So excited to be giving you the low down on Fantome de Noel. I was very happy to get a couple of Fantome offerings in the shop so soon after opening (the other I have is their Hiver). They're notoriously hard to get a hold of regularly, so if your a fan of the saison style of beer, and you don't mind a little rusticity, be sure to grab Fantome when you see it.
Tucked in a small village named Soy in the Ardennes region of Belgium, Brasserie Fantome is housed in a small stone barn not far from the village center. Brewer Dany Prignon produces his unique beers on a small 750 liter system, many of which are only brewed once a year. Known for using a variety of herbs and spices in his beer, he's developed something of a cult following around the world.
Please note: when opening a bottle of Fantome, be careful. they're known to gush occasionally. Make sure you're not far from the sink when you pop the cork!
In the glass Fantome de Noel pours a somewhat murky brown with big, but not very dense head. Once the beer gets a chance to release some of it carbonation, the head doesn't stick around.
On the nose, you're greeted to notes of caramel, spices, particularly clove and cardamom or coriander, a bit of tropical fruit, and perhaps some cherries and white vinous qualities. Some rustic breadiness there too, like a crusty pumpernickel, undoubtedly contributed to by the suspended yeast that you may see floating in your glass.
In the mouth, it's drier than the aroma suggests, but not entirely dry. You find subtle tropical fruitiness, think along the lines of roasted pineapple, but also has a darker quality that brings dates to mind. While you will undoubtedly think “sweet” when you see these words, to be sure, this beer would not be considered sweet. There’s athe spiciness from the aroma as well, something like Vietnamese cinnamon, clove and cardamom; these are all relatively subtle mind you, but they’re there. There also both tart and bitter aspects to this beer. The tartness is reminiscent of apple skin with a subtle white vinous quality. The bitterness is herbal and rather hard to define. Finally some earthy characteristics that bring to mind damp earth, or damp hay, odd I know, but that’s why I love Fantome.
A true beer geek's beer, the beauty of Fantome's offerings are in the subtleties, and idiosyncrasies; no two bottles taste the same. As ever, Fantome is at the wild frontier of what it means to be beer.