Category Archives: beer reviews

Saisons Pt 4: Big Names

For this week’s saison-tasting session, we decided to tackle two beers from breweries with heavy reputations: BrewDog and Burning Sky.

We were sent both as samples by the breweries but…

  • BrewDog Electric India — 5.2% ABV, 330ml, £1.80 at their online store (when it’s in stock).
  • Burning Sky Saison à la Provision — 6.7%, 330ml, at, e.g., Beer Gonzo for £3.95. (Also available in 750ml corked bottles.)

We had vague recollections of trying BrewDog’s saison last year, on keg at their Camden bar, and finding it ‘quite good’. The flame-coloured label and customarily hyperbolic copy suggest that it ought to have been more memorable:

An unholy union between a Belgian Saison and an India Pale Ale… A lightning bolt of awesome that resuscitates your tastebuds… Electric India is a hoppy saison brewed with lashings of heather honey, crushed black pepper corns and enthusiastically hopped with mountains of Amarillo and Nelson Sauvin.

Unholy! Lightning bolts! Lashings! Mountains! Boy howdy!

Continue reading Saisons Pt 4: Big Names

Saison Season Pt 3: Roobarb

It’s surely a sign o’ the times that we were able to find two British takes on saison brewed with rhubarb for this post.

It’s one of our favourite vegetables (it had honestly never occurred to us that it might be anything other than a fruit until this moment) thanks to fond childhood memories of tooth-strippingly tart crumbles, and of acidic pink and yellow ‘rhubarb and custard’ boiled sweets:

'Rhubarb custard cremes' by Dr_Kelly, from Flickr under Creative Commons.
‘Rhubarb custard cremes’ by Dr_Kelly, from Flickr under Creative Commons.

But what on earth does it have to do with saison? And what, if anything, does it bring to the party?

Continue reading Saison Season Pt 3: Roobarb

Saison Season Pt 2: The Herbalist

When we announced our plans to taste a bunch of UK-brewed saisons, several people told us we had to try The Herbalist, a collaboration between Magic Rock and Adnams, and so Adnams sent us some (10 litres!) in mini-casks.

We’re not sure it really fits this project — it’s a one-off seasonal, so there’s not much point in us recommending it (more on this general issue in a future post); and it’s a draught rather than bottled beer. But of course we were keen to try it and, as it happens, it did prompt some relevant thoughts.

Continue reading Saison Season Pt 2: The Herbalist

Saison Season Pt1: Lemonheads

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.

Saison Season is Open

We’re going to spend the next few weeks tasting saisons.

Last autumn, we played a bunch of porters off against one other and learned a lot in the process. Now that spring is in the air, we’ve decided to turn our attention to a brighter, lighter, more refreshing variety of beer which we still find somewhat mysterious.

The aim of this project, insofar as it has one, is to come up with a short-list of British saisons we can recommend wholeheartedly, but perhaps also to answer a nagging question: can any of them really compete with Saison Dupont, the Belgian original that arguably defines the style, on taste and value for money?

So far, we have bought bottles of:

  • Brew by Numbers 01/08 Saison Wai-iti and Lemon
  • By the Horns Vive La Brett
  • Celt Hallstatt Deity
  • Ilkley Siberia Rhubarb Saison
  • Partizan Saison Lemon and Thyme
  • Partizan Saison Lemongrass
  • Siren Ratchet Blended Saison
  • Wild Beer Epic Saison
  • Wild Beer Wild Goose Chase

And (offered, not asked for…) we will also be including free samples of:

  • BrewDog Electric India
  • Burning Sky Saison à la Provision
  • Hop Kettle Ginlemlii (thanks, @landells!)
  • Adnams/Magic Rock The Herbalist

If there are any beers you think we absolutely must include, let us know in the comments below, but we only have budget to place ONE more online order, so a lot will depend on which single retailer has the widest range available.

Of course that means that this will not be a comprehensive taste-off of every single UK-brewed saison — what are we, the British Board of Saison Classification? — but hopefully the pool will be large enough to draw some useful conclusions.