from the Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park for its Founders Club members:

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Like most in the aforementioned beer community, I am a big fan of the Funky Buddha. This brewery is chiefly well-known for its “No Crusts” PB&J brown ale, and its Maple Bacon Coffee porter – two of the beers that really best express the culinary-driven philosophy to which this brewery adheres. However, the people behind the Buddha were also among the pioneers of the now famous, and widely debated, sub-style known as Florida Weisse. This is essentially an uncompromising tart, sometimes all-out sour, wheat beer brewed with fruit, frequently tropical fruit. Given the nearly tropical climate of peninsular Florida and the relentless experimentation of our local brewers, it’s not surprising that fruits like Key lime, guava, passionfruit, guanabana, black sapote, dragonfruit and a whole host of others have helped carve out this unique niche for Florida beer. Let’s face it, you’re not growing starfruit or mamey in Chicago…that’s only happening south of Lake Okeechobee.

So, with that in mind, back to the beer at hand. The name “Veruca Snozzberry” blatantly alludes to Willy Wonka, which makes perfect sense to those who have visited the Buddha’s Oakland Park facility and seen the large Wonka-inspired mural – they are fans of the nutty candymaker of classic books, and let his imaginative ethos inform and guide their brewing. That, more than anything, is what we all love most about the Buddha. We love that it doesn’t just brew a good straightforward IPA, but that it also brews beer that tastes exactly like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a slice of apple pie, a Mounds bar, or a square of blueberry cobbler. That’s channeling Wonka.

What is a Gose? Wow, I’m all over the place with this one today. Gose is an old, obscure style of ale indigenous to the German brewing tradition. It’s somewhat similar to the lactic, tart Berliner style in body and flavor, but with curious additions – coriander and salt. This may sound odd to the uninitiated, a beer brewed with salt, but believe me, this can work out very well. Don’t worry, the Gose experience is not akin to drinking seawater. Typically, the salt just provides a mild note at the back end that dovetails well with the upfront lemony tartness, and coriander provides a little peppery flavor.

Analogous to what Florida brewers have done with Berliners, the same brewers are also adding tropical fruits to Gose. This one is brewed with Snozzberries, or at least what the brewers imagine a snozzberry tastes like. Apparently, a snozzberry tastes a lot like guava and passionfruit ;) This beer’s aroma is very round and full of those two tropical standbys, with perhaps a hint of pineapple as well. Maybe it’s the power of self-suggestion, but I’m also getting a jasmine note that recalls one of my favorite Buddha Berliners, their Guava Jasmine.

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Flavor is also very full, making use of sweet, tart and salt sensations on the palate. It’s a little sweet guava/passion/pineapple up front, then that typical Berliner sour rushes strong on the back and top, then a salty finish – a bit saltier than I would have expected, actually, but here the salt works…kind of how those salted dried mango slices you buy as snacks work.

I was hoping that the first Founders Club bottle would be something like a sour tropical fruit beer, and clearly, this one didn’t disappoint. It’s worth noting that per the brewers themselves, this one should be consumed fairly fresh. Like now. As much as I want to save “The First Founders Club Bottle, Ever,” doing so would be utterly pointless – this one isn’t a good candidate for aging. Drink it.

Cheers to the Funky Buddha’s first year of operation in Oakland Park – I’m looking forward to what the future brings.

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Fantome Saison

The inimitable Brasserie Fantome out of Soy, Belgium, brews a number of seasonal beers and assorted rarities highly sought-after by beer geeks everywhere. The Blanche in particular was a favorite of mine; it smelled and tasted strongly of white grapefruit. And who can forget the green Magic Ghost, aka Soylent Green-in-a-Glass?

However, the original Fantome Saison is the odd ghost’s flagship beer, and if you ask me, when it’s on its game, it’s still probably the best saison out there. Unfortunately, here in Florida, we don’t get a whole lot of it – so occasionally, I’ll hit up my favorite out of state online retailers, and make it a part of my order. Alternatively, go to Chicago or New York and bring back a bottle or two – it’s far more common in both of those areas. I don’t open these up very often, so this is going to be a well-savored 750ml bottle! I plan to travel to Belgium later in the year, and you can be sure that Fantome is high on my list of places to visit.

