A Tale of Two Cherry Beers

August 3, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | Filed under Brewer: New Glarus, Brewer: Southern Tier, Country: America, Grade: A-, Grade: F regular, Style: Fruit Beer, Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale.

Southern Tier Imperial Cherry Saison

8% ABV from a bomber

Let’s touch on a few seemingly unrelated points just to begin:

1.  Southern Tier is one of the finest breweries in America.

2.  I have been accused of being a beer grade inflater.

3.  I always finish beers.

4.  I detest beer snobs and their liberal claims of “drain pours.”

Now let’s tie all these points together, starting with the last.

Few things in the beer community anger me more than the snobbiest of beer snobs and their frequent claims of “drain pours.”  To the uninitiated, to those people wise enough to avoid the pedantic and utterly nerdy embarrassment of the Beer Advocate forums–sample thread subject:  “What is the correct hand to use when drinking a dopplebock?  Left or right?”–there are attention seeking beer geeks that I have seen claim to have drain poured, that is, walked to the sink with a barely touched beer and dumped it down the pipes, some of the most glorious brews on the planet.  Now sure, it’s fine to not love a great, highly-regarded beer, but to detest it so much you dump it?

I’ve thought that was ridiculous for countless reasons.  Being a Jewish cheapskate of course I don’t want to squander the $7 or whatever I paid for the bomber and being an alcoholic I don’t want to squander those ounces of ecstacy either.

On the second issue, I don’t consider myself a grade inflater, I consider myself a lover of beer.  My A through F grades are not a perfect bell curve because I intentionally try to avoid shitty beer–unless it’ll make for a good video–and accomplished craft beer is almost always gonna be above average.

So with that, I am remiss to reveal that I drain poured the Imperial Cherry Saison.  Only the third beer I’ve EVER done that for.  (Bud Light Chelada & Crazy Ed’s Cave Creek Chili Beer would be the other two.)  Also, that in a few paragraphs it is going to get the lowest grade I have ever given a craft beer (and I’m even including the vile Leinenkugel as “craft!”)

This is shocking news.  Southern Tier is one of my favorite breweries on the planet, a fringe top-ten brewery in America if you ask me.  Furthermore, I’d hail them as second to only Dogfish Head in the experimental “mad scientist” brewing category as they put out some of the more adventurous beers around.

Well, unfortunately, when you push the envelope, sometimes the envelope is going to end up tasting like absolute shit.  Such was the case here.  Oh, I had such high expectations for the Imperial Cherry Saison.  But it is truly vile.  The smell of a dank macro lager with a really unpleasant tartness and a horrendous aftertaste.  Tastes like, say, original Coors with some cheap cherry syrup poorly mixed into it, which is amazing considering the time and effort Southern Tier usually puts into beers.  And probably put into this very beer as they claim it to be infused with real cherries and aged with French oak staves.

My drinking companion likewise hated it and suggested perhaps we were drinking it too warm.  Fair enough, I am known to prefer most all beers at room temperature and a nice, refreshing saison should probably have a little chill to it.  We threw it into the freezer, took it out a few minutes later, still vile.  Threw it in for longer, took it out, colder but still vile.  Threw it in one final time, totally forgot about it, pulled it out an hour later to now find the worst tasting slushy in the history of the world.  Even absolute zero would not be cold enough to enjoy this beer.

It is an utter disaster and I’m baffled how it has a Beer Advocate average of a B.  Is that simply the “respected brewery” curve?!  I highly suggest you avoid this at all costs.  I hate to hammer the great Southern Tier from my home state, but this beer was a golden sombrero of awfulness in smell, taste, price, and drinkability.

Will absolutely make my year end bottom 10.


New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red

5.1% ABV bottled

You know how when a little kid throws up, they are now unable, for a very, very long time, to both mentally and physically ingest that food or drink that intentionally or unintentionally caused said upchucking?  For me, two of my first ever youthful vomitings happened after eating watermelon and enchiladas and thus I had to avoid those delicious items well into my teens.  Such was the case with the Imperial Cherry Saison.  I think it has made me disgusted with cherries, a fruit and flavor I used to love.

Testing out this theory, I had on hand to drink next, in comparison, a brew made by the American fruit beer makers par excellence, New Glarus, their Wisconsin Belgian Red, a Montmorency cherry-infused beer, currently rated the best fruit beer on the planet.

