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Friday, May 29, 2009

A Saison, a Pilsner, and a Fine Evening

Last night, Sally and I were sitting in the still warmth of the house after dinner. She recognized a certain hangdog look on my face (thanks Senate subcommittee on Business and Transportation!) and suggested we go catch a pint.

Of course, we had to go to a place with honest pints, though this didn't particularly limit our choices. We settled on Bailey's, to which I have (borderline criminally) never taken her. It was just what I needed. There's nothing like sitting out on the sidewalk sipping a couple fine beers while the spring breeze cools the pavement. We selected a couple beers to lighten the mood and complement the weather--Sally the Wild River Bohemian Pilsner and me the Standing Stone Saison, coincidentally, a pair from Southern Oregon.

Before I mention the saison, let me note a fairly recent trend. Portland long ago became the capital of Beervana, but it wasn't until relatively recently that you could reliably expect to find beer from Greater Beervana at a local pub. The Horse Brass usually had a couple handles from further-flung Oregon breweries, but that was about it. Within the past five years, though, the regional taphouse has become a Portland mainstay--in addition to Bailey's and the Horse Brass there's the Green Dragon, Eastburn, Concordia Ale House, and Belmont Station Bier Cafe. Now most of Oregon's breweries will rotate taps through at least one of these pubs in the course of a year. A most welcome phenomenon.

Okay, a brief mention of the beer. The Wild River Pilsner is an old fave of mine. It's been around forever, and those beers often get overlooked--"yeah, yeah, been there, done that." Given the absence of local pilsners, though, this always attracts my attention. It's not flashy or tricked out--just a classic Czech-style pils, full of wonderful Saaz-y goodness. There is no substitute for a good pilsner, and this one is good.

In some ways, the other beer we had is the opposite of a pilsner. It's an obscure style that perversely is having a bit of a heyday right now. I've seen quite a few more local saisons of late than pilsners. Unlike pilsners, saisons don't have a clear-cut style with rigid parameters. Pilsners are precise and specific. Saisons are handmade and vague. They occupy a class more than a style, and you can call a beer of less than 5% or more than 7% a saison.

I don't know what I expect in a saison, but I usually walk away wishing for a bit more. Lately I've encountered versions that are bigger, sweeter, and murkier than I'd like. Not necessarily bad beers, but lacking the wow factor. Standing Stone's saison wowed me. I don't have a single stat to offer, just my experience. (I'll try to get some stats from the brewery.) As you can see in that picture, it's a hazy beer. The head was creamy and sustained and lacing decorated my glass as I drew, with regret, to the end. The aroma hints at the flavor--phenols and spice, and an interesting yeast character.

The flavor was quite complex. It's a dense beer and not particularly effervescent, yet though it's heavy, it doesn't cloy. The first sweet note gives way to phenols, an almost minty note, and pepper. Given the heavy body, you think it can't finish dryly--with my first sip I feared the Ardennes effect--but it does. There are hops enough to clip any sweetness in the aftertaste, and you're left with a crisp finish.

Standing Stone has the reputation of a brewery that makes clean if uninspired beer. The last time I was in Ashland--years ago, now--I enjoyed my visit and was happy to be able to get fresh, local beer. But I wasn't knocked out by the beer. This saison may suggest that things are changing. A very accomplished beer, and one you should definitely seek out. (Rating on the patented scale: B+)

This just in from Adam Benson, brewer down at Standing Stone.

The grist included organic pilsner malt, Munich, and a kiss of wheat. He used turbinado sugar--sort of a candi sugar substitute I gather--as well as "a little" bitter orange peel, coriander, and grains of paradise. Hopped with East Kent Goldings and Saaz (two of my faves--and I think the types used in Dupont--so that's probably another reason I liked it), and fermented warm. Finally, he used a commercial saison yeast. 15 P, 6% ABV.

1 comment:

  1. I was down in Ashland for work a couple weeks ago and really loved the Saison at Standing Stone.