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Monday, November 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 45.0° F  Fog/Mist
The Daily
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Beer Here: Picnic Ants Farmhouse Ale from O'so Brewing

Credit:Robin Shepard

O'so Brewing keeps stepping up its Madison presence, and in the process, local beer enthusiasts are treated to its aggressive and very distinctive flavorful brews. The Plover-based brewery has been growing in popularity with its "freestyle" approach to beer making that pushes common style definitions.

One of my favorites from last summer was O'so's Picnic Ants, which it introduced in 22-oz. bottles. For those who enjoy the Belgian Saison style, this is a special treat. Now taking it a step further, O'so owner and brewmaster Marc Buttera has tweaked the recipe in all the right ways with a special yeast that accentuates the beer's dryness. He's now bringing Picnic Ants to Madison in six-packs for this summer.

What is it? Picnic Ants from O'so Brewing of Plover, Wisconsin.

Style: The saison originates in Wallonia, the French-speaking southern half of Belgium, where it was a traditional light seasonal beer made in farmhouse breweries for the field hands. Beyond that romantic image, saisons did not historically share identifiable characteristics and were a rather ill-defined summer beer style. Modern renditions are considered light and crisp beers that are made with malt, wheat, buckwheat, oats or even spelt. Saisons are golden to amber colored, medium bodied and effervescent and known for their distinctive dry bitterness. They range in alcohol from 4.5% to 8% ABV.

Background: Picnic Ants just started appearing in six-packs during the past week, and it should stay around until early fall. It's made with the same strain of yeast used by the Dupont Brasserie in Belgium. Buttera says the yeast likes a very high fermentation temperature of 90-plus degrees (most ales prefer temperatures below 68 degrees). It's made with malt and a little wheat, and finished with Styrian Golding hops, which is common for saisons. Overall, the beer takes nearly six weeks to make, and it finishes rather strong for the style, at around 7% ABV, which is partly why O'so calls it a ramped-up Imperial Saison.

The yeast remains active in the bottle, so it'll become even more carbonated as it ages. Buttera recommends that if you do try to keep this beer, as it will mellow in flavor a bit. However, you'll want to chill it substantially before serving to accentuate the crisp dryness.

Buttera and his brewery buddies came up with the name Picnic Ants while sitting around a bonfire drinking beer one evening. You'll find it locally for about $10/six-pack and at a few taverns on draft.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Light, yeasty.
  • Appearance: Hazy yellow-golden with a medium, off-white bubbly head.
  • Texture: Medium bodied and very bubbly.
  • Taste: Crisp yeasty start with a light fruity and banana background. The dryness begins early and continues through the finish.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Sharp dryness.

Glassware: The tulip glass with its inward taper will focus the aromas, while the flared lip supports the soft bubbly head and shows off its vivid hazy golden color.

Pairs well with: This is great beer with summer salads and light sandwiches -- and as the name suggests, it's a great beer for a picnic. Just grab some fried chicken along with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth, then head for a grassy hill in the park.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: C+ (decent) at Beer Advocate and 80 (overall) / 51 (within the style) at Rate Beer. The ratings are currently based, for the most part, on the 2009 version of Picnic Ants.

The Verdict: Picnic Ants is a wonderful beer that is very refreshing for the warm days of summer with its light, crisp up-front fruity tones and distinctive dryness. For those familiar with the classic version called Saison Dupont, this beer is every bit as good, or even better, given that it bursts with fresh yeasty flavor, accentuated by the beer's dry finish. While it's a beer to enjoy now at its freshest, it's also tempting to lay this beer down and age it for a few months to see if the dryness becomes even more pronounced.

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