The Captain has been quite kind in securing me these great treasures from out of the Badger State, and the previous fruit beer I’d had from New Glarus, their Raspberry Tart, was indeed a huge hit.  This beer was splendid too.  If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t even know I was drinking beer.  You could serve this at the Passover seder to the youngsters.  A gorgeous maroon color, truly one of the best looking beers I’ve ever examined.  Highly carbonated, I drank from the one champagne flute in the house as recommended on the label.  (That’s a recommendation of drinking the Belgian Red from a flute, not a recommendation of ONLY having one flute in the house.)  Very silky and I actually found this quite complex with the taste of Hallertau hops and barley melding nicely with the oak and fresh cherries.

Usually, when you compare a great beer to a terrible beer that is a similar style, you tend to overrate the greatness of the better beer.  But, in this case, a part of me thinks that the Imperial Cherry Saison so disgusted me–see my vomitous theory a few paragraphs above–that I actually didn’t unequivocally love this beer as much as I should have.  Whatever the case, find yourself some Belgian Red.  It delivers.  And may the only cherry I drink for the next six months be floating at the bottom of my Manhattans!

(One minor gripe to New Glarus:  your wax dippings are god-awful.  The wax is thin and runny and not attractive at all.  It’s even hard to crack open your bottles due to the wax which furthermore just makes the neck look dusty and dirty.  I would either get a thicker wax or ditch the gimmick.  A gimmick I love by the way.  But your rustic labels are swell looking.  Props to that!)


7 Responses to “A Tale of Two Cherry Beers”

  1. BDH says:

    Wait… am I wrong to read in between the lines of your opening and assume there are beer snobs out there who might drain pour (i will be calling it pussy pour from here forward) a beer just so they can say they did it? Like they might think something doesn’t belong as #XX on the BA list after having it, so they dump it out? Because if so…

    My only puke-association was wintergreen skoal from a bad incident of stealing a tin from a local store then accidentally swallowing a decent sized pinch. I couldn’t even smell a breath mint for a month after that.

  2. I would say so. I mean, unless a beer is pretty much an F, and a painfully undrinkable F at that, I will finish it. It seems to me that some of these jokers dump out what they consider B or C grade beers just cause they weren’t A pluses.

    I puked the one time I dipped too. It literally touched my mouth for about a milisecond before I puked. Humiliating.

  3. settlesdown says:

    Great Post as usual. I hate the “I couldn’t drink it” crowd. It is one of the main things that keeps me from jumping into the brew club atmosphere. Too many beer snobs who turn their nose at anything that costs less that $7 a sixpack.

    On a lighter note, I am flying to Milwaukee on Friday to visit my Pop and I will be bringing back a couple of bottles and the Belgian just made the list.


  4. Dave says:

    Ive heard bad things about that beer and its so weird that Southern Tier would put something out so bad. They are fantastic brewery. Try Unfiltered Double Simcoe IPA yet? It’s like hell in your mouth. Your mouth burns and burns. But it’s pretty good.

  5. Yeah, Dave, it’s a totally atypical ST beer. No clue how they let this one leave the brewery!

    No, haven’t the Double Simcoe yet.

  6. beckel says:

    While I wish it wasn’t so I feel your pain here. I consumed a sample of this beer at a local bar close to a year ago and was very pleased I asked for a sample instead of a pint as it was not really enjoyable at all. As this was the first Southern Tier brew I had ever had that I had not sincerely enjoyed I was confused and largely came to the conclusion that perhaps I didn’t care for it because of prior expectations, particularly I expected more of a nice cherry flavor and as you note it tastes oddly processed in some ways, carbonation may be a factor too. Anyhow a few months ago I found a bottle on sale for something like $4 and decided I should give it another try. I finally got around to drinking it two weeks ago and though I did share it with someone so I only had to drink ~12oz I found it much more enjoyable than previously but I still felt it was a bit of a lackluster brew, particularly considering the other fantastic creations of Southern Tier. As far as serving temperature I would be inclined to concur that the colder serving temperature is probably better in the case of this beer simply to help hide some of the off flavors. New Glarus’ Belgian Red is nice indeed though I found the Raspberry Tart a bit more enjoyable overall. Cheers!

  7. Thanks for writing Beckel.

    Yeah, I think I might have liked Raspberry Tart a hair better than Belgian Red, but I thought Belgian Red a tad more interesting. Both great ones though.

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