Tag Archives: Smokestack Series

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Your Saturday 6-Pack, Vol.5): Saison

Said Theseus to Philostrate: “Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments. / Awake the pert and nimble spirits of mirth.”

And said a more contemporary Jane to Dick: “Get thee hither and fire up that damn lawnmower, for it has been more than a fortnight since you’ve put your sickle to a blade of grass!”

Back by popular demand, and just in time for the dog days of summer, Your Saturday Six-Pack. Let us raise a few glasses of suitable ale in honour of those days that occasion dreamy hallucinations. Bring on something crisp, dry, effervescent, fruity, and spicy!

Saison it is.

Depending on whom you read or talk to, the Walloons in the French-speaking part of Belgium brewed a low-alcohol seasonal beer that was meant to quench the thirst of farmhands during the summer. Others claim that Saison beers were, like the Märzens of Bavaria, brewed to a higher gravity in late spring to outlast the summer months. As with so much pertaining to beer and history, myth and fact go hand-in-hand, and I have no intention of cutting through the thicket of fact and fiction for the time being. Suffice it to say, we have enough extant interpretations –– the quaffable Saison de table, the more robust Saison de provision –– to suggest that this is anything but a settled style. Add to this the terminological slippage between “Farmhouse ale” and “Saison,” and you have a perfect midsummer night’s storm that’ll keep the beer geeks debating into the wee hours.

In lieu of a BJCP-like description of the style, I propose a few drinks. Many of these beers are widely available in sizeable North American beverage markets, some less so. One is an absolute classic. All come highly recommended by yours truly. Diversity is the only thread that unifies my selection.

Cellar Door (Stillwater Artisan Ales, Maryland)

StillwaterArtisinal - cellardoor_crop2Stillwater bills its Cellar Door as an American farmhouse ale “gently finished …. with a touch of white sage.” German wheat and pale malts overlaid with Sterling and Citra hops lie at this complex beer’s foundation. The dominant aromas that make their way past the towering foam cap crowning this hazy golden blond beer are nothing if not herbal, with a dash of lavender and citrus (tangerine) taming the sage. Add some honey, clove-spiked peach, and white pepper to this basil-sage keynote, and you might think you’ve landed in the fields of Provence. Lime zest-infused honey links up with freshly mown hay and an echo of tropical fruit before being cut through with an effervescent carbonation and a refreshing minerality. A crisp, sage-brush dryness near the finish raises the curtain on a lingering light brown sugar and dried apricot aftertaste. Note: This aromatic beer is excellent fresh, but a bit of age lends the beer even more depth and a subtle roundness. One Tankard.

Tropic King Imperial Saison (Funkwerks, Colorado)

Fort Collins’ Funkwerks brews more than one Saison/farmhouse ale, but the Tropic King laden with Rakau hops from New Zealand is one of those passion fruit-mango-peach explosions that makes you sit up and take notice.Funkwerks - TropicKing With its orange and amber hues, the beer is sunshine in a glass, and the candy floss-like foam cap lingers long enough to bring you right back to the amusement parks of your childhood. A whiff of old hay and henna mingle with an intense tropical fruit character that gives the Brettanomyces an elegant touch. Passion fruit and mango dance with honeyed malt on the spritzy palate, but pepper and zesty ginger notes keep the beer refreshingly dry. In a word, Brett-and-spice bitterness and dryness balanced by a malt richness and intense tropical fruit. At 8% ABV, you’ll want to resist the urge to quaff this one on a hot day. Two Tankards.

Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (Boulevard Brewing Company, Missouri)

Like the Tropic King, this eminently drinkable beer from Boulevard’s Smokestack Series is no wall flower in the ABV department. It’s also the base beer for their delicious Saison-Brett, which I wrote about in May. As the story at Boulevard goes, “most breweries have a piece of equipment that’s just a bit persnickety.” Tank Seven was the proverbial black sheep at Boulevard.Boulevard Tank 7 Turns out, though, that the vessel did wonders for their Belgian-style farmhouse ale, and this delicious beer was born. Hazy honey-gold with a vigorous collar of foam, this richly textured marriage of Belgian yeast and North American hops brings apricot-accented tropical fruit to the fore, followed by waves of orange-grapefruit citrus, an earthy spice note that mingles white pepper and coriander together with a hint of pine. Big and bold, the unobtrusive malt backdrop of honeyed light brown sugar lets the mango-pineapple and muscat grape flavours shine through. Tank 7 manages to be luscious yet light-bodied and dry at the same time, with the malted wheat giving the beer a zesty lift near the finish. Two Tankards.

