As I have mentioned in previous reviews saisons are one of my favorite styles of beer. To me the saison can represent such a wide range of flavors from hoppy to funky to sweet and even sour. But the one thing that most saisons have in common is that earthy yeast driven flavor that I can’t get enough of. Generally, when wandering the isles of my local bottle shop I tend to lean towards saisons that are finished with brettanomyces over offerings that are brewed with brewers yeast alone. I find that many of the “clean fermented” saisons tend to finish a little sweet and lack complexity. I am not saying this is always the case but just a very general observation that tends to guide my beer purchases. This preconceived notion led me to be a touch hesitant when penciling in today’s review.
The arrival of Goose Island’s annual Bourbon County series is one of the most anticipated and hyped beer releases of the year. For the last couple of years the lineup for the release has been the standard stout, a coffee version of the stout and a barleywine that all see pretty wide national distribution. There are also two much harder to get variants that change from year to year as well. This year’s stout variants were vanilla rye and Proprietor’s, which was a cinnamon chocolate stout this year. The beers are simultaneously released across the country on Black Friday. This massive release throws the beer nerd universe into temporary chaos with people waiting in line for hours to get their hands on the elusive bottles.
Many years ago when I began my journey into the craft beer universe, I realized pretty quickly that one of my favorite styles was the saison. These earthy yeast driven beers really captured my imagination and to this day I find my self leaning towards a saison more times than not when opening the beer fridge. I am not alone in my obsession with the historic style either. It is hard to find a brewery today that does not have there own interpretation of a saison. Modern day versions of the style can range from hoppy, funky, sweet, fruity and even sour.
Over the past few years I have come across bottles of New Belgium's Le Terroir on shelves and for some reason never picked one up. I have had so many other offerings from New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series that it really surprises me how this one just slipped through the cracks. That all changed a few weeks back when it was on tap at one of my local watering holes.
Beer brewed with wild yeast strains are exploding in popularity with American craft beer lovers with more and more breweries are adventuring into this subset of beers every day.
One of the foremost experts in the field of wild yeast fermentation is Chad Jacobson of Crooked Stave. Jacobson spent his formative years studying wine until he came to the realization that beer is better than wine. Jacobson went on to open a brewery that brews only brettanomyces beers but not before writing his masters dissertation on brettanomyces fermentation. He has spent his entire professional career studying brett and how to unlock the true potential of this once feared yeast.
The craft beer scene is a far different animal today than it was in the late 1970s. That might seem like an obvious statement, but think about how much different things were when Ken Grossman started Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. There were no labs to buy yeast from, no catalogs of different hop verities to choose from and no other craft breweries to buy used equipment from. All of the equipment they used to start Sierra Nevada was made from scrap metal and old dairy farm equipment. Fast forward thirty-five years later and Sierra Nevada is one the largest craft breweries in the country and producing over a million barrels of beer each year.
Like most modern American breweries, Funkwerks Inc. was born in the backyard of a home brewer. Gordan Schuck began brewing up 5 gallon batches in his Colorado home back in 2002. Within five years he was winning competitions for his beers including a gold medal for his saison at the National Home Brew Competition. That saison recipe is said to have taken him seven tries to master and has become beer that I have in front of me today.
Let me start out by saying I have a long running obsession with Crooked Stave. Now that I have got that off my chest I can get started. Chad Jacobson is the head brewer for Crooked Stave in Denver, Colo. He is known in the industry as being one of the leaders in the world of brettanomyces (brett) fermentation. Many brewers use brett, but not many have the true understanding of the curious little organism like Chad Jacobson. He has spent his entire career researching brettanomyces and what it can accomplish and it shows in his beers. As a home brewer obsessed with brettanomyces I owe almost everything I have learned to Jacobson and his research.
A few hours ago I thought it was a perfect time to crack open a bottle of one of the biggest, baddest English barleywines I had in my cellar. Now, close to midnight on a Monday I sit starring at an empty bottle and a sad glass that once held the sweet bourbon-infused nectar that was Mother of all Storms.
As a self-proclaimed beer nerd, sour beers are one of my true passions.
I have spent the past several years (and way too much of my income) searching far and wide looking for the next great acidic brew and my journey always seems to come back to one of my favorite places on earth. Portland, Ore., Home of Cascade Brewing. Ron Gansberg is the mad scientist behind the magical place aptly nick-named, “the house of sour.” Gansberg's hard work has pulled in three medals from the Great American Beer Festival, countless die hard fans and the reputation of one of the countries foremost sour beer breweries.