This first batch of UK-brewed saisons in our new series of tastings are connected loosely by their inclusion of lemon, or lemongrass, and all three just happen to be from London.
They were purchased from Ales by Mail:
- Partizan Lemongrass (pictured above) — 3.8%, 330ml, £2.09.
- Partizan Lemon & Thyme — 3.9%, 330ml, £2.09.
- Brew by Numbers 01/08 Lemon & Wai-Iti — 6.2%, 330ml, £2.29.
With yesterday’s post in mind, we were looking for the herbs and fruit added to these beers to be noticeable without overriding, and to be integrated into the beer rather than seeming like a shot of fruit squash.
Partizan Lemongrass poured beautifully bright with a persistent but gentle fizz, and was ultra-pale with a pure white head. From the off, opinion was divided: one of us ‘Ugh!’-ed as the other ‘Ooh!’-ed. ‘It smells like washing up liquid,’ said Boak, while Bailey was reminded of fruit tea. The dispute continued as we tasted as, for Boak, the lemongrass was a touch too dominant and brought with it a persistent suggestion of savouriness, while Bailey had no such problem: ‘I could sink this by the pint and, if were in a pub, I might stick on it for the night.’ What we did agree on was that it didn’t much resemble any Belgian saison we’d ever tasted. In fact, despite the absence of wheat in the ingredients list and its crystal clarity, it tasted much more like a witbier (spicy, citrusy, a touch of pot-pourri). The disagreement means we can’t add it to our list of wholehearted recommendations.
We also disagreed about Partizan Lemon & Thyme, although less vehemently. We are both generally of the view that herbs commonly used to season chicken and lamb don’t really work in beer and this did not change our minds. Maybe slightly darker than its stable-mate, but not by much, it had a subdued aroma, with just a passing whiff of zest. The flavour was similarly restrained and brought to mind the kind of slightly astringent golden ales we used to find in ‘real ale’ pubs c.2008. But the thyme was there, giving an unwelcome sickly, savoury note. Boak fundamentally disliked it, while Bailey found it drinkable, though not so much that he’s desperate for another any time soon.
Finally, saving the biggest for last, there was Brew by Numbers Lemon & Wai-Iti — an immediate hit with both of us. (Phew — partnership saved!) It poured clear-to-hazy and, again, very pale. As far as we know, this is our first encounter with Wai-Iti hops and we’re not sure whether it was them, the lemon or a combination of both which provided an aroma reminiscent of Thai pomelo salad. At any rate, it was enticing and faintly enigmatic. Something about the weight of the body and the flavour combined to give a first impression on tasting of milkiness — or was it coconut milk, specifically? Or an Indian lassi? That smooth, almost creamy quality was balanced by an insistent bitterness which lingered and built in the mouth, layer on layer. As with beer #1, we’re not entirely sure saison is the right designation as this too seems to have more in common with witbier. It certainly offers something different to Saison Dupont, and is quirky without being ‘silly’. It’s a definite contender.
We came away from this session with a couple of questions:
- Why is wit less cool than saison? Is it Hoegaarden’s fault? Or is it because wit was hip 25 years ago while saison is still, in the broader scheme of things, obscure?
- Is citrus, in fact, the defining characteristic of a wit and, if so, does it have any place in a saison?
Next up: because, astonishingly, there is more than one on the market, two saisons with rhubarb, and one with gooseberries.