Drink This Now: Perennial Ale’s Aria

The St. Louis–made beer straddles the fence between a Belgian golden and a farmhouse ale.

Sometimes it seems like there's an endless array of beers available in Chicago, with every style and flavor you could ever ask for. We now have a bounty of riches that seem unimaginable when you look through the prism of a Chi-based beer drinker who remembers what 2006 looked like. And other times, you slip on some ice, break your leg and can’t leave the apartment, so you have to drink what you have in the fridge.

It’s situations like this that make you glad that you stocked up. (I have a slight inclination toward beer-hoarding sometimes.) A bottle of Serendipity here, a couple Rocky Mountain Oyster Stouts there, a Founders Porter or six. And thankfully, I had a bottle of one of my favorite beers of the last year, the Aria from Perennial Ales in St. Louis.

I first encountered Perennial’s offerings at a Perennial Virant beer dinner last year, where we sampled five different beers ranging from light chamomile saisons to big hefty coconut milk stouts. Folks seem to fawn over Perennial’s other offerings like their peach berliner-weiss and the Abraxas stout, but for me, the Aria shines through.

This beer straddles the fence between a Belgian golden and a farmhouse ale—the sweet honey and burnt sugar runs right up against the funky second fermentation with Brettanomyces to make something that should be battling inside the bottle, but doesn’t. I won’t say this beer is balanced—the tart, straw and (god, I hate saying it but) horse-blanket flavors come out on top—but it works better than you might envision. Bright foam explodes out of the bottle upon opening, and there's a thin, light head of tight-packed bubbles and good lacing. The beer is a nice hazy golden-amber with a bright aroma of Belgian yeasts, with straw and apricot wafting around in there as well.

The flavor starts with not-yet-ripe peaches and a wave of tartness across the top, along with the aforementioned straw/farm funk, and then fresh Granny Smith apple, white grape, some caramel sweetness and a little clove. I don’t get any banana to speak of, which one tends to look for in a Belgian ale, but I don’t miss it at all. If you know someone who simply adores a good Saison Dupont but hasn’t tried this, surprise them with their new favorite beer.

After the initial eruption of foam, there’s nearly no carbonation to this beer; it’s creamy and refreshing but a little syrupy where perhaps some lightness would be better. That doesn’t get in the way, though, and the flavor finishes with a lingering slightly-chalky dryness with a little tang of copper hovering in the background.

It’s more of a spring/summer beer for me, but as mentioned above, my options were just a little limited this week. Besides, it’s a good beer, and for those, there really is no season. Aria is listed as a Belgian pale ale in some places, but I have to wonder who made that decision, as there’s no particular hop bitterness or aroma. It tastes more like a golden ale and Perennial doesn’t even particularly list a style—it just says “Belgian style ale” fermented with Brett, which means I can make my own decision, and I deem this a nice funky tart golden beer.

One thing that’s extra nice—the large-format 750ml bottles that Perennial uses mean that someone who’s immobilized doesn’t need to get up very often for another pour. I’m sure breweries rarely consider that when making their bottling decisions, but in this case, it sure came in handy.

For as much attention as Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan breweries get, I rarely hear as much being paid to the works from folks in St. Louis. Between Schlafly’s growing plans to find a way to move into the Chicago market, Urban Chestnut’s massive expansion, this weekend’s introduction of 4 Hands and brewers like Six Row already in the market, St. Louis shouldn't only be associated only with those macro-brewed, beechwood-aged beers pulled around by big horses. 

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)