Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of travelling to Buffalo on a baseball pilgrimage to see a little-known Toronto Blue Jays’ prospect set the world on fire. Of course, I had to sample the local craft beer fare (in addition to the famous BBQ food).

Much to my surprise and delight, Buffalo proved itself to be a fantastic craft beer town. The minor league baseball stadium even featured more craft brews than corporate beer! I can definitely get behind this.

I stopped into Big Ditch Brewing Company, which has an utterly massive brew pub in the heart of the Buffalo downtown, with a gorgeous open air patio. I didn’t have time to stay, but I made sure to take home a solid representative sample of their many brews.

One (well, two) of the limited runs that they had on hand was a barrel-aged version of stock saison, Beautiful River. The Belgian-style saison was aged in pinot noir and gin barrels, respectively, creating two distinct creations.

I quite like when breweries simultaneously release similar but distinct limited runs, so I took this as an opportunity to glean the effects of the two separate barrels. I also cannot recall having a gin-barrel aged beer, so that was exciting to me.

The branding of the bottles was fairly simple, but clean. The amber pint bottle has a slightly different shape than that of the bottles we commonly see in Canada, which was also appealing.

The price point was steep. At $14USD per bottle (pint), I was definitely paying for the limited nature of the beer, which was a bit of a gamble, given that I hadn’t tried Big Ditch before. As you will read, though, it was well worth it.

Given that these proved to be two very different takes on the same saison, I’ve broken them down separately.

Pinot Noir-Barrel Aged

This one was aged in oak barrels that previously housed pinot noir wine. Following the aging, it was finished with the addition of two types of brettanomyces yeast and was dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops.

This one poured with very little head, reflective of the very light carbonation level. ‘Light’ is actually a descriptor that I would use a surprising amount for this 6.6% ABV saison.

At first sip, the flavour does not come through too heavily, and is quite subtle. As I got deeper into the glass, the distinctive saison spiciness came through, though not overwhelmingly so.

Pinot Noir-Barrel Aged

This was surprisingly refreshing for a pinot noir-barrel aged brew. The subtlety of the funkiness and spice made for a flavour that was not overwhelming, but that was still quite enjoyable.

I admittedly did not catch the oak flavour, but the grape was definitely present, which added a very different aspect to the saison, which I quite enjoyed.

  • ABV: 6.6%
  • IBU: 23
  • Style: Belgian style saison (barrel aged)
  • Taste: Subtle funk and spice
  • Rating: 4.1/5.0
  • Untappd Reviews

 

Gin-Barrel Aged

This one was aged in oak barrels that previously housed gin. Following the aging, it was finished with the addition of two types of brettanomyces yeast and was dry hopped with Motueka hops.

The pour of this one was instantly distinct from the pinot noir-barrel aged version. There was substantially more head to the pour, and the juniper aroma from the gin was immediately obvious.

Much to my delight, as who enjoys gin a great deal, the floral notes of the gin came through beautifully.

This was admittedly a strange experience, because it was almost a perfect hybrid of beer and gin, at a modest 6.6% ABV. Strange, but fantastic.

I found this to be almost perfectly balanced. It has all the herbal and floral notes of gin, without having the overpowering punch of an 80 proof liquor. It had the brightness of a nice, clean saison, while bringing something new to the table.

I really enjoyed the pinot noir version, but this one was the clear winner. This more than justified the price point, and products like this will ensure that Big Ditch leads the burgeoning Buffalo craft beer scene for years to come.

 

  • ABV: 6.6%
  • IBU: 23
  • Style: Belgian style saison (barrel aged)
  • Taste: Floral with a hint of funk
  • Rating: 4.8/5.0
  • Untappd Reviews
Ryan Heighton

Ryan Heighton

The Bar of Ontario isn’t the only bar to which he’s been called. Misses drinking at the SkyDome. Enjoying Waterloo Region one (sometimes two) craft beer at a time. Favourite beers: anything hoppy enough to jump off the table.
Ryan Heighton

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