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What makes Fantome’s eponymous saison so special? It’s dry, tart, herbal, powerful and yet, immensely drinkable. Let’s get drinking!

The Saison pours a clear straw (the below picture is of the cloudy, yeasty last pour of the bottle) reminiscent of many lesser beers, with a billowing, but rapidly subsiding bone-white crown. On the nose, it comes off as similar to some gueuze – musty sour apples and leather, but without the barrel character. Little bit of cut grass and wildflower bringing up the rear with more traditional “clean saison” characteristics.

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Recently, I’d had some disappointing bottles of this particular beer, but I’m happy to report that this one is an awesome return to form! This is a lot closer to the Fantome I knew, and still love. Up front, it tastes a bit like kombucha with lemon – a tart impression that makes you think this is going to be a “sour beer,” but it’s more of a 1/5th tartness that, while pervading the entire duration of the pull, somehow manages to recede into the background and let the dry complexities of a world-class saison pull through – flowers, weeds, honey, slightly rotten orange juice, and that pinpoint hop bitterness, with just the right amount of carbonation. A beautiful beer,

Even though it seems easy to drink, at 8%, this Saison is no weakling. Savor this bottle over a couple hours or share it with friends who’d appreciate it. Not surprisingly, it pairs well with food – moules frites would be an obvious match, but I’m thinking a nice Florida lobster would be great too, or most crustaceans. I wish I could tote a bottle of this into Joe’s Stone Crab – who needs the Sauvignon Blanc? Also, as this is an artisanal farmhouse product, don’t forget the obvious match with another artisanal farmhouse product – cheese. Unfortunately, I only have a wedge of aged Gouda on hand. This wouldn’t have been my first choice for pairing with this beer – I might have picked a stout for a Gouda, or a triple creme for this. But lo and behold, it turned out to be an amazing pairing! The cheese actually muted some of the beer’s tartness and brought out more of the weedy honey flavors – an incredible match I would never have thought of. Lesson to be learned here is……when in doubt, pair saison with cheese. Ingrain that one into your brain cells. Cheers!

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Cigar City Cubano-Style Espresso Brown Ale

It’s time to make my “triumphant return” after a rather lazy, unforced hiatus, and what better way to do that than with a local Florida beer? Since it came out a couple years ago, Cubano Espresso has been one of my favorite Cigar City beers. Brewed with coffee from Mazzaro Italian Market, cacao and vanilla, it packs a lot of flavor punch for what would otherwise be a relatively modest brown ale at 5.5% ABV.

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One whiff in the snifter, and it’s plain to tell exactly where this is going. It smells like a mocha latte – you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a glass of iced coffee. I get no hint of “beer” at all, which could be a little off-putting but for the fact that I love the aroma of coffee. And this smells like good coffee, too – like cold brew-at-Panther Coffee good.

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Taste follows aroma. No doubt, this is a coffee-forward beer, and easy to predict whether someone will like it or not. Coffee fans will, coffee haters won’t – it’s that simple. The chocolate and vanilla help lend an impression of sweetness, which leads to a remarkably clean, mineral-dry finish I like. It’s still not the most refreshing beverage out there, but with that dryness and low ABV, it’s an easy drinker. I’ve already worked through the 4-pack I bought a few weeks ago, which is high praise considering my beer-ADD.

I could see this going well with grilled meats, with a little char – think that would tie in with the coffee. Alternatively, drink it with dessert instead of a cup of coffee! Maybe not so much with fruity desserts, but anything chocolate/vanilla oriented.

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Mikkeller Funky E * – Sauternes Barrel Aged

First of all, I’m popping open a beer and writing this because I’m annoyed that I’m not at the Funky Buddha tonight for its orgy of special release beers. To those of you who are there, I’m jealous, and you suck. Anyway, nothing I have can match what’s going down at the Buddha tonight, but I’m hoping to open something at least a little interesting to begin to ease the pain of missing out.

I never know what I’m going to get with the “gypsy brewer” Mikkeller, and I like that. These guys are pretty experimental, and while not all of their experiments pan out so well, when I open up one of these beers, I’m guaranteed to not be bored. Sometimes Mikkeller is at the height of brilliance (in the key of “Beer Geek Brunch Weasel”), other times complete weirdness (a la Spontankoppi) – but either way, there’s always something to talk about.

