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.
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’.
In its 44 years of existence, the Campaign for Real Ale has had a more complicated relationship with lager than cries of ‘fizzy piss’ from some members might have you believe.
In the early 1970s, no-one in the Campaign was thinking much about lager at all, its energy being focused almost entirely on battling keg bitters from Watneys et al. The very first issue of What’s Brewing (WB), however, did carry an advertisement for an excursion to the Munich Oktoberfest organised by one of the founders, the bespectacled and hawkish Graham Lees.
Another keen traveller with a far from parochial attitude was Richard Boston, the author, from 1973 onward, of a weekly column about beer in the Guardian. Though highly supportive of CAMRA, at least at first, he also made a point of acknowledging his love of good lager, as in this passage from his 1976 book Beer & Skittles in which he recounts one of his formative experiences:
Some time around 1965 I went for a holiday which took me by train through Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria… To me [Prague] seemed delightful… The food was stodgy, low in taste and protein, but my God the beer was good. I had only intended to stay in Prague for two days: I knew no one there, I hadn’t much money and there was little to do. I stayed nearly a week, going from place to place drinking this wonderful beer and feeling more and more like the good soldier Svejk.
“I used to drink brown and mild but beer in the 1970s was so rubbish that I eventually succumbed to lager… [Then] I discovered the Firkin pubs, Bruce’s Brewery… I had a pint of Whale Ale and thought, wow, this is fantastic! This is how beer is supposed to be… I could be wrong but I don’t think that in ten years, the police have never been called to a micropub. There’s twice as many hops in real ale as in lager, and hops are soporific – they make you sleepy and peaceful.”
Martyn Hillier, founder of the first micropub and godfather of the micropub movement, in an interview with one of the authors of this blog, 12/05/2015.
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.
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!