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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Frank About... Saison!

In my last post, I mentioned the Chocolate Ale special release from Boulevard Brewing Company. While examining the Webb City Price Cutter for any trace of this elusive bottle, I stumbled onto an odd find. There were some bottles from the Boulevard Smoke Stack Series,labeled as Saison, in a cooler. The bottles were very dusty, and I didn't immediately recognize the label. I couldn't get my phone to connect well enough to get any information about the release. When I got home, I did some research and found out that the bottling was the 4th release in the Smokestack Series from 2008. The batch code on the back of the bottle (S8060) indicated that the beer was bottled on the 60th day of 2008... which happened to be a leap year! My friend and fellow Brother of the Brew, Dan, headed to Price Cutter to pick us up a couple bottles to sample. Since the beer was bottle conditioned, it should have aged nicely. Only issue would be if it had aged too much. Some Saisons are good only up to six months, others peak around two years. (At the time, I had not realized, yet, that this one was nearly four years old.)

Look at that gorgeous head!

The next evening, at our respective homes, Dan and I uncorked a bottle to sample how well the beer stood up to the years. Dan immediately texted me to tell me how delicious the beer was! I was dying to get the chance, later that evening, to find out for myself. When I uncaged the bottle, and popped the cork, there really wasn't any pop. I was suddenly worried from the lack of carbonation, that this bottle may not have done well. The beer poured a nice cloudy straw/pale golden into the glass, and with it, a gorgeous, substantial head (as you can see in the above photo). The head was dense, left great lacing on the sides of the glass, and was proof the carbonation was still spot-on. Bubbles continued to dance upward in the glass the entire time I enjoyed this beer. There were great fruity notes and a nice subtle sweetness reminiscent of a Riesling or a light mead. I absolutely loved this Saison. Dan went back to Price Cutter and picked up the other three bottles they had in the cooler. I'm waiting to drink my remaining bottle until it's fourth birthday, on  February 29th. 

I don't know how these bottles came to land in the Webb City Price Cutter beer cooler... They may have been tucked away, accidentally, at the distribution warehouse; or they may have been in the back corner of the store's cooler. I am just thankful to have come across such a stash, and had the opportunity to try this beer with nearly four years of age on it. 

Now, you might be saying to yourself, "Self... what the unholy Hell is 'Saison'? Is Frank just trying to use fancy words?" As much as I do feel more sophisticated tossing around words like Saison, it's a fantastic beer style. 

Saison, in French, means "season". No, not like garlic powder, or herbs. Saison is also referred to as farmhouse ale. It originated in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. It was brewed in farmhouses in the autumn and winter months, to be given to farmhands assisting with the late summer harvest. At that time, clean drinking water wasn't easy to come by; most contained bacteria. So, to be safe, these farmhands were giving this low alcohol beer to aid in hydration. Traditionally, Saisons were around 3-3.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). Today, in the U.S., where Saison and farmhouse style ales are enjoying a resurgence, you will find anywhere from 5-8% ABV. 

To stand up to the long period of time between brewing and tapping, the brewers faced a challenge: too make the beer strong enough to fight off spoilage, but light enough to still be refreshing. In order to achieve this balance, the ales were heavily hopped, taking advantage of the antiseptic and preservative nature of hops. Brewing during colder months also assisted in spoilage prevention. 

Saisons have quite a complex flavor profile. Sometimes you will find Saison brewed with additions of orange zest, coriander, or ginger. Sometimes wheat is used for brewing. The type of malt used will determine the color of the beer; most typically it will be brewed from pale and/or pilsner malt. This will result in the most common color of Saison: a cloudy golden hue. Saisons can be semi-dry, fruity, and aromatic with characters of yeast and sourness. Saisons can often age very well, with most hitting their peak in approximately two years. It is a good trial to get two bottles, when possible, to drink one fresh and one cellared. As with any aged ale, the hoppiness will tone down over time. You will also lose some of the residual sugar sweetness, as the bottle conditioning (yeast added to the bottle) continues to work through the beer. 

I highly recommend going out and finding a few examples of Saison, or farmhouse style ale, and sampling for yourself. It really is enjoyable in its complexity and flavor nuances. 

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