Saison Cazeau aux Fleurs de Sureau (Brasserie de Cazeau, Belgium)

CazeauFleurAnd now for something a little different. For those of you who don’t feel like pulling out your French dictionaries or googling “sureau,” it means elderflower. And the elderflower in this supple ale the colour of hay lends it an air of fragrant meadows and floral honey. But it’s not just the floral notes that make this beer unique. Along with the clove-pepper-spice calling card of Belgian yeast, you might just detect a jalapeno note reminiscent of Cabernet Franc grapes. An ample bed of wheat and bready malt keeps this dry, crisp, peppery, and subtly floral beer afloat. Clocking in at a mere 5% ABV, Saison Cazeau is yet more proof that you don’t need a tonne of alcohol to get stellar flavours in your beer. One Tankard.

Saison du Buff (Dogfish Head, Delaware)

I picked this beer up with no small amount of trepidation. An ale brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme has to be a train-wreck, right? But if anyone can awake the pert and nimble spirits of mirth, I thought, it’s the good folks at Dogfish Head.DogfishHead - saison-du-buff The beer starts playfully enough, with sunny golden saffron hues sounding the prelude for sage, rosemary, honeyed papaya, green apple skin, a slate-like minerality, and the slightest trace of parsley, probably because I was looking for it. (Alas, the power of suggestion!) I take a sip and smell again. Honeydew melon, a bit like mead, with thyme becoming slightly more prominent alongside the sage. The herbs reprise themselves subtly on the palate, balanced by a sweet graham cracker-like maltiness. Highly effervescent and enhanced by a mild green apple tartness and a coriander-clove spiciness, the beer is well-balanced and not at all gimmicky. Herbs play well with the mild Belgian yeast aromatics, the one complementing and gently amplifying the other. It all harmonizes well to provide a complex herbal presence that gestures slightly in the direction of savoury, yet with a softly sweet honeyed presence. One Tankard for this whimsical beer.

Saison Dupont (Brasserie Dupont, Belgium)

Though the venerable Saison Dupont hails from Europe’s more northerly reaches, its radiant golden yellow with orange hues hints at the French Riviera. And then there’s the towering, pillowy foam, like a snow-capped Alpine peak on a hot day.SaisonDupont The best of both worlds. The aromatics open with a salvo of herbal-floral hops, followed immediately by white pepper, clove-coriander, grains of paradise, and a slate-like minerality. Peach-pear yeast notes and hints of ripe banana in the depths add fruit, with whispers of lightly kilned Munich (lightly toasted bread laced with a hint of melanoidin) making a cameo appearance. Saison Dupont is deft on the palate, combining tangerine-peach and an orange blossom floral essence with an off-dry bready-wheat-oat flake malt character before finishing crisply. The musky hops lend mid-palate spice before dried apricot and almonds take over in a finish where Crème de Noyaux meets Bon Maman apricot jam. Bright. Playfully fruity. And appetizingly bitter. The standard bearer of the style. Two Tankards.

I hope you enjoy the range of flavours and aromas in these summery beers as much as I do. For a Three-Tankard **bonus addition** to your six-pack, check out my write-up on Black Raven and make your six-pack a lucky seven.

A brief note on serving: Use a glass that allows for plenty of head space, for many of these beers have epic foam caps. Brasserie Dupont suggests serving their Saison at 12C/54F (cellar temperature), but I’ve found that slightly cooler temperatures flatter many of the Saisons I’ve written about here.

Related Tempest Articles

The Sunday Sour Sessions: Jolly Pumpkin’s Baudelaire Saison

Marking Time with a Brett-Saison from Boulevard

This Bird’s For You: Black Raven’s Pour Les Oiseaux Saison

Sources and Further Reading

Garrett Oliver, The Brewmaster’s Table (New York: HarperCollins, 2003).

Michael Jackson, The New World Guide to Beer (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988).

Stillwater Artisanal Ales’ “My Works” blog.

Boulevard Brewing Company, “Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale.”

Brasserie Dupont, “Saison Dupont.”

Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Mendelssohn’s incidental music of the same name isn’t half bad either. Give it a listen while you’re drinking these fine beverages.)

Images

Labels and images from the respective breweries’ sites.

©2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Marking Time with a 2013 Brett-Saison from Boulevard

Tempest is marking time in more ways than one these days.

  • Tempest recently turned eighteen months young.
  • It’s been far too long since I’ve been at my keyboard. April and May kept me busy with our local homebrew club, as did interview preparation for a new job. That latter effort paid off.
  • Tempest might take on a decidedly Euro flavour over the next few years, for in a little over three months I start a new position in Vienna.

Time to celebrate! For Tempest’s eighteen-month anniversary, I opened a 2013 Brett-Saison from Boulevard, and compared it with the notes I scribbled last November on a 2014 Brett-Saison a friend brought over for dinner. File these notes under cellaring –– another means of marking time.

Cheers to you for reading over these past eighteen months!

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Before we get into the Brett-Saison, here are a few highlights from the past six months.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3): Why? Because we really can’t drink too many lagers in one lifetime. For those who still need convincing, this 6-pack takes a few steps beyond the golden and the fizzy.

The MaltHead Manifesto: A tongue-in-cheek defense of malt over hops.IMG_1893

Five Ways to Become a Better Drinker in 2015: The take-away: glassware and serving temperatures.

