As the craft beer movement continues its upward ascension into the mainstream, and as more and more small nanobrewers get their business ventures off the ground, it stands to reason that one of the things we should expect to see is increased specialization and niche breweries.
After all, there’s only so much room on a regional level. With breweries such as Lagunitas and Bells rapidly expanding in the Midwest, it’s less likely today that a new brewery is going to end up nationally available a few years after opening than it was 5-10 years ago. New brewers wanting to stand out to more than their local community are thus more likely to embrace a very specific, particular aesthetic, aiming to specialize in a certain part of the market. And for Belgian beer in Chicago, that brewery is Une Annee.
I’ll be honest—I’ve barely had any beer from these guys as of yet, despite the fact that I keep a close watch on the Chicago brewery scene. They got themselves open and distributing throughout the city last year, filling a niche that surprisingly was fairly open—classically Belgian and French beer styles. For all of its new brewers, Chicago has never had one focusing so specifically on the funky, Continental side of the spectrum, so Une Annee stepped up to the plate with its portfolio of Belgian abbey ales, French classics and Belgo-American fusion brews.
There’s nothing “fusion” about Austere, though. A classic Franco-Belgian saison through and through, this is Une Annee’s statement when it comes to their prowess in brewing traditional styles. In some ways, it’s more of a risk than experimental beers, which are easier to defend. If you make a poor example of a beloved, well-known style, then good luck trying to explain to people why your product has gotten a bad rap. Ask any brewery that tried to create a great IPA, only to have drinkers award it a resounding “meh.”
The first unavoidable thing one notices with Austere is the carbonation. This is a very, very effervescent brew—likely an overcarbed batch—that required a three-step pour with a few rests. Thankfully, what you’re left with is beautifully puffy, dense clouds of foam that look like marshmallow fluff and smell like a French farmstead. It’s very pretty, with pleasant aromas of hay, wheat, clove and a coriander-like spiciness, although they’re all rather soft and subtle. It could do with a bit more punch.
The flavors are also a bit lighter than expected, although the profile is classical—lemony citrus, Triscuit cracker-like malt, and lingering spices. It leans toward the dry end, as most classic saisons do, and is quite crisp and refreshing. A bit more assertiveness might push this beer into being something remarkable, but as is, it’s simply quite good. I look forward to trying more of Une Annee’s more adventurous brews as they stake their claim as the preeminent Belgian-style brewers in Chicago.
Brewery: Une Annee
City: Chicago, Ill.
Style: French-Belgian saison
Availability: Year round, 750 ml bottles