Name of the beer is Saison Obscura, the one I brewed in the company of Otley a few weeks ago. Launching it, Nick Otley and I are going on a pub crawl on Friday, starting at 3pm in the White Horse, 5pm at Cask Pub and Kitchen, 7pm at the Rake (where I also hope to try Glyn’s Motley Brew, I think it’s called, didn’t know he was a closet glam metaller) and 9pm at the Southampton Arms, Kentish Town. Please come along and join us. The genesis of all this comes from the British Guild of Beer Writers do at Brewwharf last summer where I cheekily asked Nick if I could come and brew. I suggested a saison and the idea developed from there.
What we have come up with is a dark saison, which I tasted at the start of the month at the Bunch of Grapes, the brewery’s murderously magnificent pub in Ponty. I found it had a flinty, lemony nose (sweetshop lemons was the phrase in my notebook) trending towards sherbert; it was bittersharp and snappy on the palate, with a whisper of orange (there’s dried Curacao orange peel in the mix) while the alcoholic strength of 5.5% gives it some weight; oh and there’s a black pepper catch at the back of the throat. I really loved it and was really over the moon (home brewing was never a strength of mine, I flunked both chemistry and physics, I don’t have a scientific bone in my body). Matt at the brewery really pushed me on the brew: I thought it would be a case of saying try this, try that and let them do the work. But no I had to suggest the percentages of different malts (5 plus wheat malt) and hops (3); and as well as the orange peel black pepper was added. We talked about fermentation and maturation as well (this has given me the bug for brewing, so if anyone would like to do a rye mild …). If you’re around please come and join us, tell us what you think, whether it’s bad or good, and let’s just talk saison. For instance, should it be dark? On that point I can point to three people whose opinions I value.
Steven Pauwels at Boulevard Brewery (with whom the godlike Jean-Marie Rock at Orval did a collaborative beer some time ago, an imperial Pilsner I seem to remember, I was shown the empty bottle): ‘Saison beers are the perfect “trash can style” for brewers that experiment with Belgian beers. There are no rules, yet everybody has an idea of what the beer should taste like.’
Phil Markowski at Southampton Brewery and author of the fascinating Farmhouse Ales: ‘That's the 10 million dollar question, what is a “real” saison. You could argue it is a special brew (perhaps brewed on a farm but how many are actually still brewed on farms, any?) made for a particular season, perhaps with ingredients that echo a particular time of year. They are hard to define and that is essentially the point. Saison is loose, full of individual expression, the “anti-style” beer style.’
Garrett Oliver at Brooklyn: ‘Modern saisons are pale, but I think we must assume that many were relatively dark and even possibly smoky until the mid-1700s at least. So perhaps it is not a style that lends itself to orthodoxy, but rather one that originally existed to answer a question – “what can I brew that’s nutritious, refreshing, tasty, and will last for at least a year in the cellar?”’
Here are my thoughts on saison in general, a beer I have always enjoyed, at AAB.
So whatever goes seems to be the thing with saison, hence Saison Obscura — and if you can manage it I do hope you can join me and Nick for one on Friday (it’ll also be on at the Bunch of Grapes that night). Oh, Nick and I will also be Facebooking and Tweeting about the beer during the crawl using the hashtag #saisonobscura, whatever a hashtag is — and I might even try a live blog. Oh and that picture is ’Arry from Otley, their young Italian brewer who is totally passionate about beer and brewing, now where have I come across that before…