Category Archives: bottled beer

Saisons Pt 6: Relatively Twist Free

As our stash of UK-brewed saisons runs low, it gets harder to find a connecting theme: what this last bunch have in common, at least according to their labels, is the absence of headlining (important word) herbs and spices.

All of this batch, as it happens, were provided to us free of charge by online retailer Beer Hawk:

  • Wiper & True ‘The Breeze’ — 3.5% ABV, 500ml, usually £2.79.
  • Otley Saison Obscura — 5.5%, 500ml, usually £2.79.
  • Bad Seed Saison — 6%, 330ml, usually £2.59.

We first encounted ‘nomadic’ brewers Wiper & True not long after they had started up in 2012 when Bailey’s brother picked up a gift set of their beers. We’ve tried various of their brews since and haven’t quite been convinced, though we’ve found them far better on draught in Bristol than in bottles at home. This one-off saison is part of a series and has an admirably detailed label which looks as if it ought to be attached to a clipboard in a hospital, providing information on hop varieties, malts and even which yeast strain has been used — ‘House saison blend’.

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Saisons Pt 5: Smiling Somerset

This is the first single brewery post in our series of saison taste-offs, in which we consider two beers from Somerset’s Wild Beer Company.

Back in 2012, the Wild Beer Co were brand new and making waves thanks to savvy use of social media and a compelling story: they planned to harvest the same wild yeast that ferments Somerset scrumpy cider and use it to produce British beer with a Belgian twist. We first tried what was then their flagship, Epic Saison, in Bristol and loved it, not least because, believe it or not, there weren’t many UK-brewed saisons around back then.

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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 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.

Brett In Unexpected Places

When is a quality control problem not a problem? When it makes a good India pale ale into a great one.

The Windjammer in the centre of Dartmouth is a funny pub — quiet on both our visits, despite friendly people behind the bar and a well-worn, cosy interior. The counter is literally ship-shape, the walls are papered with nautical charts, and the back wall is covered in at least 30-years’-worth of yacht club pennants from around the world.

What caught our eye, once we’d dismissed the house bitter and guest ale as boring-going-on-bad, were bottles of Goose Island IPA. We used to trek across London in search of it but now, it’s everywhere. But, at the Windjammer, we were offered something that swanky craft beer bars could do well to copy: a choice of bottles from the shelf (room temperature), cellar (recommended ‘for this particular beer’) or fridge.

We went with a cold one and asked for a large wine glass to go with it; it cost £4.75.

It poured hazy and, at first, we just thought it was ‘off’. It took a moment for our palates to recognise what we were tasting: Brettanomyces, plain as day.

We didn’t think we were ‘Brett-heads’ or even that we were entirely confident in spotting it in beer unless cued by packaging but this was so pronounced that there could be no mistake. It tasted like one of our Orval blending experiments, and was utterly delicious. The Brett provided a wild top note, like a Gypsy fiddler sneaking into the violin section of a symphony orchestra. Where GI IPA can sometimes, these days, seem rather on the candied side, this was bitter, lemon-pithy and bracing.

If Goose Island was still a tiny one-man-band as it was at its founding in Chicago in 1988 then this oddity might not be all that surprising, but it is now owned by AB InBev (as in Anheuser-Busch, as in Budweiser) — a company which, if nothing else, is famed for the consistency of its products and the rigour of its quality control. How could this have happened?

Our first thought was that it might not be GI IPA at all but another of the same brewery’s beers mislabelled — Matilda, maybe? — but that seems less likely than that some Brett simply got where it shouldn’t have been, migrating from one part of the brewery to another, perhaps stubbornly lingering in a pipe.

We came back for more a couple of nights later and enjoyed it just as much, perhaps all the more so for the knowledge that it was an un-repeatable experience: a few bottles of this one batch, packaged a year or so ago, are probably the only ones with this particular ‘problem’. If you want to try to find them yourself, though, look out for a best before date of 17 July 2015 and what we think is a batch number of 0947.

UPDATE 09/04/2015: Mike Siegel, Brewing Innovation Manager at Goose Island, has emailed to say: ‘The IPA you had was brewed July 17, 2014 in Chicago at our Fulton Street Brewery.  This batch was actually flagged as having an elevated micro count and held back.  After re-plating and a thorough analysis and tasting, it rechecked as clean and ready to go.  I would love to get my hands on some of these bottles to see exactly what has happened over the past nine months.’ So, not a confirmation based on a QC sample as we’d hoped for, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s impossible.

Sorry for the quality of the photo, which was snapped on a smartphone under ‘intimate’ lighting.