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Judge's Review: 90 Rating - Benevolent Spirit by Pontoon Brewing

April, 2021
Judges Rating: 
23 / 24
4 / 6
37 / 40
8 / 10
Overall Impression: 
18 / 20

Benevolent Spirit by Pontoon Brewing was judged as BJCP category 28C, Wild Specialty Beer. The quick breakdown of this category is: A sour and/or funky version of a fruit, herb, or spice beer, or a wild beer aged in wood. If wood-aged, the wood should not be the primary or dominant character.

We will start with the aroma on this one. It has a obvious wild fermentation character, which I suspect is some strain of Brett from the wild fermentation, although I can't confirm that for sure. It has a bit of a wet hay-like aroma light in the background. The raspberry aroma is pretty heavy and reminds me of a freshly opened jar of raspberry preserves. The wine is evident as well, especially as it warms. It has a mid-level vinous aroma, which is easily discernible from the raspberry. The fermentation character actually takes a bit of backseat to the fruit, but it was something I was looking for right away based on the description. The malt is probably the one part of the beer I had to seek out through everything else, but it is there. It's mildly toasty without any hint of malty sweetness. Again, leads me to think it's dried out from the wild fermentation. There is not a whole lot of wood character as you would expect with it being barrel-aged, so I suspect the barrel is well used. 

The color is a dark ruby red with very little head. The beer is crystal clear, and in the glass, looks a bit more wine-like than beer like. The carbonation bubbles can be seen, but the beer is not very effervescent, and the head dissipates quickly. 

Moving into the flavor there is a whole lot going on here. The Brett character is quite evident with a very dry and bittering aspect to it that lingers into the finish. It's the first thing I notice and for me the finish is not as pleasant as I would like. However, the fruit aspect does make the beer very tasty up front and through the mid-palate. There is a tartness, but it does not appear to be from fermentation to me, but rather from the tart raspberries. The raspberry character is very clear and easy to find, and like the aroma, reminds me of raspberry preserves. The merlot grapes do give the beer a bit of a wine-like flavor with a very mild black currant flavor that blends well with the raspberries. The balance leans pretty hard on the fruit up front, but the fermentation character from the wild fermentation dominates the finish. The hop flavor is pretty well-hidden, but I do suspect that some of that bitterness does come from some Noble hop variety. The malt has been pretty much chewed up and consumed by the fermentation leaving very little behind. 

The mouthfeel is a bit thin and watery, as one could expect from such a well-consumed beer. But it's not overly thin or off-putting. It's just as you would expect from a beer like this. Carbonation is a bit on the lower side, and lacks some of that effervescent pop. There does seem to be a little bit of astringency from the grape skins, but again... what do you expect from this type of beer? If it has grape skins there is going to be a little bit of a tannic astringency. There is a very low alcoholic warmth, but it's barely noticeable. 

Overall for a fruited spontaneously fermented wild ale, this is quite good. It may not fit my personal taste, but that's not what judging is about. I do see what the brewer was going for and the attributes of the beer fit the style. There may be some Brett in this beer, but it's not a full Brett beer because of the wild fermentation, but there are many Brett characteristics. My favorite aspect of the beer was the raspberry character, as it was tart and delicious. The only thing I didn't enjoy was the very dry bitter aspect of the beer, but that fits the style well and I cannot hold it against the beer. For what this beer is, it's a great example of an American Wild fruited ale.