Category Archives: Beer styles

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?

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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.

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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.

Choosing a Lager in the UK

The arrival of a new beer from Sweden on the UK market has made us wonder about the hierarchy of packaged lagers available in the UK.

The graphic below isn’t a league table, exactly. Rather, we imagined that someone was offering to buy us an entire case of lager, and then played the options of against one another, based on our most recent experiences of each beer.

So, if offered the choice between a case (or, rather, a slab) of Foster’s or one of Carling, we’d take the Carling. If we were then given the opportunity to trade up to a case of Camden Hells, we’d certainly take it.

This is based on our personal preferences and prejudices, of course — your table would likely look different because, for example, you might not have a soft spot for the curry house favourite Cobra like we do.

There’s a vague attempt at order — imports to the right; bigger UK breweries down the middle; those pitched as ‘craft’ towards the left. The wishy-washy colour coding is intended to hint at a scale from nasty to delicious, via bland (or neutral if you want a more, er, neutral term).

An attempt to rank lagers available in the UK with Schlenkerla Helles our top pick and Foster's at the bottom of the pile.

As it was samples of Fagerhult from Swedish cider-makers Kopparberg that kicked this off, we should say that we didn’t much like it — drunk on its own, it’s bland shading to nasty, with no discernible bitterness or malt flavour, just some sweet vegetal notes. It was OK with salty, spicy food (a tomato-based curry), seeming more bitter by contrast. We can’t imagine buying it over most other bog-standard brands, though, unless it was hugely discounted or, say, we were having a Swedish-themed Wallander watching party.

It’s also worth noting that we’ve heard worrying reports of a recent and sudden drop in quality of bottled Pilsner Urquell. When we last had it, it was as pungently weedy and bitter as ever but we will try a bottle or two in the new packaging when we get the chance and report back.

UPDATE: We might have been too generous to Fuller’s Frontier above, with the not-bad draught version in mind, rather than the bottles which we didn’t like at all last year.

Proper Job IPA: Cornwall Via Oregon

Several times in the last couple of years, we’ve said that we thought St Austell Proper Job began life as an homage to particular American IPA, but couldn’t for the life of us work out exactly where we’d got that idea.

So, last Sunday, we travelled up to St Austell and spent the day with its creator, Head Brewer Roger Ryman, and got the story straight from the horse’s mouth.

My friendship with Karl Ockert [head brewer at BridgePort Brewing, Portland, Oregon, from 1983 to 2010] is well-known and has been written about many times. 

In around 1999, I was invited to take part in judging for the Brewing Industry Awards. That’s the one that’s been running since the 19th century and, if you’re going to win anything, that’s the one you want – the players’ player of the year, judged solely by working brewers. You’re all cooped up in a hotel together for three days and you get to know each other. When we were leaving, we all exchanged business cards – “You must get in touch if you’re ever in town, let’s stay in contact,” – but you never expect to do anything about it. A couple of years later, I was in Denver with Paul Corbett from Charles Faram, the hop merchants, and I did actually give Karl a call. He arranged all these brewery visits for us – Anheuser-Busch, Odell, Coors…

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