Tag Archives: Tempest’s Tankards

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.

Austin: Twenty Beers and Breweries You Won’t Want to Miss

Another edition of SXSW is upon us. If you’re from out of town, or even if you live in Austin, the plethora of excellent craft beer possibilities can make drink decisions a little daunting. But fear not. I’ve put together a list of some of my favourites so you can easily find both the finest beers and purveyors of those brews. Austin Map 1920 (WikiCommons)

Tankards, Tankards, and More Tankards

How does it all shake out? Three tankards are up for grabs, and Tempest’s Tankards has all the details on how I approach evaluating beer.

A few notes:

  • Austin is awash with some fine beverages. If one of the generally-accepted standouts is not listed here, it’s either because I haven’t gotten around to trying the beer or brewery yet, or because the beer wasn’t in season when I visited Austin, or because the beer didn’t deliver on its reputation (which is not beyond the realm of possibility).
  • If a beverage does not receive a tankard, this does not necessarily indicate that the beverage is subpar.
  • Breweries, brewpubs, taverns, or bottle shops that I particularly enjoyed find their way into these listings after the beers.If a beverage does not receive a tankard, this does not necessarily indicate that the beverage is subpar.
  • Entries with an asterisk (*) represent beverages I’ve tasted in a place other than at the brewpub or brewery, usually at a taproom.

IMG_1917

Tempest’s Austin Faves

One Tankard:

Jester King’s Boxer’s Revenge. This farmhouse/wild-fermented beer (aged in whiskey and wine barrels) delivers a fistful of sour caramel, allspice, and pine needles. Rich and citrusy on the palate, with a pungent mix of oak and Brett. At 10.2% ABV, watch out for this sour beer’s left hook.

*Live Oak’s Hefeweizen. A fine German-style wheat beer that walks the clove/banana tightrope, but a touch light in the mid-section. More malt richness would make this a stellar beer.

Rogness’ Tenebrous Stout. Rich but restrained, this seasonal beer brewed with raspberries offers a harmonious integration of fruit, malt, and yeast character.

*Real Ale’s Hans’ Pils. Clean, crisp, and dry. An austere northern German-style Pils with that characteristic bitter hop note the Germans call “herb,” which combines dry, bitter, astringent, herbal, and spicy into one difficult-to-translate flavour/sensation package.IMG_9550

Pinthouse Pizza’s Bearded Seal is a dry Irish stout that’s a bit potent for the style (6.1% ABV). But that’s AOK because this smooth beverage would make the perfect Sunday morning pick-me-up. Expect a deft aromatic blend of freshly-roasted coffee beans, espresso, and café au lait.

Uncle Billy’s Humbucker Helles. A Munich Helles featuring bready malts with a mild toast accent. Rich and full-bodied, with soft notes of citrus and grassy hops rounding out toasty and fine-grained malt.

Flix Brewhouse’s Brambler Sour is barrel-aged for fifteen months, and blackberry purée is added prior to kegging. Broadly in the Flemish red style, this beer is redolent of bright sour cherry, horse blanket funk, wood notes, and a vinous character reminiscent of Cabernet Franc.NXNW - Grain Silo Mild nutty caramel counters the sour pepper-lemon flavours, while a buoyant cherry/blackberry acidity predominates throughout.

*

North by Northwest is an upscale brewpub to the north (and west) of the downtown core that serves up a compelling diversity of traditional and experimental beers, with food and ambience to match.

Sunset Mini Mart. This bottle shop in the west of Austin ranks among the most pleasant surprises of my visit. The place is a local institution and an absolute gem, especially considering that it’s nominally a Citgo gas station convenience store. If you’re like me and have a fatal attraction to chocolate, you’ll have another reason to stop by. Ice cream, too.

Two Tankards:

The ABGB’s Industry (Pilsener). Hops are a quiet force in this beer, floral-perfumed and spicy. Rich breadiness rounds out the palate of this beer that finishes dry and crisp.

*Argus Cidery’s 2011 Bandera Brût. Sparkling hard ciders from Argus are a joy to drink, and this one is no different. Cinnamon-spiced apple with prominent, hay-like Brett character, and pleasantly acidic.IMG_9578

Jester King’s Ol’ Oi (Barrel-Aged Sour Brown Ale; 2013 Blend #2 that I drank in mid-2014). Who said brown beers were boring? Rich, complex, and with great depth, this cutting-edge tart ale looks to British and Flemish brewing traditions of times past. Caramel-oak mingles with aged balsamic vinegar notes, sour cherry, hay, and the slightest hint of chocolate.

*Real Ale’s Sisyphus. It’s no Sisyphean task at all to drink this smooth and unctuous barley wine. Extended Tempest review here.

North by Northwest’s Holiday Ale. Grab one when it’s released, but hold onto it for a few years. The best ones I sampled had one to two years of bottle age. Three years out and the beer develops interesting Oloroso sherry notes.

*

Craft Pride anchors a narrow Central Austin street packed with bars and a nearby food truck court. This taproom serves up an excellent array of beers from Austin and from Texas more generally. And that’s it.IMG_9607 But this is not a bad thing, especially with several dozen taps dedicated to the finest Texan beer. Knowledgeable serving staff. Great woodwork. And a small but well-curated bottle shop next store.

Jester King. The hype surrounding this local institution is much-deserved. Jester King has garnered national renown for its well-conceived and well-crafted sour and wild-fermented lineup. But you probably already knew that. Side note: Great flat-crust pizza next door at Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza. Maybe you didn’t know that.

Three Tankards:

*512’s Pecan Porter. What’s not to like about rich and buttery pecan-maple accents in a well-crafted smoky porter? Roast notes and creamy coffee on the palate, balanced by a vivacious mineral carbonation. Finish is as long as a total eclipse is black.

The ABGB’s Hell Yes Munich Helles. Rich but crisp and refreshing; clean bready malts with a touch of honey and a subtle grassy minerality. The embodiment of finesse.

*Austin Beer Works’ Sputnik (Coffee Imperial Stout). A Texas stand-out. Freshly-ground coffee aromas, Tia Maria, dark caramel malt, and an infinitely chocolaty rich roast on the palate.

ABGB Glass 2*

The ABGB (Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co.). Urban beer garden with an amicable vibe; beer hall with a spare, industrial-warehouse aesthetic. Exquisitely balanced beers are the signature of this beer garden/brewery, be they lagers or hop-forward and higher-ABV offerings.

If you’ve been to Austin, share your favourite beers, breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, and bottle shops by clicking “Leave a Reply” above.

Related Tempest Articles

Austin: A User’s Guide for the Craft Beverage Enthusiast (Breweries)

Austin: A User’s Guide for the Craft Beer Enthusiast (Brewpubs)

Getting Your Craft Beer Fill at Austin’s Taprooms and Bottleshops

Images

Austin Map (1920): Wiki Commons

Tankard: F.D. Hofer

Pinthouse Pizza samplers: F.D. Hofer

NXNW: courtesy of NXNW and Kevin Roark

Jester King: F.D. Hofer

Craft Pride: F.D. Hofer

The ABGB: http://theabgb.com

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