Tag: north coast

‘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.

The Blend Is Near

Nothing is sacred, not even beer. Prove it: order a pint of the latest over-hopped, over-hyped IPA, down half, and top it off with a simple pale. See? It gets better.

I wrote about mixing beer in this month’s GQ, but it’s been going on for ages. In eighteenth-century England, savvy drinkers ordered half-and-halfs or three threads: old, stale beer livened up with some fresh from the brewery. (Porter started out as one of these mixes.) Flemish brewers carbonate their gueuze the same way, adding a bit of new beer to a flat batch of sour lambic to wake up the old yeast. Beer aged in barrels is almost always blended because each cask ferments a little differently. When a smoked beer by Boulder’s Avery Brewing Company lost its edge after sitting too long in a rum barrel, they made an extra-smoky batch to mix it with. Germans—lest you think them Reinheitsgebot-thumping purists—mix their beers with Coke and banana nectar.

Beer cocktails are getting common, but beer blends are still underground. “We hide our blends on the other side of the menu,” Avery’s taproom manager Phil Vaughn says. “Not recommended, but not discouraged,” according to North Coast’s vice president Doug Moody. “Don’t tell the brewers,” warns an anonymous source at Cleveland’s Great Lakes. Fine, we get it: Craft beer is perfect straight up, but a little alchemy can go a long way.

Some blends to try:

Belgian Strong Golden + Pilsner
Wheat + Scotch Ale (or just Scotch)
IPA + English Pale Ale
Russian Stout + Pale Ale
Saison + Mescal
IPA + Rye Whiskey
Wheat + Lemonade
Brown Ale + Port
IPA + Espresso (We learned about this at Founders in Grand Rapids, where our Midwestern favorite MadCap Coffee made just such a blend.)

…But Is It Green?

In honor of St. Patrick, some Guinness rumors we uncovered in our research:

It’s brewed with beef bouillon. It used to be brewed with rats (these have been replaced by beef bouillon). It’s mixed with old, stale beer. Guinness brewers were some of the first to practice sparging, or rinsing their grains to extract more fermentable sugars. Guinness brewers used to power parts of the brewery with a steam engine that ran on old beer. Guinness tastes better in Ireland. (This last rumor was “confirmed” by “researchers” in the Journal of Food Science this month.)

Break free of your shamrocked chains! Today, drink American: rat-free, and obviously more delicious here.

See my picks of the best American dry(ish) stouts in the Wall Street Journal: North Coast Old No. 38, Avery Out of Bounds, Anderson Valley Barney Flats.

SF Beer Week: Opening Gala

The Yerba Buena center was packed. The line to taste Russian River‘s very rare and very hoppy Pliny the Younger started at one wall and disappeared into the crowd, out of sight. It was almost as long as the line to the men’s room, where a guy wearing sunglasses declared, “Pliny is bullshit.” There was no line for the women’s room.

We had a good rye saison from Devil’s Canyon—the peppery saison yeast worked well with the rye’s natural spice—and a weird mugwort beer from Moonlight. It tasted a little like thyme, with a hint o’ mint at the end.

California is supposed to be laid back, but there was a lot of posturing going on, beers trying to out-sour, or out-hop each other. Lagunitas talked up their special release, Fusion: 280 IBUs, dry-hopped with four pounds of citras per barrel. It was OK; their stout was better. In the midst of the fray, I met a guy wearing a Great Lakes Brewing Company t-shirt and talked to him a little bit about Cleveland. He said Great Lakes’ beer is great, but he loves them even more because their food is just as good. That made me feel better. He reminded me of Magnolia Brewpub, home to an excellent pork sandwich and straight-forward, British beer, so we went there. They were pouring Pride of Branthill, a so-called “double ESB,” which sounds like big talk, but it tasted mild, full, and bready. As strong as the beer was, it was a nice respite from the more overdone offerings on tap.

A few tables poured “session beers,” lighter and easier to drink than their soured or dry-hopped cousins. There were no lines to try session beers. Anderson Valley‘s Wee Geech was delicious.

True relief came from North Coast, who were passing out Underbergs with each sip of bourbon-barrel-aged Old Rasputin. I predict a hangover-free morning.