All I know about this Funky E * beer is what I’m reading on the label – Belgian Wild Ale aged in Sauternes barrels. Note for the uninitiated – all “wild” implies is that we’ve got some Brettanomyces “wild yeast” helping make up some of the flavor profile. It’s not “wild” in the sense that the beer’s going to leap forth and bite you, requiring a visit to the doctor for a rabies shot.

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Sauternes will be familiar to the wine enthusiast, but many beer aficionados may not know that it’s a sweet white wine produced with noble rot-infected grapes in the Bordeaux region of France. Like many of the best sweet wines, they’re fairly expensive. My most obvious beery reference point here is Dogfish Head’s Noble Rot, an interesting saison-Viognier hybrid beer that definitely left little doubt as to its vinous origins.

I guess my questions here are going to be 1) how funky is it, and 2) how much Sauternes comes through?

It pours like an red ale, decent level of foam that wants to stick around a while, over a clear dark amber. It actually is clear, even if the picture I took doesn’t show that.

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The nose is nuanced, varied – there’s the expected apricot and honey from the sweet wine influence, with a little bit of that telltale cat pee and molded plastic from the yeast. It’s pretty funky, and smells tart – if I didn’t know any better, I might think it’s an old lambic, or at the very least a tart saison based on the smell. As it warms, I seem to get less of the Sauternes, and more of the underlying base beer – a thick Cointreau-cake malt character.

Here’s one that is nowhere near as sour on the palate as it smells. It’s just a little tart, and a very smooth tartness at that, delivered by a surprisingly creamy mouthfeel. In fact, I think the texture might be my favorite part of this beer, its creaminess dovetailing perfectly with a hint of vanilla on the back end; that’s probably the wine barrel influence. Up front, it’s a little off-dry stonefruit, not terribly sweet, but certainly nowhere near the typical austere dryness of a saison. Some cat pee and leather make their way from the aroma to the palate, but no big deal on that score, I’ve had funkier.

Alcohol is almost at 10% – I feel it, but don’t taste it. This one isn’t a chore to get through, as some of the higher-ABV brews can be. I can’t say it slapped the hell out of me with wine-like acidity, but I’m not sure I was in the mood for that anyway. This one’s more balanced and creamy, with an apparent, but more restrained wine and barrel influence than some other comparable beers. I’d almost call this easy drinking if not for the fact that I can already feel the alcohol going to my head.

Well, it didn’t make up for the Buddha, but that was always going to be a tall order. If you can find some of this in a dusty corner of an out-of-town liquor store, don’t hesitate to give it a go. It’s a shame that South Florida’s Mikkeller availability is so spotty-to-barely-existent.

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Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada Life and Limb: Rhizing Bines

This one kinda took me by surprise when I saw it on the shelf at my local store. A Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada collaboration? I know these two breweries did a “Life and Limb” before – a strong ale brewed with maple and birch, but I wasn’t anticipating any more such collaborations. This was probably foolish of me, because the collaborative trend in craft beer is showing no signs of abating.

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OK, so this is an IPA. Big deal, right? If I picked up every single IPA I ever saw on the shelves, I’d be swimming in beer bottles. Well, even more so than I already am, I guess. Anyway, Rhizing Bines promises to be a little more interesting than the standard Cascade hop love-fest normally associated with Sierra Nevada’s beers. The bittering hop here is Bravo, a very high alpha acid American variety. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a beer that prominently features this hop, so I’m already in unknown territory. Plunging me deeper into the hop bine thicket is the variety used here for dry-hopping, experimental Hop 644. This is what’s going to give me most of the hop aroma, and I have no idea what this particular hop is all about. My typical American hop aroma expectations are of grapefruit, pine, cannabis and maybe a little cat pee…but a hop that doesn’t have a name yet? No clue.

The malt bill featured here is also interesting. Southeastern US foodies will likely recognize the name Anson Mills. If not, if you’ve ever been to a nice local gastropub and ordered anything with grits or farro……South Carolina’s Anson Mills was probably the purveyor. Anyway, a further deviation from the standard American IPA style is the use of red heirloom wheat grown by these guys. This should add a dimension beyond the standard cakey barley malts found in the majority of IPAs.