New York’s Finger Lakes Region: A Back-Road Craft Beer Tour: Everything you need to know for your summer escape from the city.

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden: Summer’s on the horizon. Get ye to Munich. And read this before you go. Bonus: I was consulted for an article in The Atlantic on beer gardens.

A Taste of Oklahoma in Six Glasses: Who said there was nothing to drink in Oklahoma?

Spreading Good Cheer with a Tankard of Mulled Beer: ’Tis not quite the season, but tuck this recipe away for your winter entertaining. You won’t be disappointed.

Heading to Colorado this summer? Be sure to stop in at some of the breweries and brewpubs that I visited for my Northern Front Range series.

Striking Craft Beer Gold in Boulder

At the Foot of the Mountain: Boulder’s Brewpubs and Breweries 

Craft Beer in the Mile-High City: Colorado’s Northern Front Range Series

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And now for that Saison-Brett that has been waiting patiently.

Boulevard’s Saison-Brett is part of this venerable Kansas City brewery’s Smokestack Series of beers. The Saison-Brett begins its life as the already-excellent Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale before the brewers save some of it for dry-hopping and inoculation with Brettanomyces at bottling. Boulevard allows the bottles to condition a subsequent three months before release. The result, if you drink it within the first six months of release, is a vivaciously fruity-spicy beer with the first murmurings of Brett.IMG_1875

The 2014 vintage (April release) that I had in November 2014 was an appealingly luminescent honey-gold beer that exuded bright pineapple and passion fruit notes limned with suggestions of tangerine zest. The nascent Brett character evoked memories of hiking through Alpine meadows on a hot summer afternoon, and a hint of honey sweetness on the palate added a beguiling roundness to the effervescent and peppery-dry palate.

If you have the patience and inclination, cellaring will greatly alter the character of Boulevard’s Brett-Saison. Notice I didn’t say improve or enhance, but nor am I suggesting that the beer doesn’t gain in complexity with time. What you decide to do with your newly-purchased bottle of Saison-Brett will depend on what kinds of sensory qualities you’re after –– one of the joys of experimenting with age-worthy beers!

Fast-forward seven months. The Saison-Brett I have before me is a corked-and-caged 750mL bottling from March 2013, purchased in spring 2014 and cellared until now. Two-odd years removed from bottling, the vibrant fruit that marked the younger version has faded, replaced by predominant Brett notes of old hay, dusty blankets, farmyard, and a mixture of bandaid and allspice. Faint tropical fruit shimmers around the edges.

Age-worthy beers tend to open up and develop in the glass in ways similar to wine. After a few sips of this very dry beer that swirls together flavours of dried hay, dried flowers, and a slight echo of honey on a bracingly bitter palate that also offered up Seville orange marmalade on the finish, I turned my attention again to the aromas. And caught my breath after writing that sentence.IMG_2976

Orange zest. Dried flowers. Sagebrush. It’s as if the vivid tropical fruit of the younger version has given way to fields of herbs in dry Mediterranean climates. Head a bit north in Europe and you’ll find the muskiness of northern French apple cider alongside subdued coconut-citrus and lemongrass intertwined with hints of German Riesling (apricot and slate). Another round of sips reveals layers of white pepper and a nutty bitterness reminiscent of apricot kernels to match the flinty-dry minerality.

German Riesling meets Mediterranean summer fields and northern French apple cider? Why not.

(He’s making this stuff up, isn’t he?)

The verdict: The aged version of Boulevard’s Brett-Saison is nothing if not complex, but it’s a complexity marked less by the spirited fruitiness of younger versions than it is by a richly expressive Brett palette (meadows, hay, dried herbs and flowers, and nuanced fruit). For all the beer’s complexity, though, the bitterness of the aged version borders on distracting. That said, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from buying a bottle and forgetting about it for a year or two, especially if you’re a Brett aficionado and are willing to embrace the bitterness and dryness of the aged versions.

2014 Brett-Saison (consumed within six months of release): Two Tankards

2013 Brett-Saison (consumed two years and three months after release): One Tankard

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On the horizon: I’ll be setting out on a road trip from Oklahoma to Upstate New York in the next week or so, and will also head to Vancouver to visit family and friends before relocating to Vienna in mid-August. I’ll try to write two or three articles per month between now and early autumn. They’ll probably come out in short bursts whenever I can find the time to write, so check back periodically.

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Tempest has been on Instagram for the past six months. Check out Tempest on Facebook as well. I’ll be posting very short “photo essays” there over the summer and early autumn.

Related Tempest Articles

The Sunday Sour Sessions: Jolly Pumpkin’s Baudelaire Saison

The Curiosity Cabinet: Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée

Gose Gone Wild: Anderson Valley, Bayrischer Bahnhof, Choc, and Westbrook

Not Your Average Wheat Beer: Schneider’s Porter Weisse

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.