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.
Later, in 2013, when we were writing Brew Britannia, we visited the brewery and gave over a substantial chunk of the book to them as an example of the interesting avenues down which British beer was travelling as competition grew and the market matured. (Chapter 16, pp. 236-242, for those of you following along at home.)
Since then, they’ve been on telly, in magazines and newspapers, and become stalwarts of the ‘scene’. They’ve also remained consistently interesting even if, in practice, we haven’t always enjoyed every single one of their beers we’ve tried. (They produce so many, and tend so strongly towards the downright avant garde, that it’s unlikely anyone will.)
For this tasting session, we bought two of their beers from Ales by Mail:
- Epic Saison — 5% ABV, 330ml, £2.01.
- Wild Goose Chase — 4.5%, 330ml, £2. (Can and bottle.)
Wild Goose Chase is not actually described as a saison on the packaging but is billed as ‘Farmhouse Pale + Gooseberry + Zingy’, and filed under ‘saison’ in Ales by Mail’s online store. It poured clear and pale-golden, looking like a green-edged German pilsner in the glass. The wild yeast makes itself known in a farmhouse cider aroma — fallen apples, sweet rot, faintly sweaty — and, working in harmony with the gooseberries, provides a sharp, fruity acidity on tasting.
That makes it sound tough going, but it really isn’t: our first scribbled impression was ‘quite nice’. If you blended elderflower wine with scrumpy and then topped it off with pale ale, you’d get something similar — that is, spritzy, refreshing, and distinctly ‘pintable’. Something about it reminded us of drinking one of the more commercial lambic beers from earthenware mugs at A La Becasse in Brussels. Sure, sour might still seem shocking to English palates, but Wild Goose Chase is not mind-bendingly weird beyond that.
Because it tastes more like gueuze than saison, and because it isn’t actually billed as saison on the bottle, we’re not putting it through to our final, but, suffice to say, we liked it and look forward to drinking it again.
(A side note: We also tried Wild Goose Chase from a can and found it almost identical, but with a background note of staleness that, while it wasn’t a deal breaker, was off-putting. On the basis of this one sample, if you’re buying, we’d suggest resisting the shiny and sticking to bottles, for now.)
By comparison Epic Saison struck us immediately as less ‘nice’ (that is the correct word in this context, GCSE English teachers) but much more interesting. Burnished-golden and a touch hazy, It has no acidity, but a powerful, husky bitterness, with an odd quality, like the brown skin on old brazil nuts… so, tannic, maybe? There’s also an interesting echo of gin aromatics, with lemon peel the key player. On top of all that, there’s an earthy, coconutty, furze/gorse note, which we guess is from the Sorachi Ace hops.
It won’t be to everyone’s taste but this is a solid, slightly off-kilter beer which pays respectful homage to its Belgian cousins without being a clone, and also delivers a lot of character at a relatively more sensible ABV than Saison Dupont. It’s a definite contender and goes through to the final taste-off.