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Now that I’ve set the stage, I’ll give it a try. The pour is gold with a tinge of amber, very typical of IPAs. Good clarity and foam retention. Aroma is not the usual IPA aroma at all – it really doesn’t have much beyond a soft bready component and the smell of a field of wildflowers and weeds.

Thankfully, there’s more to the taste. Typical IPA, this is not. I was looking for some fruit in the aroma, but I’m getting it on the palate in the form of strawberries. The use of heirloom wheat here is also really softening the mouthfeel and adding an intense but not unwelcome bready underpinning with a hint of lavender. Aftertaste seems to be an impression of strawberry jam, with a firm residual bitterness.

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It’s a tough IPA to put my finger on – it has the bitterness, but beyond that the aroma and flavor components are out of the mainstream. I’m a sucker for the soft texture wheat gives, and I like the rustic, floral smells and flavors going on, so this is my kind of beer. However, if you want a traditional American IPA out of this one, you might want to steer clear. If you don’t mind stretching the boundaries of what an IPA can be, though, pick one up.

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Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

Given the bucolic holiday setting depicted on the label, I have to wonder if any hasty, unsuspecting beer drinkers ever bought a six-pack of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale, thinking they’d be getting some Winter Ale-style approximation of gingerbread and fruitcake.

If so, I can’t imagine too much more of a consumer error, because of course, this is no Christmas cookie beer. The label screams eggnog and plum pudding, but the beer itself is all straight-up American IPA. Every brewery these days features an IPA or two, and hell, Sierra Nevada itself brews about 10 of them (that’s what it seems like, anyway) – but even in the current era of IPA saturation, the venerable Celebration is still one of my favorites. Widely distributed and widely sought, it comes out once a year, before Christmas, and I usually end up buying a six-pack of it to enjoy as a change of pace from all the season’s more dense beers.

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It pours your standard IPA amber-gold, with a dense crown of foamĀ that leaves some nice lacing. Aroma is that of pine, menthol, and a little grapefruit. Tasting it, I can perhaps see the Christmas aspect in the sense that this is more of a “piney” IPA than one that has citrus as the main hop flavor driver. The malt, for the most part, has the good sense to step aside and get out of the piney hops’ way. Perceived bitterness is at a high level, and lingers long into the aftertaste – this may be one of the older American IPAs, but it’s still pretty bitter. I’d pair it not with traditional holiday meals, but rather with Tex-Mex, Cajun, or Vietnamese.

There is a small cadre of beer geeks who age Celebration just for the hell of it, and claim that it “cellars” well. As with most IPAs, I am extremely skeptical of this, and would not waste valuable beer storage space doing so. Now, as it comes out just once a year, it is vintage-dated, so if you did age a bunch of these, you could end up with a fun little vertical collection in a few years, but I just think you’d be tasting nothing but stale oxidized hops. It’s not a good look for an IPA. Grab some Celebration now, and drink it within a month or two for best results.

Available at Total Wine, most liquor stores, and many supermarkets.

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November 4th Biscayne Brewers Expo – B.R.E.W. FIU

I don’t usually post about beer events, because 1) others already do a far better job of this than I ever could, and 2) I don’t even know about every single beer-related happening in South Florida, anyway.

That said, if you like drinking local beer, and want to support our homegrown beer scene and all B.R.E.W. FIU does to promote it, this weekend’s Biscayne Brewers Expo at FIU’s North campus is worth a look. For $25 advance purchase (http://biscaynebrewersbash.com/) (http://www.voicedailydeals.com/miami/) or $35 at the door, you’ll be tasting 40+ beers with spent grain pretzels and beer mustard.

My guess is that 40 beers will end up having been a conservative estimate. Also, have you been wanting to try beers from the famed Funky Buddha Lounge, and Due South Brewing, but never feel like actually making the drive to the 561 area code? Here’s your chance, as both will be represented. The list of local and semi-local brewers:

Cigar City Brewing
The Abbey
Funky Buddha
Most Wanted
Opus
Schnebly
Due South
Florida Beer Co
Wynwood Brewing
Titanic
B.R.E.W. FIU

Looks to be a quality event, without the huge crowds of some other area beer festivals. I won’t be able to make it, but if you go, definitely tweet it, blog it, let me know how it was.

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