The time to spring forward an hour and create Daylight Saving Time loomed. Winter was about to squeeze its final drops of snow on Piedmont North Carolina. Only a few days ago people were wearing shorts in temperatures around 80 degrees. Yes, the extremes of a southern winter were on full display.
What better time to sample an ale built specifically for this purpose?
Snow Hands, a winter seasonal brewed in Saxapahaw, N.C. by Haw River Farmhouse Ales, fits that particular bill. In fact, it says so on the label. One joy of sampling brews from local sources can be the artistry in the labels. Like the liner notes found in old music LPs, brewers today are sometimes creative in language, art and design. Haw River Farmhouse Ales delivers there. It makes damn fine beer, too.
Snow Hands is emblematic of all that Haw River Farmhouse Ales does correctly in my view. The label bills Snow Hands as the essence of winter’s unpredictability. Winter, the label notes, can be cloudy and overcast one part of the week, yet yield to gorgeous sunny afternoons a day or so later. Snow Hands is a “seasonal homage to Mother Nature’s vacillation.”
Haw River Farmhouse Ales specializes in Belgian style ales, brewed using locally sourced ingredients in the tradition of Belgian farmers. It’s an often eclectic mix of ingredients that might make less adventurous beer drinkers blink. The results, however, can be eye-opening and a revelation for the palate.
Snow Hands falls into this category. It’s described as a ‘dry-hopped Belgian-style, dark strong ale presented with dark candi syrup, foraged spicebush berries and fenucreek seeds.” In terms of a strong ale, it certainly is, with a robust 10 ABV. The other items I had to look up. I mean … fenucreek seeds?
As it turns out, fenucreek seeds are commonly used to spice pickles, curry powder and paste. The taste is described as a confusing mixture of celery, maple syrup or burnt sugar. Spicebush berries are sometimes called “Appalachian allspice.” It, too, has sweet and savory uses. It has notes of allspice that can be used in cakes and a peppery essence contained in meat marinades.
Sounds like a weird combination, right? Sort of like Mother Nature’s wintertime vacillation.
I sampled Snow Hands from a goblet and poured slowly because true Belgian ales usually produce a hefty head of foam. This one did, too. The smell of pepper is the first thing I noticed. The first few sips also have a strong hint of pepper backed by spice. Those flavors wane as the glass begins to empty giving way to the sweet taste that accompanies Belgian ales. It’s an interesting journey of shifting flavors from start to finish. Each sip contains a subtle difference.
Snow Hands falls among my favorite Haw River Farmhouse Ales creations. They have a strong stable of year-round beers and a plentiful number of seasonals and specialties. Haw River Farmhouse Ales operates a brewery in Saxapahaw and a tasting room at 1713 Saxapahaw- Bethlehem Church Road. It’s open year-round 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 2 to 9 p.m. Friday; and noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.