Portland Farmhouse and Wild Ale Festival
Saturday, March 29th 11am-10pm & Sunday, March 30th 11am-9pm
Saraveza, 1004 N. Killingsworth in the Bad Habit Room
The beguiling saison, so seductive in its contours, so alluring in its possibility. The stripped-down saison is a marvel of flavor. With just pilsner malt and a modest gravity one can, through the wonders of farmhouse yeast, coax enormous character out of the beer. And what character! It's suggestive of fruit, spices, herbs, and flowers--any or all of the above. For a number of years now, brewers have detected in these flavors the invitation to accentuate. Why not add real fruit or spice or flowers to enhance the native qualities? It's an unavoidable instinct; I have been gripped by it myself.
But the instinct is usually foolsgold. Those amazing flavors come from the alchemy of fermentation, and they emerge clean and well-articulated when there's nothing to get in their way. Once you start loading the kettle up with enhancements, though, you usually spoil the very thing that inspired the creativity. Subtraction by addition.
But not always. I'm a saison fiend: if a saison is on the menu, it's always the first beer I try. On my recent trip to Seattle, I wandered past the Elysian outpost by the football stadium. I scanned the menu, and eyed Bramble On with mild trepidation--but it was a saison, so there was no real choice in the matter. I am pleased to report that not only was it one of the best saisons I've ever tasted, but one of the best beers. An absolutely spectacular saison.
So what did Elysian do right? To begin with, its saison rusticity remains intact--even though it was a fruit saison, the esters shone through. At 5.6%, it was a small enough beer that the elements remained in balance. Blackberries are hard to work with--they have a lot of acidity and their flavor can be dodgy. Here that worked to the beer's advantage. The berry flavor was quite subdued (and the beer was dry), but they added a lactic-like tanginess. I don't know anything about how it was made, but there seemed to be a hint of funk, as if kissed by wild yeast. Finally, it has an earthy note underneath that gives it depth and structure (the blackberry seeds?). You should always have at least a pint before rendering judgment on a beer; sometimes first impressions deceive and by ounce 9 you're starting to hate the beer. With Bramble On, the opposite happened. By the last drop, I was sorely tempted to get a second. But I was in Seattle for beer drinking, so I passed. A decision I regret to this day.
Portlanders will get a bite at this luscious apple come the 29th, for it will make an appearance at the Farmhouse and Wild Ale Fest at Saraveza. There's a ton of interesting-sounding beer there, but do yourself a favor if you go and try the Bramble On.
"Beer Sherpa Recommends" is an irregular feature. In this fallen world, when the number
of beers outnumber your woeful stomach capacity by several orders of
magnitude, you risk exposing yourself to substandard beer. Worse, you
risk selecting substandard beer when there are tasty alternatives at
hand. In this terrible jungle of overabundance, wouldn't it be nice to
have a neon sign pointing to the few beers among the crowd that really
stand out? A beer sherpa, if you will, to guide you to the beery
mountaintop. I don't profess to drink all the beers out there, but from
time to time I stumble across a winner and when I do, I'll pass it
along to you.