Category: Interviews

‘Tis the Saison

Saison, my favorite summertime beer. “It’s a versatile style,” says Ron Jeffries. He’s made rose-hued hibiscus saisons, barrel-aged sour saisons, and roasty, black saisons, to name a few. Stillwater adds sage and other herbs; Stone/Dogfish Head/Victory use the Paul Simon blend. “There aren’t really any rules. Just keep it light, dry, and a little bitter to be more refreshing: A beer you can have a couple glasses of.”

Saisons are easy drinking, brewed crisp and relatively weak so farmers could knock back their per diem at lunch and stay sober enough to swing a scythe. But they don’t skimp on flavor like other so-called lawnmower beers—saisons can be spicy or mellow, rich as whole-grain bread or airy as champagne. Saisons are a beer-maker’s beer, the secret darling of an industry agog over the big and boozy. Ask even the most extreme craft brewer what they think drank with last night’s dinner, and chances are good they’ll drop their eyes and say, “well, saison.” Why did David Logsdon, founder of Full Sail Brewing and the Wyeast brewing yeast company, after twenty-plus years in the biz, move back to the family orchard-cum-cattle ranch to perfect this one style of beer? “I brew saisons because that’s what I like to drink,” he said. Complex enough to keep the pros busy, but rustic enough for the workaday masses, saisons are blue-collar beer done right: all flavor, no pretense, a picnic in a bottle.

We tasted some at a recent beer club, and these are the best we found:

Jolly Pumpkin Bam Bière
Foamy, fresh, and cheek-suckingly tart, this one actually seems to make you thirstier.

Logsdon Seizoen
True to the style’s name, David Logsdon brews his extra-spicy saisons on the family farm, and feeds the used grain to his Scottish highland cattle. This one tastes like a barn on fire: smokey wood and chewy, wet hay.

Yards Saison
Slightly sweet with a bright citrus tang, this picnic-worthy Philly brew is pure summertime, like fizzy orange soda.

Stillwater Stateside Saison
Another new brewery specializing in farmhouse ales, Stillwater makes a beguiling, sage-spiced saison and this unspiced version, smooth, lush, and tropical.

North Coast La Merle
What starts floral and effervescent, like a chilly white wine, finishes with a blooming, fruity fullness.

Molto Birra


Italian beer can be great, but not always. We tried a lot of bottles when I was working on this article, and they were all interesting, and expensive, but we found a few duds. Some had gone a little sour. Some were old. Inconsistency is expected with such a small industry. The biggest Italian craft brewery, Baladin, is 1/15th the size of Dogfish Head, and Dogfish Head isn’t even that big.

But beer is booming there — Italy had 65 breweries in 2000. Today there are 279. That’s not as explosive as the biggest spike in American craft breweries (200 opened between 1993 and 1994) but it’s something. Both booms produced some sub-par beer, but the difference with Italy is range. A flooded market forced American craft brewers to specialize; Italian brewers are making weird stuff right out of the gate.

I asked Sam Calagione what it was like collaborating at the new Eataly brewery with Teo and Leo, the brewers at Baladin and Birra del Borgo, guys who brew with stuff like kamut, myrrh, and ginger.

“We picked fresh thyme in the hills behind Leo’s brewery, threw it in the brew kettle. I put a jalopy brewery in my truck and drove up to Boston, met the guys at a nondescript warehouse, and fired up some test batches. It all happened in person, over pasta and good beer. Teo doesn’t even use email.”

Leo does. He wrote to me that brewing with Sam went like this: “When I was brewing with Sam I was telling to Sam the idea and Sam went crazy for that!” That’s about how it works in our house, too.

Back in Brown

They say Texan homebrewers invented brown ale. (At least, the modern version.) Knowing their reputation, we don’t doubt it. It’s the hardest style to make, in our opinion — not too sweet, not too dry, not too roasted… It needs an experienced hand.

Makes sense too that the folks at Anchor perfected it.

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Rahr and Sons: The Really, Truly, Honestly Official Beer of Texas

North Texas was bleak from 40,000 feet up — dirt and space and trickling, blood-red rivers — but on the ground, the beer landscape seemed bleaker.

“We have Bud Lite, Coors Lite, Miller Lite, Corona Lite…”

Then we heard about local favorites Rahr and Sons Brewing, but we also heard about their roof. Last year, a freak storm dumped 12 inches of snow on the brewery, collapsed its roof, and shut them down for seven months. This is rough country for craft beer.
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