So I salted away bottle of each of these when they first came out, and then proceeded to forget about them. Well, until now. My initial realization came from the “Enjoy By” date on the Victory bottle: January 16, 2011. Don’t tell me when to open my beer! While we’ve previously sampled the Stone version, we haven't had a chance to sample all three at once in order to compare them. The approximate brew dates were: Stone in April 2010, Victory in July 2010, and Dogfish Head in August 2010. All three breweries put out new version earlier in 2012; I saw the new version from Stone, and I heard that both Dogfish Head and Victory brought one out as well, but these three are from the first go around. Aged, might I add, to perfection. All three pour a soft gold; the white pillow-y head runs from voluminous for the Dogfish Head version to minimal for the Victory version.
Dogfish Head: this version has the best nose and overall delicate aroma—slight mineral and herbal character that dances in harmony with the malt and yeast components. There is a clean citrus character, and a soft honeyed sweetness that plays well with the perfume-y aromatics of the herbs and yeast. The body is fuller than other two versions; the malt is sweet and slightly doughy, and the herbal flavors carry across the profile. The dry, sharp carbonation helps clean the beer, making the body appear drier than it is. However Dogfish Head handled the herbs should be the new model—it has the cleanest and brightest flavors of the three, and is still delicately nuanced after two years in the basement. It is Fortney’s favorite of the three.
Stone: the nose has similar characteristics to the Dogfish Head, but they are more muted and flat, and are accompanied by a musty earthiness. There is also a touch of vegetal, although it dissipates as the beer opens. Fortney calls it a “rancid chamomile,” which sounds harsh, but it is appropriate. Flavor-wise, the only real brightness is a soapy character on the palate mixed with vegetal and herbal flavors. There is a touch of cardboard across the profile, and the finishing bitterness doesn’t quite fit with the beer. It is dry and minerally, drier than the Dogfish Head, but the flavors don’t work as well. This would be a good beer by itself, but in comparison to the two other versions, it is the clear loser on table.
Victory: this version is the most classically saison-like of the three. The nose is earthy and dry with softer herbal characteristics, but has more Belgian yeast character in the nose—there are both floral and fruity aromatics with a soft hint of malt sweetness. There is some tannic bite in the body that strikes both of us as mineral and herbal residue, but it works well in the beer. This is also the driest and most attenuated version of the beer, and has both the least herbal presence and the most Belgian yeast character of the three. The carbonation is lighter than other version, but the mineral bitterness serves to clean the palate and close the beer nicely. This version is, not surprisingly, my favorite. It carries the subtle herbal flavors of the Dogfish Head, but is the strongest saison of the three.
A delightful experience in all; too bad there aren’t more bottles to try later. We all thought the aging improved the beers; flavors were married well, allowing subtlety to shine through.