Kaedrin Beer Blog had an excellent write-up earlier this summer on the expansive characteristics of saisons. I agree that it's hard, if not impossible, to corral saisons into a style box. Once you think you've figured out the style, a beer comes along to bend that perception, and when you drink a beer from Belgium's la Brasserie Fantome all notions of saison style are turned upside down. When you choose a beer from Fantome, you leave the drinking safety of beers like Saison Dupont, and explore the far reaches of the saison realm.
Fantome's Saison Hiver is a spicy, complex beer that's not for initiates. It is a dry beer with minimal hop bitterness, and the flavor action is in the yeast and spices. Hiver had a distinctive taste I could not determine. I wanted to label it anise, but it wasn't. I don't normally do this before I write my beer comments, but I checked Hiver's reviews on BeerAdvocate, thinking a reviewer would identity the spice and trigger an acknowledgement on my part. No luck. The reviewers were focused on lemon along with the generic term spice. I didn't notice too much lemon, if any, but there was definitely a "spice" - a phantom spice.
Drinking a Hiver takes a brief taste acclimation, because the spice hits you immediately, but after a few sips you appreciate that it's an excellent beer. Like the other Fantome beer I've tried, Printemp, the further down the bottle you go, the better Hiver becomes, leading to dismay when the bottle's finished. Hiver's's alcohol weighed in around 8% abv, which I'm sure added to its complexity, but the alcohol was not present, allowing you to enjoy the spice and yeast. I'll sum up my comments about Hiver with one word: sophisticated. Don't spring this beer on someone new to saisons, save it for yourself.