'Tis the Saison
Your Guide to Spring Seasonals
It's 48 degrees outside right now and according to my iPhone, tomorrow will get up to 61. While those numbers are far from promising, my fellow New Yorkers and I are banking on a smooth slide in to Spring this week. It just has. to. be. here. already.
The Mets have hit the field for another losing season, we're rounding out another bracket busting NCAA tournament and yesterday I walked from the LES to SoHo without wanting to die. So, it's time to abandon your porters and stouts in favor of my new favorite flavor: the Saison.
Historically, saisons weren't brewed to have similar characteristics. They simply referred to a group of beers fermented during the cooler months and stored for Spring enjoyment by hard working Belgian farmers. That's why we also call them farmhouse ales. Today, saisons share a number of qualities -- they're generally fruity, highly carbonated and spicy. That's why they pair so well with a sunny afternoon, Ok, there's your background. On to the drinking.
My Top Five Saisons (in no particular ranking order)
I love this big bottle/tap release from Brooklyn Brewery. I don't usually love Brooklyn's beers, but I LOVE this saison. Its green apple crispness, bubbly, champagne body and subtle sweetness at the finish make it the perfect companion for oyster happy hour (one of my favorite Spring time activities). It also pairs nicely with a good old New England style crab or lobster boil. If you find yourself in NYC and in need of some seaside-esque happy hour goodness, check out Lobster Joint on Houston St. in the Lower East Side. It's a little bright inside for my drinking-habit-tastes but the happy hour is on point -- $4 Sorachi Aces (all drafts, for that matter), $1 oysters & $4 lobster, crab cake or fried oyster sliders. I'm not sure how they stay in business but I'm sure glad they do.
Ain't nothing wrong with watching an adorable girl kiss some lobsters while you enjoy your Sorachi Ace. Nope.
Ommegang's Hennepin was one of the first craft beers I laid lips on and it continues to be one of my go-to's for a refreshing warm weather pint. Back in college, I knew a bunch of kids who worked at a cafe in the East Village. Even though they only had two taps, one was always dedicated to Hennepin and we consistently drained it. I'm not ashamed to say it went well with breakfast eggs. Nicely balanced with a mix of coriander, herbal spiciness and sweet orange peel, the mouth feel is smooth and the finish is surprisingly dry. It goes down easy and stands up well next to almost any snack. Careful with that high ABV though -- it's well hidden.
This one took some digging to find when it was first released in 2010. I was living in Northern California and had to drive about two hours to a liquor store in a lonely strip mall east of San Jose to get my hand on a single 12oz bottle. These days, however, the collaborative saison is getting some much deserved added distribution and you can pick one up in most Dogfish Head sanctioned outlets. The beer itself is surprisingly easy going given the punch these three breweries usually pack, a quality I wholeheartedly appreciate in a saison. Not as sweet as many of its brethren, the du Buff garners a mellow, mid-palate very herbal spice kick and crisp, peppery lemongrass finish to dry it out. I'm particularly fond of the beer's limey-ness, as it cuts through my favorite early Summer snack (carne asada tacos, duh) like a shiny knife.
Here's a sweet little video about this craft beer meeting of the minds.
Wild card! This sneaky little can makes its way onto shelves during the coldest months of the year when most American beer nerds are knee deep in bourbon barrel aged stouts and coffee soaked porters. I stumbled upon Sneak Attack's gleaming cream colored face last January and it surely brightened up a cold, blustery Brooklyn night. I cracked the tab, poured it slowly into a semi-clean pint glass and... Coriander! White peppercorn! Clementines! Tangy lemon! Champagne! Bubbly and refreshing but strong enough in spice to hold up against any slow cooked Winter's meal... I can't wait to enjoy this sucker alongside some Summer BBQ, come to think of it. Pork shoulder & a Sneak Attack? Fire up the grill already.
My family lives in Connecticut, so when I visit I try to vet their local "package stores" for any interesting New England-centric releases. That's how I found Two Roads Brewing Co. (Stratford, CT). It happened to be the day after Easter, so I grabbed a six pack of their freshly debuted saison, Worker's Comp, and settled down with some Chinese takeout (Yes, I know I live in spitting distance of the best Chinatown outside of China but there's just something about suburban Chinese food that makes it SO unexplainably amazing -- anyone feel me?). Anyways, this saison only enhanced my General Tso's tangy, spicy deliciousness and stood confidently by me as I destroyed some salty Chow Mein. The young brewery managed to strike a balance between juicy tropical fruit and dry, peppery clove without that all-to-familiar overpowering, palate-takeover sweetness. I especially liked the smooth pear -- subtle but persistant, soft enough to coat the tongue throughout. At a mere 4.8 ABV, I was able to down a few while still saving some room for illicit helpings of my Dad's Moo-Shu Pork and maintaining a decent level of familial conversation.
So, while this next week attempts to flirt with the 70s, crack open a cold, spicy-sweet Saison and enjoy this Spring weather, friends! It won't be long until we're sweating into our adjunct lagers and yearning for the porter-doused nights of yore.