Lately, I have been noticing a lot more brewers are dabbling with wild yeasts, and specifically, the saison style of brew. This is the style of beer that really got me into craft beer. The first time I had a flight of saisons at Funkwerks, I was hooked. I was still fairly new to craft beer having just turned 21 a little over a year before their opening, and had yet to taste anything like it. Since then, I have not just jumped on the saison and wild yeast band wagon, I am driving it.
Hundreds of years ago, when there were not any water treatment plants or portable filters, a safe and reliable way to get clean water was to turn it into beer. Even children drank beer. It was the only way for them to quench their thirst without swallowing the black plague too. They did not understand how at the time, but they knew turning water into beer made it potable. This beer however was light in alcohol, topping around 3%. In the bread basket of Europe, farmhands were drinking a brew called “saison” in the summer while working in the fields. This style, brewed in the colder months and drank in the warmer months in the French speaking Wallonia region of Belgium, is the French word for “seasons”. As it was fermented in open vats on a farm, this type of beer is also known as a farmhouse ale. The open vats that were traditionally used allowed for “wild” yeasts and other ingredients to add themselves. Leading to the fact that there was no air conditioning units or refrigeration in the Middle Ages these vats were placed inside a warm barn or shed. Modern brewers use a specific saison yeast that ferments at a higher temperature.
If you haven’t guessed yet, this week at Beer Bettys we were tasting saisons. This style is not only a favorite of mine, but a favorite for many of the other Bettys as well. A malty style, the special saison yeast is what makes this style amazing for me. The many varieties lead to fruity, sweet, spicy aromas and flavors that dance across your taste buds. You can find more detailed information of the style in the Beer Judge Style Guide. When the flight was laid out in front of us I couldn’t wait to start sipping. Usually I am not excited when the flight is all beers I have had before, but tasting a variety of one style side by side always leads to new discoveries. This flight was no exception. I had always heard others refer to a “farm yard” aroma in saisons and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t find it. Until now. Great Divide’s Colette had a very distinct “horse blanket” smell to me. Having had this beer several times before, I never picked it up until I was comparing it with other similar beers.
Colette Farmhouse Ale (7.3% ABV)- A hazy light gold hue reminded me of a warm sunny day on a farm, and the aroma did too. Even the mouth feel was warm, like the sun really was beating down. Slight citrus notes compliment the grassy notes on the taste. As one of my favorite beers, I even like the dry finish that usually turns me off from some beers.
Trip XI (8.5% ABV)- A collaboration between New Belgium Brewing and Elysian, this farmhouse is brewed with Rosemary and Sage. Herb-y is something this beer definitely is. I could really smell the rosemary, and the sage was more obvious in taste. The Belgian influences of this style are more apparent in Trip than any of the others. This, with the herbs, create a sharp and spicy finish.
White (6.0% ABV)- Brewed by Funkwerks, I have had this one a hundred times. A Belgian style white that uses Saison yeast, it has a nice balance. White and cloudy in appearance, its true to its name. A malty sweetness comes through on both the smell and flavor. It’s almost sweet enough to wonder if they add a bit of fruit juice to it, when compared to the rest of the flight. A hint of coriander shows up near the end.
Tart Lychee (8.5% ABV)- You are right, this beer is not a saison. It does however use a wild yeast. The newest release in New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series, this beer is an American Wild Ale that is slightly pink, and very hazy due to lychee puree. The aroma was incredibly sweet. It reminded me of those juices you drank as a kid in the little plastic barrels with foil tops. The sourness of the beer, and the addition of cinnamon, balanced the sugar that I was a bit fearful of initially. Overall, I really liked this one.
BONUS- Firkin Citra Dry hopped Belgo- Many at my table joked at the smell of this one, as it reeked like a CSU horticulture student with an MMJ card. Hoppy this one was indeed, and a nice bonus refresher after all our saisons.