It’s finally here. At last — sun, warmth, patios! I am sooooo ready. Summer allows the dedicated bierophile the opportunity to quaff the lighter offerings of the season in an outdoor setting – be that at a picnic table in your favourite park/campsite, on the deck at home, or at your favourite bier bistro patio. Outdoors, beer, and food have a natural affinity.
Regular readers know my fondness for German lagers. Summer patio season is the perfect time to enjoy this thirst-busting brew, but I will leave lagers for another column. My staple for warm seasons is Keller bier lager, but my staples for the summer table, BBQ, and patio are ales – specifically saison and Kölsch styles.
First let’s discuss the saison style, and what to look for in a well-made example. Saison as a style was the first true “bottle conditioned” ale. That is, it is traditionally consumed from a bottle rather than a draft pint and the bottle it’s served in was used as the final fermentation vessel. This is why proper saisons come in a corked champagne type bottle – this was the traditional vessel for finishing this “farm house” brew. Saison originated in the farming districts of Wallonia (Franco-Belgium), and was made in late fall or early winter, to ferment in the cool winter cellar, and to be served to thirsty farm workers in the hot season.
The style survived the ravages of time and has a new life in the global community of craft brewing. It has undergone a wide variety of interpretations but the basic genetic traits of an authentic saison are: pale gold, often clouded appearance, biscuity maltiness (pilsner malt), distinctive dryness from maximum yeast attenuation, peppery/spicy demeanour, dry hoppy finish (from the use of Noble, Belgian and Styrian Golding hops), and a bright effervescent character (natural carbonation from bottle fermentation). The leading global benchmark for the style is Dupont Saison, which we are fortunate enough to have imported by the LCBO (#LCBO No.11688). Try a bottle with a chilled Waldorf chicken salad and tell me this doesn’t set off normally understated food like fireworks.
In the seminal beer-food pairing opus, The Brewmaster’s Table, Garrett Oliver states that if he were forced to drink just one style of beer with food for the rest of his life it would be a Wallonian saison. I fully understand why. Saison is a triple whammy of a brew — light enough to slake a thirst or to session, and robust enough to satisfy the palate, and its inherent dry, spicy character lends itself as a companion to a wide variety of sturdy to light dishes. I urge you to try a saison this summer and work it into your food pairings. We have a number of good crafted renditions by local brewers – Oast House Saison, Nickel Brook Le Paysan Saison, Beau’s Patio Saison, Amsterdam Reserve Saison, and Black Oak Summer Saison. These should all be available either at your local brewpub or at the LCBO or the brewery’s store. There is no reason not saison this season!
Of course my summer imbibing would be incomplete without a good Kölsch to counteract the heat. Kölsch is a German pale ale (top/warm fermented) which undergoes a lagering process (long-term cold conditioning) and which has an inherent dry, light, hoppy discernment, making it perfect for pairing with BBQ foods, particularly BBQed sausages (Brats, farmer’s ring) and grilled kabobs or chops. Kölsch has its history in Cologne where you will see the “Kölschkneipe” (pub) patio tables filled with stangen (tall glasses) full of Kölsch, and fresh wurst dishes. I have written extensively on the cultural anthropology of Kölsch, and so will just give a few recommendations, for those unfamiliar with this excellent summer quencher. We have a few local craft-brewed renditions of the Kölsch style here, and they are well-crafted interpretations, but nothing really comes close to the unique flavour and drinkability of a real Kölsch made in Cologne. We do see this true Kölsch here occasionally at the LCBO when they stock “Gaffel” Kölsch (LCBO#: 167130). This has all the style requisites – puffy white cap, clear gold colour, biscuity malt and light fruit tones in the aroma, smooth, grainy flavour with a dry hoppy finish. Other local Kölsch-style brews available locally include: Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale, Sawdust City’s Gateway Kölsch, Grand River’s 1913 Kölsch, Kilannan Kölsch, and Brick Waterloo Kölsch (seasonal).
Taste o’ the Month –
Bush Pilot Brewing “Pengo Pally” Saison – Pengo Pally is a 6.5% abv herbed saison LCBO #426734, $9.95/750 ml, and will be available at the LCBO this summer.
This collaborative designer ale was inspired by the brewer’s desire to honour Johnny May, the legendary Inuk bush pilot. In keeping with the theme of the high Arctic, this saison is spiced with indigenous arctic herbs; Labrador tea (Rhododendron Groenlandicum), and crowberry leaves (Empetrum Nigrum). Brewmaster Ryan Morrow, long-time Bush Pilot brewing collaborator, has brewed a traditional yet eclectic saison infused with arctic herbs, which offers an approachable ale with unique character. The 750ml champagne bottle decants a shimmering, hazed pale gold ale to the glass. Wonderful meringue white cap. Potent aromas of powdery pale malts and complex herbal-spice tones with some undertones of succulent fruits. Rich in dusty biscuit malts and herbal balance which go to a super clean, hoppy and exquisitely puckering dry finish. High effervescence with a bright sharp character. A magnificent Saison with a unique herbal flair, definitely a saison in the vein of Dupont’s reserve. I paired this with a lamb curry with very pleasant results.
THE MALT MONK is the alter ego of D.R. Hammond, a passionate supporter of craft beer culture. He invites readers to join in the dialogue at maltmonksbeerblog.wordpress.com