The drought of 2012 does make me thirsty. Thank Saint Arnold of Soissons, the patron saint of hop pickers and Belgian brewers, for beer.
Patersibier and Mild Ale
My patersbier and mild ale batches are in bottles. I am letting each bottle condition a little longer than the minimum two weeks because I have found a few extra days to a week makes a noticeable difference in mellowing some of the overly distinct hop aromas. Maybe I am getting a little Sideways on y’all, but this is why we homebrew. I get to make and enjoy beer my way.
Beers from Up North
My brother came down last weekend from the Twin Cities and this means two things: I have to buy Miller Lite for my sister-in-law and I can get bootlegged beer from the metro area that is unavailable to me here in eastern Iowa.
This trip brought two Surly beers—Hell and Bitter Brewer—and one from long time Twin Cities craft beer veteran Summit—Unchained Series Batch 10.
First up is Surly’s Hell. No, it’s not referring to hell in the Biblical sense. It’s the German word for “light.” This is Surly’s take on a Zwickel Bier—per Surly’s description—which is an effervescent form of a Bavarian Kellerbier but generally brewed slightly weaker and less hop-accented. So, what does it look like:
How does it drink? The description about nails it: effervescent, low alcohol, and not overly hopped. Between this and New Belgium Brewery’s Shift pale lager a person has a couple of good choices for beer from a can on a hot day. Trust me, you want to make sure you have can beer options lest the beach Nazis come after you for a glass container.
Bitter Brewer is a different animal. Like Hell, this is not a potent beer (4.0% ABV) but it is hopped a little bit more (37 IBUs for Bitter Brewer versus 20 IBUs for Hell). The result:
The biggest difference that I could not was the apparent American hop aroma. If you have had an American style IPA in the last decade you know what I am talking about—strong, pungent aroma and a particular aftertaste that settles on the back of your throat for a moment. In this beer those are good things because it is not so hopped as to be a kick in the teeth. No visions of a head shop when I crack open a can and pour it into a glass.
Summit’s Unchained Belgian Style Abbey Ale leaves me conflicted. This is a style that I love to drink, albeit in the fall when the temperatures drop a little and I can enjoy a pint wrapped in fleece on the deck at night. Everything appears to be in line with expectations:
What went wrong? I do not know if it is the higher alcohol (8.0% ABV) or an off flavor but this beer tasted industrial. It reminds me of when fellow homebrewers go all high gravity and produce beers that have the aftertaste of cheap grain alcohol. It’s one thing to think of moonshine when drinking a Mason jar of white lightning. It’s another thing to think those same thoughts when sitting down to enjoy a pint of beer.
This is why beer is so intensely personal and why the stores are stocked with shelf after shelf of options. One man’s swill is another man’s nectar.
I was in the liquor store picking up a twelve pack of Miller Lite—why my sister-in-law insists on drinking this insipid swill I will never know—when I stumbled on an end cap display of 22 ounce bottles and six packs from the Green Flash Brewing Company. Given that it was surrounded by Anheuser-Busch InBev products I thought that it might be yet another macrobrewers attempt to “develop” a craft beer product line a la Blue Moon. Regardless, I picked up a bottle of Saison Diego.
A little research at home wiped away my worst fears. Green Flash is an independent craft brewer based in San Diego, California. The brewery was founded in 2002 by Mike and Lisa Hinkley. I do not know if this is a California take on traditional beer styles, but here’s what the Saison Diego looks like:
The description of this beer is an unfiltered golden farmhouse ale. In some ways the terms session and farmhouse when describing beer are getting thrown around a lot. It sounds crafty or artisanal. But what does it mean? I do not know.
The Saison Diego was pretty true to the description and if you think of session or farmhouse beers as easy drinking than you would not be disappointed. The trick, in my opinion, to creating a great beer from these lower alcohol and lightly bittered beers is to strike a real balance. Without a ton of alcohol, body, or bitterness to hide any flaws there is little room for straying far into the comical zone that a lot of American style IPAs are falling victim to. Conversely, what has happened is that a lot of these less belligerent styles have become cluttered and unmemorable.
It’s that way with Saison Diego. It’s a well-made beer that drinks easily, but in the end it is kind of forgettable. If someone put one of these down in front of me I would remember it fondly and drink it with a smile on my face. I would not, however, seek it out.