Beer Review 0429: Olde Hickory Orion Farmhouse Ale

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In 2012, Olde Hickory Brewery (Hickory, North Carolina) released a series of three Belgian-style Farmhouse Ales — I reviewed the first one, Saison Gee, which was a Saison aged in chardonnay wine barrels. I rated it 93 points. The second beer in the series, Southern Belle, I failed to review (sometimes these brews are hard to find!), and the third one — Orion — I recently acquired while on a trip to the Olde Hickory Taproom.

Founded in 1994 by Steven Lyerly and Jason Yates, production started on a seven barrel system and quickly outgrew, forcing upgrades. Still, this brewery isn’t a giant mega facility, instead choosing to make beer in small batches, 800 gallons or less at a time. Just to show you how small batch Olde Hickory are, all of their bottled offerings (as of this writing, the brewery only produces 22 oz. bomber size bottles and a select few 750 ml containers) are hand dated. Distribution is limited to Tennessee and North Carolina, so most of my readers might have trouble finding anything Olde Hickory.

Named after Orion, a giant huntsman in Greek mythology, this Saison is brewed with rye grain to enhance a spicy, earthy character. The beer comes in at 8.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and was released in a limited amount in June 2012.

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Release from bottle produced a small, soapy and almost fizzy head that disappeared quickly. The beer was golden-orange in color, and was quite cloudy, making the liquid opaque. There were no particles or sediment (I poured as instructed on the side of the bottle, and didn’t disturb the yeast at the bottom of the container) and lacing was fair, leaving behind a few thin, weepy sheets of foam.

The nose is all over the place, and that’s a good thing, because it’s quite complex. Initial notes of clove, bubblegum, and banana lead to a heavy hit of alcohol, which mixes with a peppery spice. Under that layer are whiffs of orange peel, rye grain, and some funk in the form of musty and soapy yeast. Believe it or not, as this warmed, I found the alcohol note to ease up — usually, it’s the other way around.

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The taste surprises with an initial tart note that reminded me of a Granny Smith apple; this tartness is retained throughout the mouth during tasting, but it doesn’t overwhelm all the other flavors. There’s clove, bubblegum, and overripe banana; in the middle, the spiciness ramps up and mixes very well with a dry orange peel. A touch of funk brings on the finish, which is oranges, banana, and tart alcohol. There’s just a trace of bitterness, but otherwise this is a very clean drinking Saison that has no discernible rye flavor other than the peppery spice, which I feel is more due to the yeast than any grain addition. I found Orion to be medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

Unfortunately, I’ve got to fess up with what I think is going on with this brew: I think it is past its prime. That’s my fault; I had an opportunity to buy this at my bottle shop when it was fresh, and passed. Several weeks ago, I picked up one of the last remaining bottles at the brewery. I also had this on tap, and it was significantly better. Age has brought the alcohol out more, while damping the classic Farmhouse flavors. Also, I found the carbonation to be a little off from where it should be — too soft. If you’re sitting on a bottle of this, you might better open it now.

Olde Hickory Orion Farmhouse Ale, 84 points. Price: $9.00 US for one 750 ml bottle.

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